The Ice Cream Man

Living a half a block from the beach definitely had its good points. As a child I used to go to the beach every weekend with my father and sister. When my dad was on vacation we would go every day. My mom would meet us there around lunch time.

It was never just the four of us at the beach. My grandmother was there, my cousins, aunts and uncles, and friends. We were a huge group with lots of beach chairs and beach towels spread all over.

The best time, at least for me, was lunch time. My mom always brought American cheese sandwiches made on Wonder Bread with a little butter on it and some lettuce. By the time lunch rolled around the sun had melted the cheese and warmed the bread. I loved those sandwiches.

When we got thirsty my mom would break open the jar of Kool Aid she brought from the house. It was always cherry or strawberry and also very warm and sugary sweet. I can’t say that I loved the Kool Aid but the sticky, sweet drink added to the atmosphere.

An hour or so after lunch the group decided that it was time for some ice cream. It was more like the kids decided that it was time for ice cream and we just nagged out parents until they agreed.

Then we all started to look for The Ice Cream Man.

I don’t really know how things are now but way back then The Ice Cream Men used to walk on the sand selling their wares.

It was hard to find these wandering men. We had to stand and really look around but listening was very important too. All The Ice Cream Men sang the same sing-song mantra.

“Ice cream! Get your Good Humor Ice Cream here-ah! Ice cream! Get your Good Humor Ice Cream here-ah!”

They sang this mantra loud enough for all the mothers could hear. It was always the mothers who listened and called him over.

“Ice cream, here, here,” the moms would answer to his song.

He’d slowly turn around to find the voice and little by little walk over.

The Ice Cream Man. He always wore a heavy, long-sleeved white shirt. His pants were khaki and he wore them long enough so that the cuffs dragged in the sand. The shoes weren’t sandals but regular shoes. They were black and looked like they had some weight to them. The shoes covered the white socks that protected his feet.

As he walked his shoes sank into the sand and then slipped to the side a bit. If you concentrated and listened very carefully you could hear the crunch of the sand as his shoes pushed it to the side.

On each shoulder hung a thick strap that held a huge case. One case held the ice cream, the other the orange drinks.

His walk was slow and steady. He never ran to the moms. He knew that they will still be waiting for him and his ice cream if he got there two minutes later. Where was he running to anyway? Once he sold the ice cream to this mother, there would be another mother calling for him. “Ice cream, here, here,” the moms sang out.

And the sun would beat on his head. The middle of July can be very hot and humid in Brooklyn, and The Ice Cream Man felt every bit of the 90 degree weather.

Suddenly he was standing by the moms. Both cases were dropped to the ground to free his arms and hands. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wet, white handkerchief. The sweat that ran down his forehead was wiped by the cloth tissue but his face remained moist just the same. The sweat started to reappear as soon as the handkerchief found its way back into the pocket.

“What kind of ice cream do you have today?” the moms asked.

“Well, I have pops, cones, Dixie cups. Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and orange ices.”

“Kids, what kind of ice cream do you want?” the mom would ask. She took the order from the kids and then repeated it to The Ice Cream Man.

He stood no more than two feet away from the group and heard every order from the kids, but the mom would always repeat it. Was The Ice Cream Man deaf I often wondered, or maybe he was just forgetful and couldn’t get the order straight unless it was repeated to him.

The Ice Cream Man opened up the ice cream case where white smoke floated into the heated air. He reached in and took out the dry ice that kept the ice cream cold and pulled out what we ordered. He would hand the ice cream to the mom and she would pass it over to the kids.

“How much do I owe you?” the mom asked.

“Five dollars and 53 cents, miss,” he answered.

“Do you have change for a ten?”

“Yes, miss, I do.”

The ten would come out of the mom’s little beach purse and The Ice Cream Man would hand over some dollar bills and change. The mom’s always counted the change because they didn’t trust The Ice Cream Man with their money.

When the financials were settled The Ice Cream Man would bend down and put the dry ice back into the case. Suddenly, the still moist handkerchief, which probably never dried off, found its way back to his forehead.

With a slight grunt, he picked up the two cases and put the straps back over his shoulders and started walking away.

“Ice cream! Get your Good Humor Ice Cream here-ah! Ice cream! Get your Good Humor Ice Cream here-ah!” he started to sing again.

His head would tilt a little to the right as he heard a response.

“Ice cream, here, here,” a mom would sing out to his song.

He found the woman who sang to him.

He walked slow and steady. He never ran to the moms. He knew that they will still be waiting for him and his ice cream if he got there two minutes later. Where was he running to anyway? Once he sold the ice cream to this mother, there would be another mother calling for him. “Ice cream, here, here,” the moms sang out.

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