Nothing signals summer in Rhode Island quite like that first cup of Del’s. And while the rest of you are wondering what the heck Del’s is, I ask my fellow Rhode Islanders: Is there really any other choice for my favorite summer drink?
Del’s is slushy frozen lemonade that was first sold from a small seasonal stand in my hometown, Cranston, Rhode Island, way before I was around. Growing up, there was nothing so exciting as the beeber-beep! of an approaching Del’s truck on a hot summer night, winding its way through the streets of Garden City, the driver scooping the sweet, snowy treat into little cups for a whole neighborhood at a time. At the faintest indication of a nearby truck, we’d toss our bikes to the curb and run inside to beg our mom for a dime for a small or a quarter for a large. “And get one for me,” she’d always instruct us.
Even more thrilling was stopping for an icy, thirst-quenching cup on the way home from a long day at the beach. There we sat in the back of the woody wagon — sandy feet, our thighs stuck to the pleather seat, in slow-crawling weekend traffic heading north — when my mom or dad would pull off into the little dirt cut-out by Shady Lea where routes 4 and 1 split. An enterprising Del’s truck often sat right there, serving hot, thirsty beach commuters. How much more pleasant it made the rest of the trudging ride home to have a cup in hand.
I also have a Del’s memory that still makes me sad. We were visiting friends in Garden Hills one day when I was about six or seven, and I was riding my friend Jeff’s Big Wheel. We heard the truck coming from far down Sweetbriar Drive and dashed inside to ask our moms for Del’s money. My mom gave me a quarter, and I resumed riding the Big Wheel until the truck got closer. In the center of the handlebars of the Big Wheel was a hole just big enough, I estimated, to hold the quarter. I stuck the quarter into the hole, and I was exactly right. It fit perfectly! So perfectly, in fact, that it wouldn’t come out when the Del’s truck appeared. I ran inside in a panic to ask for another quarter, but my mom shook her head disapprovingly. By the time she acquiesced, the truck had moved on, and there I stood in tears, mad at my mean mom, as all the other street urchins sipped their frozen lemonade. I know…tragic, right?!
Nowadays there are Del’s stands and trucks all over the state, including a cart right at the beach. Yes, I’ve tried it spiked with vodka. Yes, you can buy it in powdered form and blend it up with ice at home. Yes, it now comes in watermelon and other blasphemous flavors. But I’m a nostalgic purist. Gimme a lemon, scooped right into that cup that looks just the same as when I was a kid (no straw, of course — the mark of a summer tourist!) and I am one happy girl.
So I ask you: What’s your favorite summer drink?
My next birthday is the big 5-0, and rather than approaching it with dread, I decided to have some fun by doing a weekly countdown revisiting some of my favorite memories and things from the past 49+ years. #50FavesTo50