Michael A. Parks
To view a slide show of several Texan Dairy Queens, click here.
Along the cracked and endless highways of rural Texas, certain types of landmarks appear repeatedly. Whitewashed grain elevators rise on the horizon, like flags marking the settlements below. Larger towns have schools, and almost every town has a water tower. Wherever Main Street is, the courthouse sits at the end of it. There's the cemetery, and there are the churches. Then, if the town is big enough, there's the Dairy Queen.
For residents, the Dairy Queen is at once a restaurant, meet up spot, and place to pass the time. For travelers, the Dairy Queen is an oasis; it's what transforms a blur of buildings into a real, memorable place. As a native of the relatively large (population 212,169) city of Lubbock, which is six hours from everywhere, I've always appreciated rural Dairy Queens. At home, my family never goes to a Dairy Queen. On the road, though, we sometimes start planning our orders hours in advance. And yet I've never known how Dairy Queen came to be the small town restaurant of Texas.
A few weeks ago, I traveled to Idalou (population 2,157) to sit at the Dairy Queen and ponder Texans' affection for the brand. It was a Sunday, and church had just let out. Almost every seat was full. A little boy in church clothes carefully deconstructed a vanilla cone. An old man and woman sat on the same side of a table, the woman feeding the man a Blizzard. All over the state, citizens of small towns had made the same ritual Sunday trip, and within a few hours, before the wind picked up, everyone went home.
Searching for Dairy Queen in Google's newspaper archives: