Book Review: Andrew Gifford’s “We All Scream”

0609171345_resized (2)I couldn’t wait for my copy of We All Scream: The Fall of the Gifford’s Ice Cream Empire by Andrew Gifford to arrive in the mail.

The book promotion said, For more than seventy years, Gifford’s Ice Cream and Candy Company was associated with nothing but pleasure for native Washingtonians and visitors to the nation’s capital. But behind the iconic business’s happy façade lay elaborate schemes, a crushing bankruptcy, two million dollars of missing cash, and a tragic suicide. As the last Gifford heir unfolds his story with remarkable immediacy and candor, he reveals the byzantine betrayals and intrigue rooted in the company from its modest beginnings — dark influences that would ultimately destroy the legendary Gifford business and its troubled founding family.

When the book finally landed in my post office box, I saved it for just the right time, packing it in my purse to read to my husband as we drove from North Carolina to Tennessee and back on vacation (I’d done the same on the way to and from Maine last year, reading myself hoarse on J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, another fine book).

Andrew’s We All Scream gripped us like tires on mountain curves, our emotions shifting gears with each climb and descent in the author’s life. Chapter upon chapter piled up the familial baggage, which he then methodically decluttered, one disquieting revelation after another. By the time we arrived back home four days later, weary and with cinders still in my purse from a coal-fired ride on the Tweetsie Railroad, we still had a hundred pages left to finish. We savored them over three quiet evenings, left to discuss the humanity of our own families in the end.

The real story of Andrew Gifford’s life was everything I suspected it would be, and more. I wasn’t looking for the dreamy nostalgia of Gifford’s Ice Cream, so you won’t find any sticky sweet sentiments here. In fact I think I only went to their store once, with my friend Kathy and her sisters, when we were in our teens, back in the early 1970s. It was the popular place to go. At the time I was a troubled adolescent. Hanging out with Kathy’s functional family kept me going until I could find the emotional growth and faith to deal with my demons. I had no idea that behind the freezer cases and candy counters lurked a family more dysfunctional than my own.

I didn’t pick up the book to looky-loo at the Gifford’s business fail and missing millions. I could have picked that up from news articles.

What I wanted to hear was Andrew’s voice, the voice of The Boy Who Survived, now a man, freed from the horrors of an abusive family. Andrew’s book delivered that, loud and clear. As someone who also turned to writing to heal wounds, I cheered as he steered clear of self-destruction, and processed his feelings on paper. He plotting his escape, worked to fund it, and succeeded, despite many obstacles. Along the way he helped other writers by producing publications that showcased their work.

Reading We All Scream was like sitting in a counselor’s office and spilling out the most horrifying revelations while water gurgles in a coffee table rock fountain. He plays the long game, leading his reader from a child-sized exploration of a basement laundry chute, where we run our fingers along mysterious scratched lettering to, by book’s end, the closet of an Atlanta apartment where we are primed to unlatch his father’s long-lost briefcase.

The author claims his space. He is Andrew, not the heir to a legacy, not the breadwinner, the invalid caregiver, the  co-conspirator, the savior. Because he makes it okay to just be Andrew, his book gives the rest of us a roadmap to overcome the roles others force on us. We are not victims, not heroes, just survivors. We want to “be.”

The author recognizes he can’t fight the cult of Gifford’s Ice Cream and fan nostalgia for memories of Swiss sundaes. At least now he can deflect them, with “have you read my book?” and offer them the link to a buy button. I wish him many book sales. I wish him peace.

I don’t keep many books. I’ve already passed on Hillbilly Elegy. This one I am keeping.


De-hoarding Project Update: Halfway Through

Six weeks ago I started my summer project, working on the 12 bins of memorabilia and 17 scrapbooks that are purposely cluttering my living room in Pine Level so I will deal with them. I am pleased to report I am down to about half that – five piles of stuff, one for each decade, including one big pre-1980s pile.
1st layer 1 1st layer 2 1st layer 3 1st layer 4 1st layer 5

Now comes the next layer – giving myself permission to photograph, scan and dump. I want to do this quickly; otherwise, I’ll be swallowed up in a self-made tomb to dead people. Two thoughts, about history and time, will put this in perspective:

Image courtesy of French Wikipedia

First, history. The Inquisition, which lasted 600 years, and in which people were burned at the stake for heresy, is significant. My dad’s (or mom’s) high school yearbooks are not. (Although I will contact the museums/libraries in their hometowns to see if I can donate them – I know the RELIC center in Manassas is accepting yearbook donations, and has volunteers scanning them for archives.)


What I do want to save is the photo of my dad, Roy, as a young man in Nyssa, Oregon, before he went off to fight in World War II, and the photo of him with his flight crew.

