Hannah Riley had steeled herself for the national ice cream day festivities at Maple View Farm, a scenic setting amid the cornfields, pines and maples in rural Orange County.
In addition to celebrating the more than 100 flavors of ice cream made at the farm that Bob Nutter, a fifth-generation dairyman, and his family started in 1963, hundreds of people settled into the front porch rocking chairs or put blankets down on the grassy hillsides to listen to music and help raise money for children with cancer.
Ridge Riley toddled across the grass toward his mother, balancing his upside-down ice cream cone as it quickly melted in the bottom of a cup.
It was in September, less than a year ago, when Hannah Riley and her husband, Chad, an Orange County sheriff’s deputy, noticed that Ridge, just 2 at the time, was having trouble with his balance while they were at the beach.
They took him to a doctor and not long after that learned of a diagnosis that causes a range of emotions to well in Hannah Riley.
“I have my good days and bad days,” she said Sunday as her son grabbed her knees with his hands, still sticky from the ice cream he’d been enjoying.
Ridge has an inoperable brain tumor, his mother said, noting that he had lost some vision in his right eye. He has gone through so many sessions of chemotherapy that he thinks that’s the way most pre-schoolers live.
“He honestly thinks that’s how everybody lives – they ride their fire truck and go get chemo,” Hannah Riley said as Ridge sped away to visit with others huddled under the tent.
Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood was one of those who had stopped by to give hugs to Ridge and his family.
Blackwood, Orange’s sheriff since 2014, had his officers directing traffic on the winding two-lane road near the ice cream store.
“Maple View and Bob have done so much for this community,” Blackwood said. “I’m here because it’s ice cream day and because we want to be involved in what helps the community.”
At a tent not too far from where Ridge’s family was gathered, Tina Cates monitored a table where people were donating money to Kids Path, a program for children with serious and life-threatening conditions and their families.
Cates knows well what some of the families are going through. Her niece, Samantha Harvell, died in 2008 at just 15 years old, after battling osteosarcoma for two years.
They make the dark days bright.
Sam, as Cates and others called her niece, won many over with her remarkable spirit.
Sam’s Wish Fund, which has raised $329,000 in 10 years, is distributed through Kids Path. The fund might be used for a meal out for a child and family or to help check items off bucket lists.
Cates recalled one family that got to go to Disney World with the fund’s help.
Hannah Riley, who was having a “good day” on Sunday, was appreciative of the help the organizations had given her family at holiday times.
She also was grateful for the other families she had met through Kids Path and Sam’s Fund.
“They make the dark days bright,” Riley said.
There was much brightness at Maple View Farm on National Ice Cream Day, helping those experiencing bittersweet moments linger on the sweet.