- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

CRYSTAL SPRINGS, Miss. (AP) - If Crystal Springs were the Old West, Dairy Freeze might be the last cool trading post before endless plains of blistering heat. No, wait.

If Crystal Springs were a vast and sandy desert, then Dairy Freeze would be a tiny green island of promising palm trees - cool relief for a dusty traveler. No, that’s not quite it either.

OK. If Crystal Springs were a small Mississippi town in need of a sturdy spot of nostalgia to bring an easy smile (likely rimmed with a creamy white mustache) to generations, Dairy Freeze would be that spot. Dairy Freeze is that spot.

To be fair, it’s hardly a lone outpost there at the corner of U.S. 51 and West Georgetown Street. There’s a Catfish One next door and a brightly colored Sonic across the highway.

But the jaunty little building - Dairy Freeze signage up top and a soft-serve ice cream cone punctuating the space in-between - has the corner on cute. Picnic tables on the side are just the spot to lick soft-serve vanilla into sweet submission.

One look at the pink cheeks and damp ringlets on Kinsley Thornton, 3, is enough to know her cone is destined for quick consumption. Her grandfather, Rodney Taylor, is on the way with it. Her little arms fly up to greet it, “That’s mine! That’s mine!”

It’s a favorite stop, said her aunt, Olivia Taylor. “I used to come here a lot with Memaw. We’d go by the park and come here to get ice cream.” She smiled at her niece. “We were just playing in the park. She insisted on ice cream.”

That’s how it’s been for generations.

Established in 1951, the Dairy Freeze can’t have changed much since. Inside the roughly 300-square-foot stand, the ambiance is rightly described as “1952ish,” with a nice view of pale pink crape myrtle and a whimsical drape of Christmas lights. Potted flowers out front add another bright spot of pink.

Thomas Garland, 32, has had the stand for about a year. As a customer, he’d been coming since before he could remember. Now it’s a side business for Garland, whose primary job is with the Mississippi State Rating Bureau. He steps in when he’s short on staff or things get busy; otherwise, he trusts hired high-schoolers to keep the swirls coming. Hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Early advice told Garland he might want to close shop in colder months. “But it floated itself this past winter. Now if we have, like, 35 degrees and it’s sleeting outside, I’m going to tell my workers to go home.” But 35 degrees and clear? Customers still dropped by - bundled up, bemused, still wanting that treat.

Dairy Freeze’s creamy, soft-serve vanilla piles high in cones or serves as the base for sundaes, shakes, malts, banana splits, “Candy Crunch” concoctions with cookie crumbles and candy pieces, chocolate-dipped cones and more. Snow cones are steady sellers, too. The prominent “Ice Milk Sold Here” sign out front is old-school language for the frozen dessert that’s less than 10 percent milkfat, but just as sweet as ice cream.

Garland bought the business from Doug Price, whose grandmother Wanda Price Buchanan had been the original owner and operated it for decades. Her son, Bill Price, then Ken and Diana Turbville owned it over the years, then it was briefly back in Price hands. Garland only recently found out his granddaddy’s uncle Earnest Garland built the little building.

“It’s been here so long and it’s still open, so you know it’s successful,” he said. “And it’s cool to serve people, because they always have a smile on their face when they’re in line, waiting, and then when they get their ice cream.” A family with five youngsters once dropped by and made a fine, fun and sticky mess with their treats. More napkins? “How about some wet rags?” he’d offered. It took 10, plus a water hose.

Doug Price has many fond family memories of Dairy Freeze. He and his sisters all worked there and loved it growing up. Retired women who worked there kept up with their soaps on an old black-and-white TV, and the siblings play-shut each other in the cooler for fun. “We all survived,” he laughed. Coolest thing? When a customer got wistful: “My grandfather used to bring me here as a kid.”

The tiny outpost hits many a nostalgic note, celebrated in paintings by Mississippi artists Wyatt Waters, Mark Millet and Paul Fayard.

The place caught Millet’s eye the first time he drove his RV to the Tomato Festival in Crystal Springs, around 1999. “I saw this place and thought, ‘Aw, this is cool!’ His painting’s limited edition prints took off at the festival there. He interviewed the original owner, Buchanan, and included her memories, such as scraping snow from the window to serve ice cream in the winter. The stand’s two service windows date to the days of racial segregation. The owner, then a teacher, got a call from one of her workers that a black man came to the white window to order. “Serve ‘em,” she’d said. After that, signs over each window came down and everyone was served the same.

Waters reminisced about hand-crafted malted milkshakes that the ladies there made for him the first time he painted the shop; a more recent painting will show up, too, on cards and mugs. Dairy Freeze most represented Crystal Springs for him, but it also brought to mind May’s Dairy Drive-In on U.S. 49 in Plain (next to Florence), where he’d had his first store-bought hamburger as a child. “It represented all those places. It just looked like it could have been anywhere … but they’re not around anymore.

“That’s still the real thing.”

Fayard “loved it automatically” for its bygone era feel; and one of his half dozen paintings of it graced a town T-shirt. “It has a charm most big buildings don’t.” Plus, you know, ice cream.

“It is one of our landmarks,” said Crystal Springs Mayor Sally Garland (also Thomas Garland’s stepmom), who popped by for a chat. “You can’t hardly come into town and leave without having some ice cream from the Dairy Freeze.

“It is an example of who we are and what we stand for, and the simpleness of a town that’s just 25 miles south of Jackson, where everything’s happening.

“You hit the Copiah County line and you exhale a little bit. And you buy your ice cream, and you just sit here and you eat it.”

Thomas Garland said folks have been known to drive from Byram, Jackson and Brookhaven for a treat.

The mayor chuckled. “Just for some ice cream, and peace.”

___

Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, https://www.clarionledger.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide