ANYWHERE, USA – The young woman, about 17, joined by another of the same age, stood side by side in the time capsule that is an ice cream shack. They could have been my high school classmates, 1959, or my sons’, late 1980s, or the 27 year olds of today, back in 2000.
What is it about young women working part-time at Dairy Queen, Mr. Frostee, Carvel’s, any ice cream take-out place? No matter what generation, the dress is the same: shorts, tops; the hair is pulled back; the overheard conversation is about boys, college; there is sometimes a vacant stare: the daydream of youth; and the attachment to job, place, time is so fleeting that it will be remembered hardly at all.
Except maybe if the summer also includes romance.
Now, not to be sexist, young men working the Dairy Queen shift are also in passing time, place, but there seems less vacant staring and more of “What’ya need?” and getting the order out. The female/male difference – Venus/Mars – is there, too. And it seems most ice cream shops employ young women, not young men.
In high school, a fellow like me (or you?) might have had a crush on one of these ice cream girls; later, you might have felt fatherly; now it’s grandfatherly.
But it is also reassuring, especially on this July 4th weekend where there is so much pessimism in America – worries about the loss of jobs and the shrinking of the middle class; costly wars that seem endless and confusing; budgets in trouble; greed; lack of personal responsibility. In all this, the nation that began with difficult birth against heavy odds, this child called America, is still not fully grown, ready for retirement. Young people – like the women and men of the ice cream shops, with their dreams, their needs, their concerns, their many flavors – promise to whet their appetite on the next frontier.
No wonder American apple pie is often a-la-mode.