1928 Stockton, in the central valley of California, was hot, hot, hot! Our bare feet sizzled on sunlit sidewalks. (We never wore shoes in summer except for the patent leather “good” shoes for Sunday school); our ordinary school shoes from the year before were outgrown and we would not get more until school started again). Our progress was a hopscotch game from shaded concrete to green lawn to shaded walk again when lawns were no longer available. And where were we headed? To the not-quite-corner grocery store to buy a frozen treat. Two out of three of us would choose a chocolate covered banana on a stick, deliciously cold and stable even after we had licked off the heat-vulnerable chocolate. The less wise of us would part with their nickel for a Milk Nickel or an Eskimo Pie, either of which would turn to a sticky mush almost before they left the non-air-conditioned store.
We had a hard choice to make even before we reached the store - the transit of the corner vacant lot. No sidewalks surrounded that vacant lot, nor were there trees to mitigate the heat. The shorter diagonal path, baked-hard earth studded with rocks, gravel, Coca-Cola bottle caps and broken glass, took longer to cross as one’s burning feet gingerly picked their way through hazards both sharp and excruciatingly hot. The faster path, one that I never attempted, was on the black asphalt pavement, which was so hot that it bubbled and flowed. My friends, Betty and Jessie Bell, often got blisters on the soles of their feet as they raced around the corner. And it all had to be done once again, delicacies in hand, as we headed back to the not-quite-as-hot shade and lawns.
Like most other Americans of that time, my family owned an ice-box that dripped melted ice through a hole in the floor to the crawl-space under the house. In that terribly hot 1928 Stockton summer, the ice-man’s daily route along our street drew children behind his truck in a fair approximation of the Pied Piper with his horn. As the ice truck crawled along in low gear, its driver would scan front windows for the diamond-shaped sign that signalled that the household needed more ice. The orientation of the sign showed how much they needed (or wanted to pay for). The panel- type truck would stop, the driver would walk around to the open back, climb in and with chisel and mallet to hack off the requested fraction of the large blocks (50 pounds? 100 pounds?) of ice within. Then he used huge tongs, with curved, sharp-pointed blades, to grapple it to his shoulder and enter the house. That was time for the children to swarm up and into the truck to harvest the shards of broken ice that his chiseling had left behind. Even if there were not enough bits for everyone, the damp, ice-cooled interior of the truck was a momentary respite from the heat. He shooed us away with mild admonishments before he started the engine. Sometimes he was even nice enough to chisel more ice for the smaller children who had not managed to get a piece.