All is right with the world. I have introduced my young nephew to the ice cream truck.
Picture this: It’s 85 degrees F. A June sun blazes at 6:30 in the evening with barely a wisp of a cloud in a cornflower-blue sky. My nephew, Liam, and I are playing bouncy ball in the driveway at my sister’s house in eastern Pennsylvania. Suddenly, I hear one of the sweetest sounds of summer – the chimes of an ice cream truck.
“Ice cream, buddy! Do you want some ice cream?” I ask Liam.
He looks confused. He has never heard the sweet summer siren of an ice cream truck before.
“Listen to that music. That means there’s a truck nearby, and you can get an ice cream cone. Hey, ice cream man,” I yell out. “Wait for us.”
“Yeah, ice cream man,” my nephew shrieks. “Wait up for us!”
Nostalgic for a Cho-Cho or a chocolate-covered banjo, I take off toward the sappy chimes, clutching three dollar bills in one fist and my nephew’s clammy hand in the other. No matter if we have to scale every curb in that subdivision, I am determined that he will have his first ice-cream-from-an-ice-cream-truck experience while I’m there.
Although my sister has told me an ice cream truck occasionally rolled down our rural road when we were kids, I have no memory of one. Instead I reflect on the Good Humor van from my aunt and uncle’s neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., whenever we visited them in summertime.
“It’s da Good Hu-mah man,” the neighborhood kids bellowed when they heard the chimes, pulling loose change out of pockets and off counters and tearing into the street in frenzied pursuit of the boxy, white van.
My aunt always gave me some change for some Good Hu-mah, too, although she already had nine boxes of Good Hu-mah bars in one of the downstairs freezers. (She spoiled us whenever we stayed with her.)
Did the Brooklyn Good Hu-mah guy have the best ice cream treats or what? Rolled in cake crumbs, strawberry or chocolate, each bar had a crunchy center. The chocolate was my favorite – rich and semisweet. Heaven on a stick.
When my daughter was little, I bought a box of strawberry Good Humor bars to introduce her to the greatest ice cream bar on earth. But just like the new Girl Scout Cookies, the manufacturer either changed the formula or my taste buds had become more discriminating over time, because Good Humor bars didn’t taste nearly as good as the treats from my Gerritsen Beach days.
“Ice cream man! Come back,” Liam wails, snapping me out of my reverie. As we hit the intersection, the ice cream truck comes into view – and turns the other way.
He bursts into tears.
“We’ll head ’em off at the end of the block,” I say, snatching his hand and dragging him due east.
Two kids bigger than my nephew breeze by on bicycles. Liam conscripts them into service. “Go get that ice cream man,” he yells at them.
“Why are you wearing pajamas?” the girl asks Liam.
Normally he would answer her, but at this moment he is consumed with catching that truck and continues his plaintive whimper, “Ice cream man. Wait. Wait for us.”
“There’s a stop at the end of the street, two blocks down,” one of the kids says,
“C’mon, Liam. We can still catch him,” I say encouragingly.
As we reach the other end of the block, what comes around the corner but the coveted ice cream truck. But it turns away from us, traveling faster than Rusty Wallace burning out of a pit stop. I wave my hands in the air, hoping the driver will see me in one of his rearview mirrors.
A new round of cries commences from Liam.
“We have one more opportunity,” I say. “Let’s cut across here to the next big street.”
I know this is probably a futile tactic, but I have to try. As we lope along the sidewalk, the chimes grow louder, louder, louder. Then the ice cream man turns the corner, and … he’s coming right at us. Liam bounds up and down as though he’s a pogo stick gone wild, flailing his arms, screaming, “Stop. Stop. Stop for us, ice cream man. Please!”
The truck slows and then comes to a stop. But it’s not an ice cream man. It’s an ice cream lady.
At this point Liam is so desperate for his sweet treat, he wouldn’t notice if Big Foot were driving the truck. My nephew doesn’t have to look at a sign to know what he wants. Good thing, too, since he can’t read. He wants a vanilla cone with sprinkles. Still gasping for air from the unexpected aerobic activity, I choke out that I need a bowl and a spoon, too, knowing that a cone in Liam’s hand will never travel a block and a half in this heat. Then I hand over $2.50 for a single swirl with sprinkles. I tell Liam to take a lick, and say that we’ll eat the rest on the stoop in front of my sister’s house.
When we get home, he wants to sit on the patio. I pull a bench close to the picnic table, have my nephew sit down, and let him have at his conquest – our conquest.
Two spoonfuls later, he shoves the dish away and says, “Don’t want any more. I’m thirsty.”
I dash inside to get his juice box. My sister meets me as I exit the garage, Juicy Juice in hand.
“Guess what? The ice cream truck just went by. You did all that running for nothing.”
Not for nothing, I think. Never for nothing.
If we had merely walked to the end of the driveway to meet a noisy truck, my nephew would never have an ice cream truck adventure. And surely every kid deserves a summertime ice cream truck adventure to call his own.
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Author’s note: This essay was published by the Christian Science Monitor in 2007. It was the first time I’d been paid for writing creative non-fiction. The feeling was nothing less than extraordinary.