The best thing on a hot August afternoon
August 17, 2021
Lost in the hazy memories of childhood summers are the snippets from hot afternoons spent playing outside with the gaggle of kids who lived on my street.
Our days were filled with pick up softball games, bikes, Barbie Dolls and board games. But there was one distinctive sound which caused our collective to drop everything and run home. That sound was the blare of the song Greensleeves.
In suburban communities throughout the United States, the ice cream truck has been a summer fixture for several generations now.
They also, according to the Infallible Wikipedia, are very popular in Britain and are described thus:
“An ice cream van (British) or ice cream truck (North American) is a commercial vehicle that serves as a mobile retail outlet for ice cream, usually during the spring and summer. Ice cream vans are often seen parked at public events, or near parks, beaches, or other areas where people congregate. Ice cream vans often travel near where children play — outside schools, in residential areas, or in other locations. They usually stop briefly before moving on to the next street. Along the sides, a large sliding window acts as a serving hatch, and this often displays pictures of the available products and their prices. Most ice cream vans tend to sell both pre-manufactured ice pops in wrappers, and soft serve ice cream from a machine, served in a cone, and often with a chocolate flake (in Britain), a sugary syrup, or toppings such as sprinkles. While franchises or chains are rare within the ice cream truck community (most trucks are independently owned and run), some do exist.”
When one is a child, we often take for granted certain things. One of those things was the ice cream truck which came down our street frequently during the summer. Of course I didn’t think about it much. All I thought about was how I was going to get my hands on the nickel (and when the price went up, a dime and a nickel) I needed to buy a treat.
In the houses up and down my street, our mothers’ doled out the coins needed. Soon we all lined up, patiently or not, for our turn to peruse the desired frozen treats, the cloud of cold steam from the dry ice billowing out like some magician’s trick. The truck always stopped between our house and the Tuttle’s house. This strategic location often produced a dozen eager customers as my family boasted four children and the Tuttle’s had six. Added to our ten were several groups of three additional children within a few houses and even more further up the street. That was a lot of potential customers!
Soon I’d have the frozen delight in hand and would sit on the curb with the others. I can envision our gangly group, in pedal pusher pants or shorts and the summer footwear of choice: thongs. For those born after about 1970, we never called them flip-flops, they were thongs and every single one of us wore them all summer long despite the occasional bee sting or stubbed toe.
But I digress. Although I often thought about buying something new and different, I always got the same thing: an orange creamsicle.
My mother, no doubt in a futile attempt to cut back on the money spent at the ice cream truck, developed her own frozen treats. She would fill an ice cube tray with (I think) chocolate fudge jello and freeze the little squares. Into each square was inserted a wooden popsicle stick. These would be doled out on hot August afternoons when the ice cream truck did not come up our street.
When my own children were growing up I would often make Koolaid based popsicles in specially designed holders. My daughter could go through several every day.
Of course one of the reasons for this is that there were no ice cream trucks which ventured the steep driveway up to the house where we lived. Unlike the street where I grew up, my pair of children mostly played with one another or with a friend or two invited over for the afternoon.
When we moved to Kirkland in 2004 the kids were 14 and 11 and past the age where the ice cream truck was a motivating factor. Even so, there were many afternoons when I’d hear the familiar Greensleeves, it’s Pavlovian tune beckoning to youngsters.
In the past three years I have yet to hear or notice an ice cream truck in our neighborhood. Perhaps, with the advent of instant grocery deliveries, it’s now been swept into the dustbin of history. I think our society is a little less rich if that is the case.
Perhaps the next time I’m at the store, I’ll purchase a package of creamsicles, blare Greensleeves from Spotify, and then close my eyes and imagine I’m 8 years old once again, sitting on the curb and savoring that wonderful childhood treat.