Excerpt from The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan J. Gilman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street

by Susan J. Gilman

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2014, 512 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2015, 528 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky

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Print Excerpt


Let me start back at the beginning, before satellite trucks were parked across the street, blocking my driveway. Before our "Sundaes on Saturdays" campaign, the Mocktail Milkshakes, and Spreckles the Clown. I'll begin on the sweltering Lower East Side of Manhattan, with the peddler with the horse-drawn cart: A rotund, sweating man. Salvatore Dinello. His last name was stenciled on the side of his wagon in flaking red and gold paint. DINELLO'S ICES. He was the last of his kind, really. Most other vendors had already started working for wholesalers by then. Mr. Dinello wore a slouch cap and a brown canvas smock. Instead of shouting like the other hawkers, he sang. "I-SEES, I-SEES." Like an aria. Oh, it was marvelous. I could hear his baritone all the way down Hester Street, above the incredible din.

Dinello's Ices came in lemon and sometimes cherry. They had the consistency of snow. Once, when Flora and I were supposed to be fetching dinner, I bought a scoop for us instead. We de- voured it—cherry, I remember—and our mouths turned lurid, candy red. It was delicious. It was a delirium. But immediately afterward—oh, such guilt we felt! That two cents was supposed to go for a potato. From then on, I tried to keep my distance.

But whenever we were on Hester Street, I'd watch longingly as Mr. Dinello scooped a small, glittering mound into his tiny glass cup for a customer. The customer licked the cup clean, then handed it back to Mr. Dinello, who rinsed it out in a zinc pail dangling from the back of his wagon. He used the same cup for each person. That's just how it was back then.

Our family didn't have a penny when we stepped off the boat. But whose did? The people who arrived in America with money, their stories aren't interesting. So your eldest brother, Lord Such- and-Such, inherited the family estate, and you, Poor Thing, had to make your fortune in the New World instead? Please. Don't even bother me with that.

At the time of my accident, we were living in a tenement on Orchard Street, on the fourth floor in the back. We paid a tailor named Mr. Lefkowitz two dollars a week to let us sleep in his parlor. Mama took cushions from the settee and spread them across a pair of creaky wooden crates. During the day she worked for Mr. Lefkowitz cutting patterns with two other women in the front room in a cloud of airborne fibers.

When he wasn't in the streets himself, Papa worked for Mr. Lefkowitz, too. He pressed shirts with a heavy iron heated up on the stove in the kitchen. When the hot metal hissed against the cotton, it smelled like burnt vanilla. I loved that smell. Years later I tried to re-create it in our laboratory.

My parents worked within seven feet of each other. And yet, they weren't speaking.

Their plan, you see, hadn't been to go to America at all.

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Excerpted from the book The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman. Copyright © 2014 by Susan Jane Gilman. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

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