Wooden nickels and the world's best maple creemeeWe Vermonters love our ice cream. We eat healthy most of the time. But on a hot summer day don’t get between us and a cool, sweet ice cream. Of course, the state is famous for a certain brand of ice cream. Around here folks are loyal to Wilcox ice cream, made right down the road at the Wilcox family dairy farm since 1928. Our grandmother was a Wilcox and grew up on the farm, so we won’t have any other kind.

In every corner of the state you’ll find family-owned businesses doing a brisk trade in ice cream and creemees, which is what we call soft-serve ice cream. The Arlington Dairy Bar just south of here sells dozens of flavors of ice cream and creemees, along with oddities like cauliflower puffs and fried pickles. Over near Brattleboro there’s a brightly-painted truck that does great business selling just three flavors, possibly because it is parked next to the local swimming hole. And of course, Mildred’s Dairy Bar, right next to our store, serves the best creemees, especially the ones made with real maple syrup.

For many of us, the creemee stand was our first summer job, where we learned to show up on time, make change, and get along with co-workers—lessons that serve us pretty well today.

And even though we are grown, creemee stands are a big part of summer life. On a warm night, there’s always a line at the order window, lit by the yellow glow of a fluorescent bug light. Friends and strangers alike gather at the picnic tables, and there’s a happy murmur of people exchanging the latest news. Little kids roll around on the grass and teenagers hang out in the back, too cool for the grown-ups.

We are enjoying it while we can. Soon enough it will be time to scrape the grill, clean out the creemee machine and drop the plywood shutters over the windows. In southern Vermont, summer is over when the creemee stand closes.

Eliot Orton