When I was growing up, I spent a great deal of time in Nokomis and Tomahawk, WI. My family had land in Nokomis and we enjoyed many family weekends in the northwoods. Sadly, I have not been up there for the past number of years. One thing I remembered on the drive to our land was passing by the Windmill Ice Cream Shoppe. I was feeling nostalgic a few weeks ago, so I decided to take a mini road trip to grab some ice cream with my caregiver, Amy.
On our way!
I love car rides now since George Blue Thunder came into my life! Sitting up front allows me to see so much more than I did in my old green van. I also can carry on conversations with whoever is driving me around. Amy and I chatted on the way up and also listened to music. As the miles passed, I reminisced about the times I had up north. I reflected back on the winter bonfires, watching movies on the VCR and playing on the old Nintendo 64.
As we pulled into the parking lot for the Windmill Ice Cream Shoppe, I was ready for my old standby favorite, chocolate. Unfortunately, the doorway was not wheelchair accessible. Luckily I had my portable ramp in the car and Amy grabbed it for me. A couple of EMT’s happened to have a craving for ice cream as well. They kindly helped Amy get me up the ramp. Another couple offered to move their vehicle to enhance our picture taking. I love when my path crosses with kind people.
Unfortunately, my path would also cross with a few not so nice people. As I was selecting my flavor, Amy noticed something that really bothered her. The three clerks, young women between the ages of 17-20, were not only staring at me, but also whispering. I have become oblivious to these things for the most part. I guess when you have a noticeable disability, it is a matter of emotional survival. However, being new to the world of disabilities, Amy was really bothered by what she observed. She decided not to say anything out of compassion for me, not wanting to cause an embarrassing scene.
“Lack of experience or exposure” is a common excuse for people who stare and whisper. It is an excuse I have used to give people the benefit of the doubt. However, as I thought back on this experience I thought about Amy. She is my newest caregiver and came to me without any experience. There has always been a comfortableness between Amy and I. She was able to see me as a person first and simply care for my disability.
I think I have been letting people off the hook a bit too easily. Staring is one thing, as I think we have all been guilty of this from time to time. However, whispering and making your customers uncomfortable is a whole other level. Being oblivious to the staring/whispering was a good thing for me. However, I am sad that Amy had to experience that side of being disabled. Although, I think sometimes these experiences can make a person a better caregiver and a more compassionate human being.
The uncomfortable and awkward customer service did not taint the ice cream thankfully! The Windmill Ice Cream Shoppe offers 28 flavors from Kemps and Cedar Crest. Best of all, it is hand scooped! Ice Cream always tastes better when it is hand scooped. Windmill Ice Cream Shoppe offers a choice of a bowl or a cone. You can also enjoy your ice cream in a malt, shake or a sundae! They also serve cold beverages and candy treats.
The most special feature of the Windmill Ice Cream Shoppe is the building itself. You might have already guessed, it is a windmill! However, it is more than just the windmill and the ice cream that makes this a family tradition. There is a beautiful gazebo (not accessible), benches and tables to enjoy your ice cream. Behind the Windmill is a walking/bike trail, so you can burn off the calories of your ice cream! The Windmill Ice Cream Shoppe is also next to the trestle bridge that expands over Lake Nokomis. It is definitely not a place you want to eat and run, it is an experience you want to savor.
As a man with a disability, there are changes I would like to see to make the Windmill Ice Cream Shoppe a place for all to enjoy. Ramps into the shop and a ramp on the gazebo would be easy fixes. A not so easy fix would be employing a compassionate, caring staff. Owners of small businesses have many struggles. Seasonal businesses have even more struggles, especially with staffing. However, those who man the counter are reflective of the business and the service they provide. I hope these young ladies never have to experience being stared at and whispered about. Self worth is a difficult thing to regain after it is lost.
Despite our experience with the inaccessibility and the staff, I would definitely stop for ice cream if I was driving through the Tomahawk/Nokomis area again. However, I would not make a special trip as I did that day. Generation after generation can make special family memories at The Windmill Ice Cream Shoppe. So if you see a windmill while driving through Tomahawk, pull over and enjoy a delicious treat!
Until next time, Keep Rollin’ and Keep Smilin’!
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