My Grandpa, Millerd Van Donge — “Gramps” to all his grandchildren, moved here as a senior in high school from Cove, Ore., during the depression in 1929.
His father, Bardell, had moved the family — his wife Ethel and their four children — to escape a mortgage on a section of farmland, trading the section for 30 acres of strawberries south of Walla Walla, free and clear.
Millerd was the second-oldest son. After graduating from Walla Walla High School he worked on the farm and also for the Union-Bulletin as a pressman. At the U-B he met a proofreader named Esther Cole, and they were married in 1940. The third son of their five children is my father, Greg Van Donge.
My dad talks fondly of memories of growing up in Walla Walla in the 1950s at places that no longer exist except in memory and old photos.
One story that I remember hearing from my dad was about a place called O’Dells Ice Cream Parlor. On Sundays my dad’s family went to church at the White Temple Baptist Church, another place that’s no longer around. The children would be given 10 or 15 cents for an offering, which they would sometimes conveniently “forget” to drop into the coffers.
By prior collaboration my dad and one or two of his brothers would play hooky from church and go to O’Dells. Their favorite concoction was a cherry phosphate with a scoop of ice cream in it. They would drink their phosphate slowly and beg the soda jerk to refill their half-full glasses with more soda water to stretch their dime’s worth of illicit treat; living in the country it was hard for a child to make it to town.
Where do we buy ice cream today? For my family it is a toss-up between Bright’s Candies and the Colville Street Patisserie. At Bright’s my children, Natalie and Noah, press their noses to the glass as I read them the flavors. I generally encourage them to get one of my favorites — any variation of chocolate — so I can have a bite. Hey, if I don’t have my own, the calories don’t count, right? We love sitting in the little seating area while we enjoy their cones.
The Patisserie is a different environment: Instead of candy it specializes in pastries, and instead of ice cream it has gelato. Here Natalie and Noah get to taste diminutive samples, though they rarely branch out from chocolate or vanilla. I may even get my own cup here, since small portions are available. Gelato is different from ice cream — smoother somehow, and not as sweet. I was fortunate to have gelato in Italy, and the Patisserie’s is equally delicious.
Ice cream continues as a family tradition today. In the summertime my dad and my cousin Drew both make ice cream. We all agree the hand-cranked ice-cream machine is a better choice, mainly because the electric machine is so loud. Today, the hand-cranked machines can be harder to find, but getting together with family and friends and taking turns cranking the ice cream is fun.
So whether you are buying a cone at Bright’s, gelato at the Patisserie or cranking your own, ice cream is worth it — especially when you get that first rich bite!
Greg Van Donge contributed to the writing of this column. Sara Van Donge is a Walla Walla native and middle school dual language teacher. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.