Scream, You Scream, We All Run...
says “summer” quite like the arrival of the ice-cream man
4:30 on a Wednesday afternoon, and I’m 9 years old, sitting
on the curb at the end of my block with all the neighborhood
kids. None of us has air conditioning and we’re sweltering
in the mid-July heat. My neighbor’s dog is breathing down
the back of my neck; his hot, dog-food breath isn’t helping
my already sweaty, sticky situation. We all sit there, tired
from merely existing in the summer heat, staring out into
the road. Most of us are dirty from digging in the soil
on the small strip of grass between the sidewalk and the
curb, and have spent much of the day searching under couch
cushions for enough change to get a bomb pop. I can still
feel that 75 cents in nickels burning in my hand. Then,
in the distance, we hear the familiar bells chiming “Yankee
Doodle” or some such song, and we know he’s close.
the ice-cream man was an art to us neighborhood kids. We
always had one friend who could hear those bells from blocks
away and would come tearing down the street to let us know
that the ice-cream man had indeed entered the neighborhood.
We would all quickly stand up in anticipation, and then
would wait . . . and wait . . . the bells would get louder
and louder, then from a distance we’d spot the glare off
the roof of the truck, we would see the bright paint job,
and inevitably the dog would start barking. We’d jump up
and down, wave and yell, but the truck driver would pick
up speed, turn off his bells, and enter the highway via
the ramp just across the street. We would just stand there,
open-jawed, shoulders slumped, a big, stinky dog breathing
down our necks: the children the ice-cream man forgot.
For anyone who grew up with an ice-cream man (whether he
actually sold you ice cream or not), his bells and colorful
truck were a sure sign that summer was here. Most of us
remember lining up with our friends and forking over whatever
change we had for a frosty treat, a temporary escape from
the oppressive summer heat. And we remember how hard it
was to pick just one kind of ice cream from all the different
choices advertised on stickers all over the truck. Nothing
was cooler than those ice-cream bars, the ones that dyed
your mouth a bright blue (or pink, or green), and came with
gum that lost its flavor the second your brain freeze wore
While Mr. Ding-a-Ling is the ice-cream man of choice in
my neighborhood, this phenomenon began with the Good Humor
Man in the 1930s, whose brightly painted trucks and crisp
white uniforms were created by the company as a means of
delivering Good Humor ice cream by the box to homes.
The ice-cream man we know and love today evolved from the
1950s version of the Good Humor Man, who, with his white
uniform and matching hat, had one lonely bell on his truck
and sold that magical “ice cream on a stick.” While he was
wildly popular during the childhoods of baby boomers across
the country, the 1970s brought the downfall of the Good
Humor Man, when the company began selling directly to supermarkets.
And although you may see an original Good Humor truck, private
companies or ice-cream distributors today employ most of
those selling ice cream off a truck.
For some people, the crack of a baseball bat or the smell
of hamburgers on a grill will signal the beginning of summer.
For others it’s the opening of pools or whenever you break
out your white pants. But for me, the return of the ice-cream
trucks from their long winter slumber is always a sure sign.
Even today, although I know I can just run to the supermarket
and buy a box of ice cream, I’m still tempted to rush out
the door whenever I hear those bells as a payback for those
dog days of summer when the ice-cream man passed me by.