Summer is here and with it comes my yearly quest for a reliable ice cream man for my neighborhood. I love the ice cream man. I like the music. I like the clown painted on the side—you know, the one with the big open mouth for trash. And yes, I like the ice cream. But what I really love about the ice cream man is the excitement he inspires.
When I was growing up in the seventies, the ice cream man was like a neighborhood hero. Who else could convince my mother to fork over cash on demand for ice cream at any time of the day? It didn’t matter what we were doing. We could be arguing over the latest play on the kick ball field, or knee deep in mud searching for frogs, or having a contest to see who could hold their breath the longest. As soon as one kid heard that high-pitched jingle, the fun and games ceased. Every kid in a one-mile radius would take off running for home, screaming “The ice cream man!” The intensity of our need would overwhelm even our calm, practical mothers who would rush for their purses, fumbling for change.
In my neighborhood, and on residential streets all over town, the ice cream man is our summertime celebrity. My daughter’s love affair with the ice cream man began when she was two. Somehow, a lone ice cream man got lost and wandered into our quiet neighborhood one summer afternoon. I heard the music and frantically grabbed my purse and my child. I slung one over my shoulder and the other onto my hip as I ran into the street, barefoot and deliriously happy.
That ice cream man was a big, lovable college student with heavy glasses and a ready smile. He called my little girl “princess” and she fell in love. The ice cream man and I came to an understanding that summer. He made the trip down our street at least twice a week and, to make up for the small number of children on our block, I always tipped extravagantly. It was a win-win situation. But in recent years, a new ice cream man has taken over and he’s playing hard to get.
Three years ago, he came about once a week. The next year, we had to move our lookout to the corner so we could spot him up on the busier street two blocks away. Then, the children (and okay, me too) would jump up and down screaming and waving. Even then, sometimes he passed us by. Clearly, the four to six ice creams the kids on our street can consume are not enough for a lasting relationship.
Last year, we hit an all-time low—four visits all summer.
We know other families in town, who live right off main streets, and they actually complain about the ice cream man. “He comes every night,” they moan. “He’s so expensive,” they whine. They’ve completely missed the point. You’re not paying for ice cream. You are buying memories.
Who among us doesn’t remember screwballs, rockets, snow cones and, best of all, those little wooden spoons? Who can forget that feeling of near panic while you waited for your Mom to dig out another quarter, and your sweet relief when she found it just in time? What wouldn’t you give for a cherry Italian ice right now?
This year, my neighborhood has new hope. Another family has moved in and they have kids. They bring our numbers up to eight children on the street. Surely that is enough to entice some ice cream man to put us on his regular route. And so we wait. We just need to get him down here once to see what great customers we can be. Ice cream man—where are you?