Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Sept. 1, 2 or 3
Born in 1907, Grandpa was Albert Avery Knight. A long-time Standard Oil sales rep, his company business card said “A.A. Knight” but everyone called him “Shorty” because he was 6-foot, 4 inches tall and the world’s got a sense of humor. (His dad, my great-grandfather, was 6-foot, 5 inches and dubbed “Tiny.”)
Among favorite memories of Grandpa was his hosting kin in the shade of his house on North Madison in Carthage, Ill., making his homemade ice cream in his wood bucket, hand-cranked ice-cream maker. His lawn furniture included a red metal glider and we’d swing on it as he cranked, occasionally taking a break to let us sample the salty ice, if not the still-forming ice cream.
One fall, when I was 5 and tired of my cardboard version of a Davy Crocket coonskin cap, he fashioned a colonist’s tri-corner hat by pinning up brims on one of his old fedoras – making the American Revolution exciting for me. When the leaves fell from his big tree – where a neighbor’s dog used to run up and sit in the crotch of its trunk, honest to God – he’d let me “help” him, although the only tools were garden rakes, so we’d have to stop constantly to clear the tines, laughing.
One autumn, during an ice-cream-making session when I was 3 or 4, I was chewing on a melting ice cube when it got stuck in my throat. Dad swept in, picked me up and did a pre-Heimlich maneuver on me to dislodge the ice, and I recall being annoyed at the rough remedy until I saw Grandpa laughing.
He laughed a lot, and seemed to smile all the time. Maybe it was the salesman in him, but despite an occasional ulcer, he was a happy-go-lucky character. He kept marshmallow peanuts in his “company car,” chewed gum all the time, and walked with a breezy gait, jingling coins in his pocket that often ended up in my hand.
He took my hand when I got separated from my Mom at church as a toddler. I was wandering around, weeping, until I saw him coming down the steps. “What’s happening?” he asked, kneeling down, face-to-face. “Mom’s lost!” I cried and he took my hand and said, “Well let’s just go find her, OK?”
Grandpa was a hard-working guy, too, driving a “route” that covered western Illinois from Quincy to Peoria when almost every small town had a Standard Oil filling station selling gas and the tires and other supplies he’d sell. But he relaxed, too. One evening, spending some vacation time with my brother and me, Grandpa sighed and smiled and said, “Billy, I can do a year’s work in 11 months, but not in 12.”
I didn’t understand that until I got my first full-time job.
This Labor Day, I’ll have made his ice cream and relaxed and smiled like Shorty.
THE KNIGHTS’ HOMEMADE ICE CREAM RECIPE –
Ingredients: 1 quart whole milk, 6 eggs, 2 Cups white sugar, 1 Pint whipping cream, 1 13-ounce can evaporated milk, and 1½ Teaspoons vanilla extract.
Directions: In a large bowl, whip cream until it stiffens. In a second bowl, whip the eggs, then add the sugar to the eggs mixture and mix again. Pour the second bowl into the first, and add the vanilla and milk. Stir slightly. If you can stand it, refrigerate the blend a few hours (overnight is even better). Before using the ice-cream maker/freezer, stir again very slightly, and then fill the freezer compartment halfway.
Surround with ice cubes (not crushed, to let air circulate), and occasionally sprinkle rock salt on the ice to increase melting and accelerate freezing. Crank or motorize the concoction until the blades slow or stop. Scoop into separate container and continue with prepared mix, again filling (cleaned-out) freezer halfway; repeat.
And make some memories.
[PICTURED: old family picture of Bill Jr. and "Shorty" Knight.]