It started across the street where FasTaco stands now. Somewhere along the way Braum’s migrated to the other side of West Henderson Street.
“Can you believe we’ve done this 20 years?” Jerry Stevens said more to herself than anyone in particular as she exited her SUV with celebratory balloons in hand.
For the Stevens family the weekly Friday excursion represents tradition, simple on its face in some respects, rich in family history in others.
The origins of the custom began humbly, stemming from the modest desire of a grandfather to treat his grandson — Caleb Stevens, now 23, to an ice cream.
“My dad, his name was B.B. Stevens, worked in town and picked Caleb up, we’re thinking it was around Aug. 21 or 22, 1999, and took him to Braum’s for ice cream,” said Brad Stevens, Caleb’s father.
What well could have been a one-off event of scant significance instead became a weekly standing date penciled in the Stevens family calendar.
“His grandfather started it when Caleb was 3, before he was in pre-kindergarten,” Jerry Stevens said. “Brad was working so Paw would pick Caleb up and take him for ice cream. I took it over later and helped out.”
Caleb Stevens has mosaic Down syndrome, which in no way hampers his exuberant, outgoing personality or his dare-to-dream plans for the future.
“Oh yeah,” Caleb said when asked if he can believe it’s been 20 years already.
For Caleb’s father and grandmother the realization is, while memory filled, more bittersweet, both being somewhat at a loss as to where the time went.
B.B. Stevens passed away in 2012 but the tradition carries on. Caleb, his father, grandmother and Caleb’s nephew, Kayden Allsup, marked the 20th anniversary on Aug. 23.
Other family members sometimes join in as well, Brad Stevens said.
“Whatever I’m in the mood for,” Caleb said when asked what he eats each week. “Ice cream. Sometimes chicken and french fries or a burger.”
Ice cream every time though Caleb stressed adding that he sticks with the same order 99 percent of the time.
“Vanilla is my favorite but I’ve had strawberry sherbert,” Caleb said. “Chocolate not so much.”
A double dip of vanilla in a cup is Caleb’s treat of choice, Robert Stevens confirmed.
“But never chocolate,” Stevens said. “If they use a spoon to get the ice cream that had even a little bit of chocolate on it and he can see it, that won’t work. They have to start over.”
Cleburne Braum’s employees know to expect Caleb and company about 3:45 p.m. each Friday.
“There’s always staff here who recognize us when we walk in,” Robert Stevens said. “Of course, everyone knows Caleb so they holler at him as soon as he walks in. If they’re not busy a lot of times they’ll start preparing his order as soon as they see him.”
Cleburne Braum’s Manager Victoria Luna said she and her staff are happy to be part of the Stevens’ family tradition.
“They’re good people and it’s always good to see them,” Luna said. “We certainly appreciate their business and the fact that they chose Braum’s for their family event.”
That’s usually the case even when they can’t make it to the Cleburne Braum’s.
“If we’re traveling and out of town on a Friday we try to find a Braum’s somewhere,” Jerry Stevens said. “If there’s not one around we’ll find someplace else that has ice cream, but we always try to find a Braum’s first.”
The family recently logged their furthest away family day, paying a visit to Serendipity’s near Times Square in New York.
“For a redneck country boy from Johnson County, New York City was crazy and a bit overwhelming,” Brad Stevens joked. “So many people in a hurry to get, who knows where. Kind of looked like they were getting nowhere to me.”
NYC was crowded, Caleb admits, but said he loved it.
“Got to go up in the Empire State Building,” Caleb said. “Took a boat to the Statue of Liberty. Saw the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. I loved the 911 Memorial most of all.”
Brad Stevens, a communications professor at Hill College, was able to take Caleb to New York thanks to a faculty study grant from the school.
“It’s not a sabbatical but it’s a trip to work on components of your curriculum that you want to bring back to your class,” Stevens said. “What I looked at was the development of the Bill of Rights, particularly the First Amendment. So that took us from Federal Hall in New York to Independence Hall in Philadelphia to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. It was quite a trip.”
Caleb added that the sight of the theaters on Broadway awed him.
In addition to his love of basketball, baseball, swimming and dancing, Caleb is also a budding thespian familiar to patrons of Plaza Theatre Co.
Having already tread the boards in “Lion King Jr.,” “Winnie the Pooh Kids,” “101 Dalmatians” and other productions, Caleb will return in October to play several characters in Plaza’s staging of “It’s A Hit.”
Turning his attention back to the big city lights, Caleb, in between spoonfuls of ice cream, informs his dad that he one day intends to be Broadway bound.
That, Robert Stevens informs his son, will take a lot of work, dedication and focus.
“You never know,” Caleb replies.