Travels with Mr. Ice Cream Man

Anita Tosti-Hendawi

August 09, 1993|By Anita Tosti-Hendawi

I GREW up years ago, long before ice cream trucks. There was no electronic music box to be heard blocks away on a hot summer's night, no white vehicle plastered with pictures of the items for sale and cartoon characters (including the celebrity's mouth that formed the trash hole).

Instead, there was a simple horse-drawn wagon driven by a stout man who rang a tinny bell just loud enough to send children in the immediate vicinity scampering. Timing was everything. He would not wait.

We would scurry to our parents for a reward, a handout. We'd promise to be good -- anything to produce a nickel and penny for a Popsicle. The more fortunate might get an ice cream sandwich or a Dreamsicle. That stretched the budget by four more pennies.

There were no character faces to confuse us. (Ninja Turtles were still in the sewer.) Most of us were delighted to be sucking on a cool, flavored pop, having shared the other half with a friend (if we were in a good mood).

The ice cream man usually wore white and had a face that fell in folds. I remember hearing that his name was "Bulldog," but that could not have been. Everyone knew his only recognizable name was Mr. Ice Cream Man. At least the dignity of his trade was preserved by the "Mr."

He had no routine schedule, so we never knew when we'd hear the hoofbeats of his horses on our street. He went as far as his ice cream chest, cooled by dry ice, would carry him.

Today the trucks have vast freezers, complicating the choices of every 6-year-old at a stop. It's a major decision, between a baseball glove with a bubble-gum ball and a favorite peanut character.

It almost seems that the children of one block reappear in the next. Kids with pigtails, pony tails, corn rows, crewcuts, skaters and braces wait for the ice cream man.

The days are long, but the ice cream man is rewarded by the warmth of the children's greetings and their delight as the treasures are placed in their outstretched hands.

I know about this because I travel with an ice cream man. I guess that makes me Mrs. Ice Cream Woman.

Anita Tosti-Hendawi writes from Sparks.

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