My Family (a long time ago)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Ice Cream Man

As we’re coming down to the end of the summer, something I realized I haven’t seen this year is ice cream trucks. We used to have multiple ice cream or frozen lemonade trucks roll though our neighborhood in the summer, but this year I haven’t seen one. I also haven’t seen them driving along the streets in my area. It would be really sad to think that ice cream trucks have gone the way of the dinosaur.

I understand that the selection of music they play as they try to entice you to buy a cold treat is pretty atrocious, and it’s even worse when they have an annoying bell ringing. It’s also annoying when they come to your neighborhood right before dinner, but I suppose they can’t hit every neighborhood just right. However, it’s just not summer without an ice cream truck riding around your streets, calling out to you, telling you that relief and refreshment are right here. Even if you don’t buy any, it’s just not the same.

It was a rare treat when we got anything from the ice cream man when I was a kid. In fairness to my parents, we often had something in the freezer – a couple of flavors of ice cream, Popsicles or Fudgesicles. We often had some ice cream cones, too. Despite all that, when most of your friends were getting something from the ice cream man, getting something from the freezer just wasn’t the same. So it was a grand time when Mom actually gave us the money to get something from the ice cream man, even if it was the cheapest item from the truck.

We had some ways around the no-ice-cream-from-the-ice-cream-man problem. One was having friends who always seemed to have money in their pocket. Not that they would get me an ice cream every day, but they got me one sometimes or they would share theirs with me. A friend willing to share his ice cream on a hot summer day was a good friend indeed. Another was finding some change, either on the street, or under the cushions of the couch, or left lying around on a countertop. Sure, you had to save it up until you had enough, but that made the purchase that much sweeter when you finally could afford a Cannonball. There’s nothing like a rock hard piece of gum after eating an ice cream.

One year, my younger brother, a couple of friends and I asked the ice cream man if we could have an ice cream or two…for free. Of course, he laughed at us, but he held out some hope. He told us if we followed him until the end of his route, he would give us a couple of crushed ice creams to share between us, because he couldn’t sell them anyway. Where was the end of his route? Was a crushed ice cream even eatable? We didn’t know and we didn’t care, we were going to follow him on our bikes and find out. 

Ah, but here’s something we didn’t count on. The ice cream man’s route was actually quite long for kids our age, and on top of that he made a lot of stops, so it took what seemed like hours to reach the end. Looking back, he probably thought that we’d abandon the quest because of a) the heat, b) the distance, c) the time, or d) all of the above. I remember that a couple people dropped out and there were only two of us left at the end, both of us hot, sweaty and tired. For our efforts, we each got a squashed, partially freezer burned – but very cold – Chocolate Eclair ice cream! I do believe that was the best one I ever had, better than the ones I actually paid for over the years. Maybe it was that we took the challenge and actually made it to the end, maybe it was the way the ice cream man laughed at us at first, most likely it was because it was the only way I was going to get something better than a Popsicle, but I savored that ice cream like it was the last one I would ever have.

The ice cream man let us do that a couple more times, but then word got out and there were a bunch of kids following him around. In addition to being a traffic hazard, no one was buying anything from him, so he had to shut down the operation. Once toward the end of the summer, he pulled over and gave us a couple of crushed ice creams to share, telling us not to tell anyone else. One last treat to remember the summer by and he was gone, just like the free ice creams. The next summer, we had a different guy doing the ice cream truck in our neighborhood and he wasn’t the same. There were no freebies for anybody from that guy.  

Hopefully, this is not another childhood ritual that is gone for good. I hope next summer the ice cream man comes through our neighborhood with his annoying music playing and his overpriced treats up for grabs to anybody who has enough spare change. I might just go out there and buy something from him, like a Cannonball or a nice Chocolate Eclair. Who knows, maybe he’ll even have some crushed ones he’d be willing to part with for next to nothing. I’d be willing to take the discount as long as I don’t have to follow him to the end of his route.

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