Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Dairy Belle

First posted on Facebook, "I Love Lake Park, Florida" Facebook page.
On a Sunday evening after dinner, when we ate at home and not at my grandparent's house in Delray Beach, occasionally, the talk would turn to dessert.

"Let's go to the Dairy Belle for some ice cream," my dad would say.

"But I made some jello," Mom protested half-heartedly.

"Let the jello wait. Let's go get ice cream." He'd turn to me, all of three, to enlist my opinion which of course, was always, "Ice cream!"

We'd head out of the house to my father's convertible MG Midget and wait patiently while he put the top down. Big hands picked me up and deposited me in the carpeted well behind the only two seats in the vehicle. No car seats or seat belts in those days. As we drove off, I spent the fifteen minutes to the Dairy Belle with my face poking out beside the passenger seat. If I'd have been a dog, my ears would have been flapping in the wind. No flapping ears, but no dog ever had a grin as big as mine as the wind hit my face and messed with my hair.

The Dairy Belle (never just "Dairy Belle") was in Riviera Beach near the intersection of Federal Highway and Blue Heron Boulevard. Just a little building, it was covered with square tile in bright colors. We'd mosey up to the window and order our cones. I almost always got a vanilla soft serve and pleaded for a chocolate, cherry or butterscotch dip.

Cones in hand, we headed for the concrete picnic tables where we sat and dueled with the balmy summer evening. It was always a race to see if we were able to get more ice cream in our mouths than down our arms as the cones melted.

I was always washed down after finishing in those days and was placed back in the carpeted well for the trip home. I can still remember lying down in the well, slightly sticky despite the vigorous washing in the restroom. I could listen to the sound of my parents' voices and could feel the car as my dad put it through the gears to drive us home. It's odd the things that stick in your mind. The feel of that carpet is just as vivid today as it was then.

Good news for you, my faithful readers, for once I'm not telling you about a place that's disappeared. The Dairy Bell is still there and still serving ice cream. The concrete tables have been replaced, but there are still places to sit and enjoy your dessert. I can't guarantee that the cones taste as yummy as they did in 1962, but I'm sure they're just as cold and just as nice on a warm evening, which Florida has plenty of even in the winter.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas in Dixie

Picture Courtesy of David Joyce
           Although versions of the Christmas in Dixie parade were happening as far back as the 1920s, the parade became an institution in northern Palm Beach County during its run from 1954 until the early 1990s. Spectators had to get to the parade route an hour before it started to claim space on the curb.
          My family settled in for the long wait along the parade route reeking of sunscreen because in Florida, despite the calendar saying December, it’s often hot and sunny.  When cars trickled to a stop, my brother would dash into the four-lane street along with twenty other little boys looking for the start of the parade.
When we could hear faint music, everyone would stand up and elbowing each other, crane our necks around and over each other in order to see the very beginning of the parade. The American flag appeared down the street first in the hands of the color guard, the local R.O.T.C. or the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Everyone lining the parade route would stand quietly, hand over heart in respect. The dad hand would be attempting to reach and smack anyone under age ten who wouldn’t stand still or dared to speak.
          The first modern Christmas in Dixie parade was organized in 1954 in Riviera Beach by Jerry Kelly. By 1969, the Palm Beach Post was calling the Christmas in Dixie Parade the “Biggest Florida parade outside of the Orange Bowl spectacle.” That year, the Christmas in Dixie parade included “clowns, twirlers, motorcycles, floats, fire engines, horses, dogs, six bands and a lion.” Also on board was the “Miami Mummer’s Band.” It may not have been televised like the Orange Bowl which went out over the airwaves to TV sets all over the country live from the streets of Miami, but we sat in awe on the curbs and danced in excitement anyway.
          We did our part as spectators, waving at the kids on the floats and anyone in the parade who glanced our way. We danced when the marching bands came by and we ooed and ah’d where expected. We bought souvenirs from the vendors who walked up and down the street selling cotton candy and other things we tried to convince our parents were necessary to life.
          The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts marched in uniform, waving at the crowd. Local gymnastics schools had participants flipping down the street. Hordes of baton twirlers twirled as they marched. The local fire departments had their oldest trucks decorated and in the parade. Local celebrities and a Grand Marshall sat with sashes and flowers in the backs of convertibles. All the high school bands performed. They would march by with sweat beading on their faces, proudly playing “Jingle Bells” or their school fight song.
          The luckiest participants were those that rode on floats. Church groups would spend weeks building elaborate nativities and holiday displays on flat bed trailers covered with chicken wire. The children of the church would ride clinging on for dear life while singing Christmas carols at the top of their lungs in order to be heard. For some unknown reason, they were usually put right in front or behind one of the high school bands.
There was a Miss Christmas in Dixie and she and her court had a float all to themselves. The queen and her court were required to wave regally when they weren’t tossing candy to the kids along the route. By the time they reached the end, arms were aching and Christmas cheer was in short supply.
          The very last entry in the parade was always Santa Clause. When kids saw his flat bed trailer decked out with a huge gold throne and eight tiny reindeer mysteriously hovering in the air coming down the street, sheer ecstasy and pandemonium would erupt. It meant that it was finally, officially, Christmas season. We only had a few more weeks to keep trying to be good.
Behind Santa’s float, the real world came back and people who had finished watching the parade at the beginning had lined up in their cars and patiently followed Santa’s float across town. More than one kid riding in the back of their parent’s station wagon would wave at the spectators like they were a big shot in the parade themselves.
          In the early 1990s the much loved Christmas in Dixie parade met its sad end when, in a fit of jealousy over a boy, a teenage girl near the end of the parade route threw a bottle at her rival who was marching in the parade. During the riot that followed, it was estimated that 750 to 1,000 people were arrested. That, along with rising costs, led to the demise of the best small-town spectacle I can remember.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Watch This Space!

     Okay, I don't mean literally. I think your eyes would get awful tired. But I do have some exciting news and am going to have a fantastic 2012. The booklet I wrote for the Historic Hartman House has been selling hand over foot and has had some great reviews - even from family members who would actually know if I've flubbed something or not and would not hesitate to let me know! So, I've moved on to finalize the next project on my list... "Betty Tales."

     My cat Betty, is a wild bundle of black fur and green eyes who happens to be disabled. I join a friend for walks several times a week and after a year of me sharing stories about the latest crazy thing Ms. Betty did, the friend suggested I write a children's book about the antics of the little princess. My friend teaches writing to third graders and thought it would be a great way to teach children about disabilities. Never one to turn down a creative idea if it's jumping up and down and waving in front of my face, I wrote the story.

     My part of the book was finished in draft about a month ago and received a detailed critique from the members of The Magnificent Mensa Scribes. It's now been polished up to a nice shine. The next step was to find an illustrator.

     The same friend who got me into this mess, umm.... suggested I write this book, happened to know a young woman with tremendous talent whose fingers were itching to illustrate a project just like this! We met. We clicked. She's working on drawings as I type and I'm looking forward to seeing the preliminary sketches in a week or so.

     Bottom line is that the book is expected to be finished by the end of the year. We're planning to self-publish it in e-book and hard copy in January, 2012.

     Next week, I'll go back to my little history geek niche and write something about Florida, but I had to share this news and I hope that you, my friends and faithful readers, will celebrate with me at the end of January.