Egad, I hate Friendly’s. You know, the ice cream place? Yeah that. Hate it.
No, not for any particular reason…well, more like lots of reasons. All through my life, it was always…there…and never in a good way.
It started when I was little. Back then, there were a lot of good ice cream places around, from soft-serve custard at Don & Bob’s down at the lake (mmm…fishy smell from the lake, greasy smell from the grill—what amibence) to Carvel (mmm Fudgie the Whale) to Skippy the ice cream truck with the bell going ding-ding-ding—or, if the college kid slaving away behind the wheel of the non-air-conditioned, worn-out pickup truck with a giant silver refrigerator unit weighing down the back bed felt chipper, ding-a-ding-a-ding-ding-ding.
Friendly’s, however, had ice cream sundaes with gobs of hot fudge. Black raspberry ice cream—purrrrrrple!—and black cherry, with giant cherry halves jutting out of the pink stuff. And it was just up the road from me. But it might as well have been as far away as Iceland for the frequency of our visits—or lack thereof. My family just didn’t do dessert. Ever. (Yes, I was a sorely neglected child, but my parents thought they were doing me a favor. Or something.)
So one of my strongest memories of my childhood—I’d estimate it at my sixth year, I think—was when the parents of my bestest friend across the street, Jennifer, asked my parents if I could go with them to Friendly’s for an ice cream cone. I was over the moon. Ice cream! And the invitation was bordering on exotic, because it was so late on a summer evening—the sun was actually starting to go down! I should’ve already been in bed!
In my kid-brain it felt like we were going on a six-week safari, but it was only about a three-minute drive. I piled into the back seat with Jennifer and her little sister Kathy and was bashful in the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Marshall. That wasn’t hard, because Mr. Marshall always scared me silent. He had these Michael Keaton crazy-eyes, but without the mischief—just the crazy.
But I could cope with that, because we were going for ice cream! Come on, ‘struth—nothing can scare a kid away from the promise of ice cream, not even crazy-eyed neighbors!
Sure enough, the drive was uneventful, and we eagerly crowded into the small side room where they handed cones out the window. I asked for black raspberry. I remember Jennifer got vanilla and I thought she was unadventurous, although I never said anything out loud.
Not me—I had black raspberry! My favorite! It was so nummy and purrrrple and I stopped in the middle of the parking lot, halfway to the car, to take my first lick. I tentatively reached out my tongue and…
Plop. The entire kid-size scoop landed on the pavement.
I froze. I was stunned. I was left holding an empty wafer cone. Not one tiny bit of ice cream was left on it. I was even too shocked to cry.
Mrs. Marshall came running back to where I was and cooed about my bad luck. She comforted me, and I started to turn back to the window to get another cone. But instead she hustled me over to the car, where she pushed her half-finished ice-cream cone onto mine. With a twist of her wrist, she got half of what was left of her ice cream onto my cone.
I looked at it. Not only was it pre-licked, it was mint chocolate chip.
I hated mint chocolate chip. I still hate mint chocolate chip.
(Actually I’ve always hated mint anything. All my life I’ve had a hell of a time finding non-mint toothpaste and floss. The up side is that my aversion to the stuff has prevented me from falling into the abyss of a Girl Scout Cookie Thin Mint addiction. The lure of the wafer never affects me.)
And then I thought day-um (or the 6-year-old equivalent, whatever that was in 1972), how cheap can you get? A kiddie cone back then cost, what, 45 cents or something? They weren’t poor, but they couldn’t be bothered to get me another one? Heck, I’m sure my parents would have reimbursed them when we got home, if it came to that. Or they could have gone back to the window to complain that the server didn’t push the ice cream down onto the cone and now look—a melting puddle in the middle of the parking lot. That would’ve gotten me a free replacement.
But no. I had leftover, licked mint chocolate chip on my cone. I was a respectful child and would never dream of demanding more ice cream from my friend’s parents. So I choked it down and tried to smile at Mrs. Marshall. She was always nice, after all. Wasn’t her fault her crazy-eyed husband was a cheapskate.
And that was when I started to hate Friendly’s.
Okay, I realize that incident technically wasn’t Friendly’s fault (but I do place some blame with the lazy employee who didn’t secure the ice cream to the cone), and it shouldn’t make me hate them. But I can’t help it—that crisis happened at Friendly’s; they’re indelibly linked.
And that was just the start.
In coming years I was ambushed by their abomination of hamburgers served on toasted bread (what the hell? where’s the juice going to go, I ask you!), HoJo-copying clam strips (what the hell multiplied by a zillion), etc. Kids should not be subjected to such ugly menu surprises. That’ll get ya a lot of uneaten meals (“but nobody told me the hamburger was going to be on bread!”) and negotiations over whether said child “deserved” dessert—the only reason you’re there in the first place—after not eating substantial food first to absorb the sweet stuff and lessen the inevitable sugar-spazz.
