Tom Clyde: Bent ice cream cones
When I was in kindergarten, our teacher, Miss Gardiner, had a special Thanksgiving surprise for the class. She packed in a couple of hot plates and some tea kettles, and the class made little cornucopias out of ice cream cones. We each had to hold an ice cream cone, minus the ice cream, over the spout of the tea kettle, with steam blasting out like a nuclear reactor melting down. If we held it there for just long enough, the ice cream cone would get soft and pliable, and we could gently bend a little curve in the end. That turned it into a cornucopia, which was then filled with candy corn or M&Ms. It was pretty incredible.
The kindergarten class across the hall made turkeys by tracing their hands and coloring the fingers like tail feathers. Not even close.
Anyway, I managed to get my deformed ice cream cone home and explained the whole process to my mother. She had done years of Cub Scout den mothering by then, with more to come, and somehow, bending ice cream cones over a raging tea kettle was right up her alley. She went right to work, and we made them for every place at what was then a pretty big table of aunts and uncles and grandparents who aren’t around anymore.
The tradition stuck, and each of my siblings has been bending ice cream cones since they set up their own households, with daughters-in-law expected to learn the process. Grandchildren and now great-grandchildren have continued the ritual. I might add that it’s been several years since I was in kindergarten. That’s a lot of ice cream cones.
The table this year was once again decorated with a bent ice cream cone at every plate. Some of the younger people were shocked to learn that this was something taught in kindergarten. They couldn’t imagine their kids’ schools allowing such a thing. The odds of somebody getting scalded in the steam, or burned on the hot plate were very high. Like certain. I’m not sure how Miss Gardiner got away with it, though my memory is that, at least in my class, the burns weren’t serious. We were tougher during the Cold War.
The burns are just the beginning. It’s become difficult to find pointy-ended ice cream cones. You have to use the light-colored ones. The dark, waffle cones won’t bend. They get really soggy and just kind of poop out on you. Somewhere along the way, the flat-bottom ice cream cone became the design of choice in grocery stores. The search for the pointy ones has become part of the challenge, like trying to find the latest Xbox discounted on Black Friday. Apparently, they have to be bought from ice cream stores, not grocery stores.
Walking into an ice cream store and asking to buy 50 ice cream cones, hold the ice cream, always seems to require explanation, and I suspect that there are clerks in ice cream stores who have immediately gone home and bent an ice cream cone for Thanksgiving.
Burns and supply chain aside, all of this tradition developed before the world went insane. Now, filling an ice cream cone-turned-cornucopia with candy corn (the only appropriate filler) would be denounced on the left as culturally insensitive. Everybody knows that candy corn is a symbol of the oppression of native peoples. And if you branch out and fill them with a rainbow of Skittles, you are clearly pandering to the gay agenda. That’s not going to happen in a public school today. So if the tradition of bending ice cream cones is to survive, it will be carried out discretely in the privacy of one’s own home.
The one true Thanksgiving dinner was created by Grandma Jensen on their farm in Idaho. The turkey was decapitated that morning behind the tractor shed, and all the other ingredients were grown on the farm except maybe the garlic, which was used sparingly because they were Norwegians and didn’t do garlic. For a lot of years, we traveled to the farm for Thanksgiving, with our bent ice cream cones carefully packed in the trunk of the Packard. My grandparents’ house was tiny. There was one bathroom, which was added some years after my mother had left home and married. The outhouse was still available for special occasions when the septic system failed. Somehow, they managed to pack the house with a huge collection of cousins, a few stray neighbors, and a great-uncle who had been a dentist in Burbank, California, and had filled the teeth of movie stars. OK, silent movie stars.
Since then, the canonical menu has been disrupted by the addition of new in-laws with their own traditions, however misguided and heretical, though things still hew to the core reasonably well. The marshmallows on the yams have disappeared, but I never ate them anyway. As my grandparents got older, Thanksgiving moved to our house in Salt Lake, until, over my mother’s objections, we moved it to the ranch in Woodland. That complicated the preparations by a factor of 10, but even she finally admitted it was worth it.
I hope your Thanksgiving was a wonderful as mine, though that’s unlikely unless you had some bent ice cream cones on the table.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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