A Sweet Detour


August 28, 1994|By ROB KASPER

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon, and I was driving. For a while it seemed like one of those drives, from years ago, when people drove to cool off, to shake boredom, to find ice cream.

In reality this journey, like so many other ventures of modern life, was a trip with a purpose. I was headed back to Baltimore from Emmitsburg after dropping off my older son at Mount St. Mary's College. The boy wasn't leaving home for college. He is 13 and was simply going to the college's basketball camp for a week. Still, the routine of depositing a kid in a college dorm, walking him around the campus, and issuing thousands of last-minute instructions, was unnerving. The last time I remember going through that routine, I was the kid in the college dorm, not the parent.

The stretch of Route 140 between Emmitsburg and Taneytown was designated as "scenic," and the rolling landscape generally lived up to its billing. The corn in the fields was tall and green. The trees shimmered in the sunlight. And the Monocacy River looked sleepy and comforting, an apt description of a Sunday afternoon.

I had a passenger, our 9-year-old, who was feeling slighted because he was too young to go to the camp. As we eased through Taneytown I saw a sign advertising "hand-dipped ice cream cones." I pulled off the road and into the parking lot of Bair's Market. I have found this section of the state to be a rich hunting ground for good ice cream. A few days before, for instance, I had stopped at Baugher's Restaurant in Westminster for some homemade peach ice cream, and a few years earlier, I had a memorable homemade strawberry cone at Hoffman's in Westminster.

Bair's is a country store, with wood floors, and shelves lined with groceries. The ice cream counter was up front, next to the door and cash register. There, Lisa Malat, the chatty co-owner of the store, scooped cones and made milkshakes.

A line of people was waiting for ice cream. And as happens in small towns, the people in line visited with each other.

One person in line was Jo Anne Glass, Mrs. Malat's mother. I overheard her tell the man standing next to her in line that business was real good at her family's used-furniture business. She had sold several mattresses just that afternoon, she said.

The phone in the store rang and Mrs. Malat answered it. The call was for Mrs. Glass. The caller knew that Mrs. Glass was at the store.

"That is how it is in a small town," Mrs. Malat told me later. "Everybody knows everybody else, who knows everybody else."

Mrs. Malat, 24, was "born and raised in Taneytown" -- a community of 2,600. She and her husband Paul, 27, whom she described as "imported from Sykesville," bought the store two years ago, from Kenneth "Buzzy" Bair.

The young couple didn't even think about changing the name of the market from Bair's. The store has been a fixture in the community for 40 years, with many local residents referring to it simply as "Buzzy's." Even though Mr. Bair, now in his mid-70s, is now longer proprietor, he still stops by to check up on things, Mrs. Malat said.

"Around here if you try to change the name of something that has been around 40 years, everybody would just laugh at you," Mrs. Malat said.

She and her husband also resisted suggestions to change the appearance of the store. "Some people said we ought to pull that [ice cream] counter out, and put in a bright tile floor," Mrs. Malat said. We said, 'No. We want the old-time country look.' "

Instead of changing the fixtures, the Malats worked on building the ice cream business, adding several new flavors of the Pensupreme ice cream they get from Kemps Foods Inc. in Lancaster, Pa. This year they began making milkshakes and malts, and banana splits and sundaes.

Customers are mostly local folks, Mrs. Malat said, but there's a sprinkling of travelers lured from the highway by the promise of a hand-dipped cone. Baseball teams drop by after their games. Truck drivers rolling down from the mountains stop in for milkshakes. The malts, milkshakes with malted milk powder, were put on the menu at the request of "some old-timers," Mrs. Malat said, and have been "selling pretty good."

The best seller is the black raspberry ice cream. While she sells a sherbet and a yogurt, Mrs. Malat said she concentrates on traditional ice cream, served the old-fashioned way, by the clerk who talks to you.

"I used to work at McDonald's," Mrs. Malat said, "and I liked the job, but I didn't get to know the customers. Here I know 90 percent of the people who come. And if somebody's mother has been sick, I'll ask them, 'How's your mom?' as I scoop a cone."

As we headed back to Baltimore, my son, as most kids do, formed the ice cream on his chocolate chip cone into "a tent." Slowly he deflated the tent by licking down the ice cream. I had a chocolate malt. It was my drink of choice when I was a teen-ager. I wasn't a teen-ager anymore, I was the father of one, a scary thought.

But somehow the Sunday drive, and the stop for some hand-dipped ice cream in Bair's country store reassured me that life moves in sweet, if relentless, rhythms.

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