We were ice cream people.
We ran a multi-million-dollar empire that had thrived since 1938. For generations of Washingtonians, our name was on the tip of the tongue when they thought of ice cream and candy. Presidents lined up for a scoop next to office workers and laborers. At the scarred wooden tables in the various Gifford’s parlors around the DC area, lovers held hands and children celebrated their birthdays, year after year. Come opening time, there was almost always a line at the door. On more than one occasion, when a first-shift worker failed to show and the store didn’t open on time, small mobs broke in and served themselves. Almost everyone left payment on the counter.
In the Gifford’s parlor, watching a waitress balance a tray of sundaes as she approached your table, everything must have seemed perfect. Beautiful, even. Maybe I seemed perfect, too, that boy under his mother’s wing as she swanned past the tables toward the back of the store. What a dream to be the prince of ice cream!
Except it wasn’t.
In 1979, I was five—-too young to understand much about our family business, let alone what was about to happen to it and to us. Today, I’m still not sure I understand.
Gifford’s Ice Cream and Candy Company was founded by my grandfather, John Nash Gifford. He died in 1976, leaving the business in turmoil. His wife, my grandmother Mary Frances, lay dying in a hospital bed. My father, Robert Nash Gifford, struggled for control of the empire against both his father’s last surviving partner and my maternal grandfather, Allen Currey, who maneuvered to take over in my name. In the chaos, my mother, Barbara, signed on with my dad in an elaborate plan to siphon off profits and plunder the payroll and pension accounts.
As a child, I knew none of this. My paternal grandparents were strangers to me—their history hidden, muddled, erased. From my parents I learned only that I was an accident, easily ignored. What little I thought I knew about my family was a lie, and it would take me over three decades to figure that out. The fact was, long before the public end of Gifford’s Ice Cream, my father had decided to kill it...
— Atticus Review
- Nevin Martell, food writer and author of Freak Show Without a Tent.