“The young remember most deeply… When we are old and failing, it is the memories of childhood which can be summoned most clearly.” – Dan Simmons
I am so fortunate to have such fond memories of my childhood growing up in Clarksburg, WV. The 1950s were a time of predictability and simple pleasures. A time when my parents communicated with me by yelling from the front porch, “Mike, time for dinner. Come home now!” A time when you showed someone you liked them by chasing them around the playground. A time when darkness was announced by the glow of the first fireflies.
And, summertime was formally proclaimed “Open” when all the local ice cream parlors turned on their neon lights, cleaned the winter from their windows, taped up their mouthwatering pictures, and slid back those small windows, leaning down and saying, “May I help you?” Memories so clear, I can still vividly remember dad hurrying back to the car, with ice cream about to run down the sides of the cones saying, “Here. Quick. Take this one!”
Today, of the three Dairy Queens and one independent ice cream parlor which helped define my youth and teenage years, only one remains. – “The Last Cone Standing.” Before I pay tribute to this last remaining creamy vestige of my formative years, please join me on a “Magical Ice Cream Tour,” which may just invoke memories of your own.
Once upon a time when I was very young, there was one Dairy Queen, located on West Pike Street in Clarksburg. I remember: Like clockwork, every Sunday after church dad would stop there on the way home. I always ordered a large strawberry sundae with whipped cream and a cherry – $0.50. And, in 1959, $0.50 bought you a two-handed cup of ice cream. This was a weekly tradition until my college years. Unfortunately, its location is now part of the Kroger parking lot.
To this day, every time I pass that parking lot, I still see that Dairy Queen and remember – memories from a much simpler time. My biggest worry was finishing the sundae before arriving home. I needed to free my hands so I could enjoy the (still warm) Italian bread and pepperoni rolls we also purchased after church.
As the years went by, turning 16 became the first real milestone in my life – my driver’s license. I still remember coming home from the State Police station after passing my driver’s test. My friend Jim drove me to the test and I proudly drove him home. Later that evening, I asked dad the question every parent fears, “Dad can I have the keys? I want to go see Bill and Randy?”
Moments later, I was a free man – a man of the road. All alone and independent. It was 1964. My first stop was the Dairy Queen on East Pike Street. I ordered a chocolate malt milkshake with whipped cream and a cherry.
When I got back to the car, I settled in and turned the ignition switch. Put the old T-Bird in gear. Grabbed the shake with my left hand, elbow out the window and off I went. Driving with one hand for the first time did cause some anxiety, but looking “cool” was more important than safety. But alas, that Dairy Queen, like the one in West End, became only a memory. The building still exists; but (ironically), it is now a tobacco shop.
The third stop on our “Magical Ice Cream Tour” takes us to Mannington, WV. Growing up, my grandparents lived for a time in Hundred, WV and then moved a couple miles north to Garrison, PA. Practically every Sunday, until I became an older teenager, we would visit my grandparents. On the way, we traveled through Mannington. There, we would stop at the Dairy Queen either on the way up or back – never could convince my parents to make a two-stop. I would always order my traditional large strawberry sundae with whipped cream and a cherry.
The Mannington Dairy Queen was always so special to me. After my father’s death, mom and I continued the ice cream tradition on the way to the family farm. At the age of 86, with her health failing, we made one last trip to the farm. Stopping in Mannington, I had a chocolate malt milkshake (I was driving) and mom ordered a medium chocolate cone. I can still see her wide-eyed look when I returned with the cone which was much larger than she anticipated. We had a good laugh as she kept licking and eating to prevent the chocolate from running down the sides of the cone. We sat in the parking lot and reminisced about the “old days.” As we pulled out, she looked at me and said, “Mike, can you imagine all the ice cream you, your father, and I ate from this Dairy Queen?”
A few months later my mother passed away. As I was driving north for the burial, I wanted to make one final stop at the Mannington Dairy Queen. When I pulled into the parking lot, I was saddened to see it had become a sub shop. But then I smiled. And remembered mom and that chocolate cone. Sixty-three years of sundaes and shakes were now only a memory – but very sweet memories from a simpler time.
And now, it is time to end our “Magical Ice Cream Tour” by visiting the Adamston section of Clarksburg and pull into the parking lot of Toni’s Ice Cream – “The Last Cone Standing” in my ice cream life.
Toni’s Ice Cream is located at 1700 West Pike Street. The parlor is situated directly beside what I knew as Victory High School, now Adamston Elementary School. Heaven sweet – ice cream beside a school.
However, it was originally called Tarantino’s Dairy King. The first Tarantino’s, which opened in the 1950’s, was located on Route 19 North, just outside of Clarksburg and was owned by (brothers) Joe and John Tarantino, and Charles Richards.
In the early 1960’s, Tarantino’s was relocated to 1700 West Pike Street – the parlor’s present location. At that time, Nola Tarantino (Joe’s wife) and Frances Tarantino (John’s wife) joined the family business. In 1991, Toni (Tarantino) Fleming (John’s daughter) and her husband Al took over ownership and changed the name to Toni’s Ice Cream. And, this special ice cream parlor eventually became “My Last Cone Standing.”
All that being said, my first memories of Toni’s (or Tarantino’s if you like) began in 1965 while I was attending summer school at Victory. I did not like attending summer school at my arch rival but sometimes “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”
But there was a bright side. With school out for the day, Toni’s became a teenage magnet with social opportunities galore. Walk across the street. Grab a shake and a couple (hot) dogs. Meet some Victory girls. Make some Victory guys mad. Life was pretty simple in 1965. Actually, one of my best new friends that year was Joe Capozzi, the Victory full back. All summer we shared football stories, downed Toni’s shakes, and created lifetime-memories. With my being a defensive tackle at Washington Irving, Joe and I had several collisions during the final football game of our senior year. One of the nicest tough guys I ever knew. As a football player, he reminded me of a bowling ball with arms and legs and a huge smile – who loved shakes!
Toni’s has changed a lot over the years, but so have I. They now have a covered outside eating area, plenty of seating with umbrellas, and a drive through window. But the quality and service has always remained first-rate. Now, the menu is enormous, including all the traditional sweet treats one might expect, sandwiches and more.
Recently, Sandra and I took a drive and ended up at Toni’s. She ordered their famous raspberry ice cream in a cup – a large cup. And as you might expect by now, I got my chocolate malt. It was lunch time and cars were lined up one after another at the drive through window. There was a teenage couple at one table. At another, a mom and dad with two children, one wearing his ice cream. But he was enjoying it so.
At that moment in time I felt very melancholy about what I had lost over the years – three of my four ice cream cones. But, then I realized how fortunate I was to have the memories and still, to this day, the opportunity to visit “The Last Cone Standing.”
Toni’s Ice Cream in Clarksburg, WV – I salute you!
Send me your sweet memories. I would really enjoy hearing from you.
Until next time,
Correction: August 25, 2016
The story has been updated to provide more details on the origins of Toni’s Ice Cream and its original owners.