The iceman doth come

People younger than I criticize us older folks for living in the past. They have a point. Today’s head-spinning advances, principally in technology, tend to bewilder more than they help us. Things change so fast and so often. But we cope, most of us, and try to ride with the tide of change. I guess I appreciate most of these changes. I do wonder what my grandparents would think if they could return and see our world of today.

We seniors do offer something valuable to those born in this century and the latter stages of the last one: our mental filing systems. History still lodges in the long-term memories of those of us blessed enough to remember. Some of this is useful, some not so. Just for fun, here is a scene from my childhood that swam into my consciousness the other day.

When the temperature climbs into the 90s, and the Baltimore humidity drenches the air, how can a kid cope? The local movie house, possessing the neighborhood’s only air conditioning, is out. We can afford to go only once a week, for the 10 cent Saturday matinee with its comedy feature, a western, an episode in a cliff-hanging serial, and 10 cartoons. Pretty much fills a summer day, but only one day.

But during the week, the ice man cometh. Yep, you’re right; this was a long time ago. Some of our neighbors hadn’t yet acquired a refrigerator, and in their front windows they hung a diamond-shaped card displaying numbers announcing how much ice they  needed delivered to service the family’s ice box. Once or twice a week, a burly man delivered these large, heavy blocks of ice in a big truck. He would stop in front of a home bearing one of those signs, climb into the back of his truck, chop off the right-sized block if ice, grab it with his big cast-iron tongs and lug the ice on his shoulder to the homeowner’s kitchen.

His departure for the house always signaled a race by us kids, who ran to clamber up into the truck, where we would grab up scattered ice chips to suck on, and flee before the driver returned. Our parents hated this. The truck’s floor was dirty, of course, and climbing onto its rear bumper and then inside to scoop up our icy reward was dangerous.

Some of the drivers were friendlier. I recall one in particular who would engage us in conversation. I learned that he drove a fuel-oil truck in the winter months and an ice truck in the summer. When we spotted his dark blue truck coming, we kids would trot after him until he stopped for a delivery, when we began chanting “Gimme piece of ice!” And he would smilingly oblige, chopping off a few slivers, which he carefully handed to us, free of the dirt on the truck’s floor.

Perfect treat on a hot day.

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