Friday, April 20, 2012

A Muncie Boyhood-Cost of the Summer Treat

For the sake of argument, let’s just say it’s June 1969. The sun is shining. It’s the first really warm day of the summer. I’m seven and a half years old, and I’m out in my backyard playing with my big yellow Tonka dump truck and talking to my dog Sugar.

What’s that I hear? Music in the distance. Which direction? Where? Is it close?

Back in those days in Muncie, Indiana, one of the favorite features of summer was the ice cream truck. Kids would come running from every corner of the neighborhood to get their frozen treats. Popsicles. Fudge bars. Creamsicles. Rocket popsicles. Nothing tasted better on a summer evening.

You could hear him coming long before he got there. I have no idea what the tune was, but it was distinctive. As soon as it got within earshot, you could hear the kids: “The ice cream man! The ice cream man!”

The truck was my favorite with its larger variety hidden behind those colorful side panels, but there was another option….the ice cream bike. Boys on bikes with large iceboxes on the front. They rode through Heekin Park and anyplace else where lots of people were getting hot and sweaty and in need of something cold, but they didn’t ride down 21st Street all that often. There wasn’t enough bang for the pedal stroke. It wasn’t a big loss for our gang, though. There was more to choose from in the truck.

My mom kept a little plastic cup up in the cabinet with dimes and nickels just so there was change handy for when he drove by. Isn’t that something? You could get an ice cream bar for 15 cents! Anyway, the music would start playing and I would run in the back door, run up the three steps into her tiny kitchen and yell for her to give me some money for the ice cream man.

“Ice cream man! Ice cream man! I need some money for the ice cream man!”

Our backdoor didn’t have your typical screen door, although it was probably typical when it was first installed. It was wooden. It was kept from swinging too far with a chain and a spring. It didn’t have a cool little device to make the door swing closed slowly. Instead, it just slammed back down. We latched it with a little hook and loop, but we usually didn’t. Usually, it was free to open and close. One of the funniest things was to see my dog digging at its bottom edge to get in as a thunderstorm approached. Eventually, she would pop it open enough to get her nose in, and then into the house she slipped.

One particular day…perhaps the day I described above…the ice cream man was coming down my street. Overflowing with excitement, I ran into the house screaming for some change. “Mom! It’s the ice cream man! Can I have some money?”

Way too slowly for my liking, she opened the cabinet and got me some change out of the little cup, and then I was off. Down the three steps to the landing, turn right, throw open the screen door, run out…

BAM! “Owwww!”

The screen door chain had gotten tangled in the spring. It only opened a few inches before it slammed back shut with the same force with which I had thrown it open and hit me square on the forehead!

It raised a really nice swollen lump.

But, priorities have always been important to me, so I just grabbed my head with my change-free hand and kept going. I couldn’t let the truck get away! I chased him down and got my treat.

You’ve heard of ‘shoot first and ask questions later.’ Right? Well, for me it was: ‘Ice cream first and rub your head later.’

I wasn’t sure if I should eat it or put it on my face. That’s a lie. I definitely ate it....every last sweet, cold, refreshing bite.

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