In high school, Friendly’s was a place to go on a Friday night with my friends because the food was cheap, we had Nothing Else To Do, and none of us had boyfriends. Hence more resentment tied to the eatery (that had nothing to do with the eatery)—it just reminded us that we were, in essence, Catholic girls’ school losers. While other kids were whooping it up, sneaking into bars or whatever, we were trying to decide between a hot fudge sundae and a Fribble. Ugh.
By the time I grew up, Friendly’s was in serious decline. The one up the street from my childhood home descended to a level of questionable quality—the counters were always dirty and the waitstaff surly and shifty-eyed. I don’t think I set foot in a Friendly’s after 1983, and I’m sure that saved my life. Oh, I missed their black raspberry ice cream, but not enough to get nostalgic about it.
Then, a couple of decades ago, they started to close down, one by one, and nobody much seemed to mind—or even to notice. The last bastion of Friendly-ness in the area retreated to a spot in one of our local malls. Tucked away down the JCPenney wing, it never sees much business; the food court snags all the food-related traffic, as the shoppers actually forget there’s a sit-down restaurant anywhere in the mall. Strangely enough, many other sit-down restaurants have come and gone there, but Friendly’s still lurks in its little corner. I hardly ever see anybody in there. Makes me wonder if the mall owners have forgotten to collect their rent.
Anyway, that brings me to today. My son and I were at the mall, ostensibly to purchase a new backpack for the coming school year, but really just to suck up the air conditioning. It was approximately 572 degrees outside, with 4,000 percent humidity, for the 392nd day in a row, and I just couldn’t take it any longer. Kidlet didn’t want to leave his video games, so I bribed him with the promise of ice cream. That always works, of course. I know my kid.
But by the time we walked through the mall (strikeout at Sears for a Transformers backpack—had to schlep the entire length of the south-north corridor to get to JCPenney for another shot at it), kidlet was drooping, sorely in need of a sugar fix. So I bit the bullet. I sat him down on the bench outside of Friendly’s (empty, I noticed, but it was 3 p.m. on a weekday, after all) and made him an offer: hard ice cream right here, with whipped cream (his favorite), or back to the food court for soft-serve. He chose Friendly’s. I knew he would. I know how to sacrifice for my kid.
So we were seated in a recently redecorated vinyl booth (which was, I’ll admit, clean, albeit with a color scheme that would have been more at home back in the late ’80s or early ’90s) and looked at the ice cream menu, which was far more complicated than I remembered. One scoop, two scoops, the rudely named Happy Ending Sundae, the gargantuan one served in a metal cone that looked like it was wrenched off Madonna’s boob with “add your own” toppings…and the damned Fribble was still in existence.
I knew what my son would choose, and he did: the gargantuan sundae served in a Madonna boob. I patiently explained that that was three large scoops of ice cream and three toppings (he planned on crushed up Kit-Kats, chocolate chips, and sprinkles), and he wouldn’t make it past the second scoop before dropping into a neo-diabetic coma.
Always accommodating, he went for the smaller one—no Madonna boob, with two scoops, whipped cream, and two toppings (he chose Kit-Kats and sprinkles). And then, at the last minute, I asked for some back raspberry.
I don’t know what possessed me. I’m on a diet, first of all. Second, I was at Friendly’s—I hated Friendly’s. Had I forgotten? But I seemed to have been hypnotized by the familiar red and white logo on the menu. It was a Pavlovian response—when in Friendly’s, order black raspberry ice cream.
Kidlet fell on the gloppy sundae without ceremony and, with whipped cream at the corner of his mouth, announced quite definitively that it was the Best Ice Cream He’d Ever Had. Oh, he meant it. It was most likely the novelty of having a candy bar and ice cream—or, rather, a candy bar on ice cream—but he loved it all the same. He gobbled, he shoveled…and then he stopped abruptly. He didn’t get very far, but he was happy. Best Ever. Kidlet had spoken.
In the meantime, I tentatively took a spoonful of my black raspberry ice cream (in a dish—no way I was going to chance a Friendly’s cone after last time…38 years ago…but still!) And, I admit, I had to agree with my son. It really was good. Just as good as I’d remembered. Maybe better.
I was only going to have a little bit, but I ended up eating the whole thing. And I’m not sorry. And I’m glad that I could give Friendly’s a second chance, thanks to the kidlet. He embraced it eagerly, with no past resentment, no bad memories associated with it, no chip on his shoulder.
I’m sure he’d have accepted chips in his ice cream, though. Well, perhaps next time. I have a sneaking suspicion he’s going to want to go back. And I won’t mind.