Joseph W. Ryan: Days of ice cream glory past

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PITTSFIELD >> School will soon be out and summer will finally be here. With the long warm days of late spring, every English teacher I ever had would write an assignment on the blackboard starting with, "In spring, a young man's fancy turns to..." It often included the dreaded verbal presentation to the class.

It goes without saying that the girls were all talking about completing their first sentence with "love." The boys all tried to avoid the "L" word. Baseball was a much better subject and fishing was a good alternative. A detailed description of baiting a fish hook with a worm was sure to bring squeals of horror from the "love" writers and smug laughter from the boys.

But I would like to take that opening sentence on a new course. In spring, a young man's fancy turns to ice cream. It was one of the most enjoyable family outings to pile into my dad's '48 Dodge for the best warm weather treat of all, ice cream cones.

Dad, who was a principal in the Pittsfield school system for 43 years, would find summer employment with the New Haven Railroad, the state Transportation Department, or help out his brother at Tim Ryan's place. A typical evening would involve a walk with Mom from Union Street down Francis Avenue and over the rickety old railroad overpass to Nana Hoffman's house on South Church Street. Dad would drive over after work to pick us up, and if the stars were lined up right we would drive home by Park Square to First Street and a stop at Alpert's Double Dip. At a nickel a scoop, a family of four could get three single scoops for Mom, my sister and me, and two scoops for the old man, all for a quarter.

When Alpert's raised the price to a dime, we began expanding our scope, searching for the perfect cone (size, quality, flavor variety and price.) Al's Variety a bit further up First Street offered a decent-sized scoop and several flavors, but the 10-cent price was taking hold just about everywhere. We did what families would do in those days — we cut back.

Expanding search

Our search brought us south toward Lenox. Ho Jo's was great ice cream, but expensive. The Quarry across the street had great burgers and fries but the ice cream was an afterthought. Friendly's and DQ had not yet arrived in the Berkshires. Red's Dairy Bar in Lanesborough was half circus and half zoo, a fun place to go but not for really good ice cream.

One Sunday afternoon, on one of those bygone Sunday drives, we drove up the hill in Lanesborough to Rhinehart's Dairy Farm. For years, they delivered our milk to us and had just opened a dairy store with their own ice cream. This was good stuff, especially the black raspberry, and it became our summertime Sunday destination. But it was only open on an irregular schedule and usually not in the evening. We still needed to find a nearby ice cream parlor for those hot summer nights.

A friend of Dad suggested the Model Dairy on Ontario Street. It was an instant hit and became a regular stop for us. I was getting a bit older and added coffee and maple walnut to my list of favorites. It was a good and tasty summer.

The following year we heard about a place called Kirchner's on Tyler Street. It was located in a small stone building that is still there. You could get a giant scoop of delicious, homemade ice cream for eight cents. Customers were lined up out the door. The fudge ripple was to die for.

It was only open for a couple of seasons, but I still think fondly of the early 1950s and those pleasant family outings, and for my money (OK, for my dad's money), the best ice cream cones come from Pittsfield.

Joseph W. Ryan is a long-time Pittsfield resident and former City Council president.


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