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Second, time. My life is meant to be lived and experienced, and I have things to write about. I have a lunch date with one writer scheduled, and the critique group in Goldsboro is giving me feedback on Chapters 3 and 4 of my book. If I set that aside to sit in a shut-up house among piles of things, that’s not living. When my friend Kathy visited she told me, she doesn’t have any scrapbooks, not even for her wedding. Instead she has a whole family of wonderful experiences that keep happening, like the day trip she and I took to St. Andrews in Laurinburg, and the time we shared.

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Kathy at St. Andrews in Laurinburg

So today I am giving myself permission to stop – stop hoarding, stop being the family caretaker of stuff. I’ll give the final result of my summer project the fourth week of September, when autumn begins.

My question for you is, if a natural disaster or eviction threatened the place you call home, and you had to get up and leave right now, what could you carry with you? What would you choose?

My Summer Project: De-Hoarding Family Artifacts

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This is what is in my living room right now: Sixty years of family photos, papers and memorabilia in 12 plastic bins and 18 scrapbooks, spread out over three temporary tables, four chairs and two regular tables.
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My summer project is to deal with my HOARD. This is my gift to my loved ones while I’m still healthy. As Elvin Bishop sang on Prairie Home Companion, “You ain’t never seen a hearse with luggage on top.”

    organizing 5

      I Have a Plan

    My sister reminded me that millennials do not want our old stuff. So I’m saving focal items and digitizing or scanning the rest. The trash/recycling pile is huge.

      I’m Excavating in Layers

    “Keep, toss or donate” decisions are tough for an admitted hoarder like me. So I’m doing this in layers. I estimate the first layer will cut the hoard in half. After I take a break, I’ll start on the next layer. Each layer is TEMPORARY. If I get stuck, I’ll call in a professional organizer. I did that in Manassas and the experience was very productive (thank you, Liz Witt-Lee!). I can do it here in Pine Level, too.

      I’m Streamlining

    Before, I had bins and scrapbooks for each family member. That meant lots of duplication. I also received several dumps of stuff after three family elders died. Now I just have one timeline and six piles, each representing a decade. What a difference!

      I’ve Stopped Enshrining Dead People

    It’s been 17 years since my first husband died. I’ve learned to live in the present by helping to start a community garden, organize community clean ups, teach Sunday school, travel to gain new perspectives and give time, talent and money to churches or other non-profits. The best way to honor those I love who have died is to live my life and help people now. Hanging on to every yellowed paper or fading photo was a waste of space, time and energy.

    That’s not to say digging for your roots is a waste of time. My mother spent 11 years putting together her book on our family. She had fun doing it because she and my dad traveled and connected with people she hadn’t seen in decades. That book has held a lot of meaning for my brother’s son, my sister and me because it connects us. For a family that is so spread out – North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Missouri – that is important. That was her gift to us. So while I work on this project, I want to stay grounded in the present.

      I’m accountable

    I’m writing this blog post to hold myself to the task. I want to come back here and post about the process as I go along.

The last place.

a recent trip to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond

a recent trip to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond

All my life I’ve made plans, scrapped plans, re-engineered plans, tackled plans, accomplished plans, taken on new plans, made lists, checked off lists, taped new lists over old lists. Get an education. Get a job. Fall in love. Get married. Have children. Wash diapers. Get a new job. Bake bread. Bury a husband. Marry again. Raise a family. Go down a zipwire. Grow in faith. See the mountain top. Walk the ridge walk. It’s been a wild adventure, really. In May, our youngest will graduate college. The patchwork-lifework I stretched like a clothesline for more than five decades is fini.

What’s next?

Retirement was never part of my plans. I’m a writer. I’ll never stop writing until they pry the pen from my cold, ink-stained fingers (or slam the lid of my laptop on them). Even if I flat line in the creativity department, I still envision working in a creative community and the stories they tell – at a visitor’s center? A used bookstore? A shelter? Somewhere.

The railroad might send my husband to another location. At times, he wonders if God will call him to a third career [#1 was the Army]. Or we might just be here forever. In any case, I’ll still write.

It’s just …I’ve begun to think of “the last place.” You know. Where I will be when my life ends. My mother was 78 when she died; my grandmother was 64 – that’s just five years older than I am now. They both began and ended their lives in Nebraska.

I’m feeling my mortality. It’s a pity party set to “A Little Night Music”:

Every day a little death

In the parlor, in the bed

In the curtains, in the silver

In the buttons, in the bread


So I need to do something to snap out of it. This morning, now that the polar vortex and the rains have moved on, I walked the long walk in the neighborhood with the dog, picking up trash. This afternoon, after I meet my deadlines, I’ll bake two loaves of honey wheat bread to take to Manassas Midwifery. There’s new life coming into this world, and someone needs to feed the laboring mothers. It’s their turn to make plans, wash diapers, and begin the wild adventure.