My Turn: Heeding the ice cream man’s call


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Our grand child races down the sand dune. A week ago, it would have ended in a face plant. But now, there’s muscle memory and a victorious yelp at the bottom when he reaches the beach ahead of the pack. “Beat you guys,” he exclaims.

It’s a low tide ocean with rolling waves coming off a sand bar, perfect for riding. “Ready?” the boy’s dad calls out, dropping chairs and a cooler, grabbing the boogie board and boy, loping toward the water. When suddenly this happens: A horn sounds. A shout out trumpets — the ice cream man has arrived. “Ice cream. Ice cream, come and get it.” And that call creates something special, something more than ice cream and yet still ice cream.

The boy stops. He turns back. His focus keen and ignited, away from surf and dad. “Mommy, ” he shouts, “the ice cream man is here.” His mother already comfortable in her chair, book opened and almost at rest, must stir. But too bad, agendas change and with six year olds, they may change with sudden and fierce precision. Thus she’s adaptable, and with money in hand, makes the trek up the hill, urged on by the feverish pitch of, “hurry Mom, hurry!” The imperative of ice cream takes hold of muscle and fiber. So what is that imperative? It’s not that he (or all the other children racing up the hill) are deprived of such treats. Yet, the trumpet call arrests the play, as sand castles or waves are abandoned in order to heed the siren’s call. As a former teacher, I am struck, even envious. At no time did my own announcements ever earn such immediate absorption. Such stunning attention.

In his favor, the ice cream man also takes on extended roles, which require attention. In his summer uniform, shorts and tee shirt, he has made various critical announcements. One day it was a tow truck. “Anyone who has a Rav 4, you’re about it be towed,” he bellowed. Moments later, its owner clamored up the dune crying out, while others took up a chant, “The Rav 4 driver is on his way. On his way.” Another time, he used his familiar trumpet to help get swimmers out of the water after the park ranger announced the presence of a shark.

And here I am back in Greenfield still thinking about the ice cream man, this force of nature that took hold of our imagination. How this tweak to routine or titillation to our senses got us hooked. Made us want something we didn’t even know we wanted.

Which reminds me of my first encounter with the ice cream man. I grew up in the city with corner stores, but no ice cream truck. My first exposure occurred when visiting a cousin in Bridgeport, Connecticut. We were outside playing when musical notes drifted across her backyard. My cousin leaped off her swing, grabbed my hand, navigated us through her house, down the street to where a Good Humor truck was parked.

“You can have whatever you want!” she said, waving two dollar bills. I had never met a Good Humor truck and was overcome by possibilities: strawberry shortcake, toasted almond, fudgesicles or orange creamsicles. I wanted something. I wanted all things. I couldn’t decide. “Come on girlie, make up your mind,” the Good Humor man barked with impatience as I stood there, unable to make up my mind, prodded as well by the kids behind in line. Finally, I picked something, and whatever I picked it didn’t much matter because I was already anticipating the next day and the chance for another ice cream man encounter.

However, back at the beach, a week later, the lure of the ice cream shout had lost its insistence for our little guy. The horn sounded and he continued to build. The call came and he ignored it in favor of the demands of his sand structure. “You don’t want a mango pop?” we asked. “The ocean is coming,” he shouted. “I have to keep building the wall.” The thing was, we, the grown-ups, now wanted mango pops. By then, we were the ones conditioned to heed the siren’s call.

Ruth Charney lives in Greenfield.