Coming to appreciate the fairer sex is a difficult and complex undertaking, particularly when you live in a small town in Kansas in the 1940s. When you are 10 or 12, nobody wants to give you much help in the process. One of the better locations for this task is in the bigger towns with the bigger boys. As good fortune would have it, I had an older cousin who lived in Lawrence, a college town about three hours away. Lawrence was full of beauties, and a lot of activity. My cousin was really one of the older boys, with five years head start on me. At my tender age, I was not entirely sure he was a good influence, but I was sure he told some interesting stories.
Bob and his family lived on the far southeast corner of Lawrence, at 2127 Barker. Two blocks farther south and you were out of town near the Haskell Indian School. Their house was a real trip with windowsills on the floor and twelve foot ceilings. The outside walls of the house were solid stone, and were 18 inches thick. It is on the register of historic homes, as it was standing when Quantrell raided Lawrence in 1863, and burned most of the houses in town. Their house wouldn’t burn. I was fascinated with the repairs that had been made to the walls. Over the years, the walls had cracked, settled and separated. To hold them together, steel plates were attached to the outside walls of the house, and steel rods run completely across the house from one side to the other to hold the walls together. I guess it worked, as the house is still there after 140 years.
Lawrence was not a big city, as you could walk across it from one side to the other, wheat field to wheat field, in thirty minutes. At that rate, you had to walk pretty fast. The summers all over Kansas could become quite steamy, and just remaining reasonably cool was an accomplishment. By mid-afternoon it often became unbearable, with little relief to be found anywhere. Electric fans were a novelty. Individual cooling was achieved in the churches with hand-held cardboard fans on a stick, which you waved back and forth in front of your face, creating a great little breeze. Once you stopped waving, the breeze stopped as well. It was best to stay out of the sun, unless you were a kid. We were both kids. I was 10, and cousin Bob was 15. He had found girls, and seemed to know a lot about them. I was all ears, and was more than willing to listen.
On one of those hot summer days, we couldn’t find the cardboard fans, and were about to die from the heat. Cousin Bob said, “Lets go to the ice cream store. They have fans in the ceiling, and cool ice cream, and a number of really sexy girls, who do the scooping. On a hot day like this, maybe we can get one of the girls to do a fan dance for us.” By the time he finished this statement, I was out the door, and half way down the block. The ice cream store was in the business district on the far north side of town, bordering the Kansas River. It was a healthy twenty-minute walk away.
When we arrived at the ice cream store, I discovered he was right in every respect. The fans were all attached to the ceiling with long shafts, and were wobbling back and forth like they always do. There were two sexy girls behind the glass display cases, which showed both the ice cream and the girls very nicely. While scooping ice cream for the customers, the girl’s halters provided excellent mobility for the contortions required reaching down into the ice cream containers. I noticed a distinct similarity between the girls wobbling behind the ice cream counter, and the ceiling fans swaying back and forth as they all worked away. It was best to take a long time to decide exactly which kind of ice cream to order, and according to cousin Bob, the containers requiring the longest reach for the girls provided the better views. After dallying a long time, we made our choices, the girls filled our cones, we filled our imaginations, then found chairs facing the counter and the girls, of course.
While we were lapping our cones and watching the girls, Bob said that on one of his earlier visits to the store, one of the girls had either worked too hard scooping ice cream, or had a halter that was not quite sufficient, or had more girl then should have been in the halter. In the process of scooping, the halter came untied behind her neck, fell down, and what was previously covered came into full view. It created quite a stir among the customers. According to Bob, she was quite casual about the matter, as though nothing unusual had happened. As both hands were full, she continued scooping until she was through with the cone, and delivered it to her startled customer. “Her wobble while scooping” Bob said, “was extraordinary.” Then she took time out to adjust herself back into the halter before serving the next customer. Perhaps, this kind of event happens to her on a regular basis, which might explain the long line of guys at the counter. For Bob, too, it was a noteworthy happening, which accounts for our sitting in the ice cream store facing the girls, under those wobbly fans.
We returned to the store as often as possible, ordered as slowly as possible, ate facing the girls on each and every occasion, watched the wobbly fans, and of course, all the other nice things that wobbled in the ice cream store. From this very early formative experience, I have come to enjoy ice cream at any time of the day or night. I also acquired a fresh appreciation for what it means to hang out in the ice cream store. Hanging out is a marvelous thing.