Summer arrived and continues, where I live in South Florida with an often unbearable heat and humidity. Sitting in the cool air conditioning of my office, I will on occasion, go outside for a moment of sunshine and fresh air. It never fails that the first blast of air in my face can only be likened to a cross between penetrating desert heat and a steam sauna, with its initial smack of overwhelming humidity. In all truth, much of the year here is like this, but coming out of our version of winter and spring…it takes a little time to adjust, even for us.
I find myself reminiscent of another time, around the age of 8, during the early 70’s sweltering dog days of summer, in Birmingham, AL. Days filled with hours outside in little bare feet, playing games with friends and riding our bicycles on many a grand adventure. Around midday I would hear my mama’s voice traveling through the air, “Rebeeecccaaaa!!” I would reply, “Whaaaaaat?” She would in turn yell, (with a firmer tone), “Come Hommmmme!” Well, because I would inevitably be engrossed in something of GREAT importance I would yell back, “I’ll be there in a miiiiiiiiiinuuuuute!” Her final reply would always register, because it was her I’m NOT messing around tone, when she said, “Come home NOWwwwwwww!” At that moment, not only I, but any kid around KNEW I better get home…So no matter where I was or what I was doing, I would yell back, “I’m Cominnnnnnng!!” and take off for home, dirty feet and all. Bounding through the front door, my mom would yell from the kitchen, “Shut the door or you’ll let the flies in!” Once in the kitchen I would find a plate containing a cheese sandwich, green grapes and Fritos, along with an ice cold cherry or grape Kool-Aid that my mom would have waiting for me. I can remember this with clarity because EVERY day of summer at that time in my life, was exactly the same.
There was one other aspect of summer that was equally predictable. In fact, though I knew it would happen each day, being so young, the awareness of “time” or “patterns” were not yet my strength, which contributed greatly to the adrenaline rush I would experience when a certain melodic tune would begin to permeate the air. It did not matter where I was when that sound came into hearing range, I would instinctively STOP what I was doing, (including eating my sandwich); my back rising into perfect posture…chin tilting slightly upward,(eyeballs open wide with excitement), and turning my strongest ear in its direction, so as to verify my suspicion of its origin. At the lunch table it would be at this moment that my mother would usually say, “Rebecca Jane, you will not be getting anything if you don’t finish you lunch.” Though hearing her, my posture would not change…I HAD to be sure if it was…him! Who am I talking about? Why none other than ~ The Ice Cream Man of course! Upon verification that indeed it was him, life would descend into emotional chaos, as panic rose through my tiny body at the mere thought that I might miss getting that daily icy cold fix. I would look longingly at my mother, who would begin at this point re-iterating her previous directive. Though wanting to argue the point, I would instead begin cramming the ENTIRE remainder of the sandwich, grapes and Fritos into my mouth – as my mom warned, “Now stop that Rebecca, you’re going choke yourself!” That DIDN’T matter…the ONLY thing that mattered was overcoming this mandatory food obstacle so that I didn’t miss him!
With a clean plate, and hearing the music from his truck coming closer, my temperament would begin taking on more of a fever pitch. There was however, a fine line that had to be mastered where; On the one hand, I HAD to get the money from my mom, while on the other hand, I could not risk any “attitude” that would cost me this anticipated opportunity. My strategy was simple: Beg in the most pitiful way possible, to secure the needed cash for the Ice Cream Man! FINALLY, after what seemed an eternity, she would put the coins in my hand and I would sprint out the door as that magical truck made its approach.
Now, this Ice Cream Man was what my mom referred to in those days as “a long haired hippie”. He indeed had very long brown hair that was in a thick braid all the way down his back, with a bushy brown mustache, mirrored sunglasses, a big turquoise ring on his left hand’s middle finger and usually a cigarette in his mouth. (Though in all honesty, today I’m a bit more doubtful it was a cigarette.) He would consistently take orders from every kid AHEAD of me – no matter where I was in line. Being polite, I would wait my turn, but I can still remember my heart racing for fear that he might run out of ice cream before he got to me. This fear usually revealed itself through my bouncing from one foot to the next in my red Buster Brown tennis shoes with orange reflectors on the back, as I nervously would try to peer at the cooler inside when he reached for an icy treat, to see if it was the last one.
Finally, with last kid served, it was my turn! Ohhhhh the sheer ecstasy of that moment! I knew exactly what I wanted, which was the Red, White and Blue BOMBPOP (that looked like a rocket ship)! I stepped up to the window of the truck confidently, with money in hand and my order prepared. He was leaning into the window’s opening, with his hands outstretched to either side of the frame and a big smile on his hairy face – and THAT is the exact moment when it would happen…EVERY time. As I would tilt my head upwards to tell him what I wanted, he would lean out the window and look wayyyyyy behind his truck, and look wayyyyyy in front of his truck, (as if I wasn’t there), then stand upright with his hands on his waist and say, “Oh well, I guess that’s everybody” – turn and head to the driver’s seat of his truck! Utter PANIC would kick in as I would begin saying, “sir…SIR… SIR!!! I’m RIGHT here! WAIT!!” He would put the truck in gear and then slowwwwwwlyyyyyy begin moving down our hill, with me steadily running behind it waving my arms and yelling, “STOP! PLEASE STOP!!” He would then ease to a stop, (the sound of his breaks squeaking), and just as I caught up, the truck would start to move again, and I would run behind it…AGAIN. This would happen a few times, at which point I would see him in his side mirror laughing at me. By the bottom of the hill, I would be in a state of frustrated and FURIOUS tears, at which point he would stop the truck, come back to the window, tell me he was sorry, and at long last would give me…the BOMBPOP!
Recalling this I laugh at the realization that no matter what phase of life we are in, all of us at one time or another have experienced an “Ice Cream Man” in our life ~ whether that be an actual person or simply a situation. An Ice Cream Man that seems to stand between us and our desired goals, pushing all of our buttons until it feels like our emotions are going haywire!
In all honesty, I really did NOT like that Ice Cream Man very much. But do you know what? That messed up daily ritual likely contributed to developing a determination that nothing and no one would hinder me from going to whatever lengths necessary to achieve a desired goal AND realizing that when things don’t go the way I would like or in the manner I might prefer…It is never a reason to quit.
So I guess there is only one thing left to say ~ Thank you Mr. Ice Cream Man…ya big hairy jerk !
©2016-2019 Rebecca Balko