Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Iceman Cometh

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.

25 comments:

Dawn - from Blue Ridge NC said...

Hi,

I was just surfing through cyberspace when I happened to come across your blog. I have found your writing very interesting and I plan to visit again. Your poetry is beautiful!

Dawn - from WNC

Marianne said...

My father delivered ice in his youth, I always found that fascinating for some reason...
We also had asphalt streets close by and no, one did not want to walk on those with their bare feet! I still have a hard time wearing shoes during the warmer months.

Just Jen said...

I always wondered how that worked. I've only heard of ice boxes, never actually seen one. I always like coming here, you have the best stories! Ok, I'm off to try and think of something for the prompt!

Redness said...

Great minds think alike - the 1950 ice chest and ice man were my take on the prompt! Wonderful story and photo of the ice box! Thank YOU

Laini Taylor said...

What a wonderful memory! And I shudder to think of enduring Central Valley heat without air conditioning! I am a wimp for heat!

Robin said...

I always love coming here, you tell such wonderful stories...

Friends of ours had an icebox at their (non-electrified) lakehouse when I was growing up. I remember having to reach into that icy cold water each time I wanted a can of soda.

Lilibeth said...

I don't remember ice boxes, per se, but the camp where we went during the summer had an ice house. The delivery guy would bring it with those tongs. Fridge space at a premium. I enjoyed your writing.

Rena said...

Thanks for the story. I love glimpses into bygone times like this.

JonsterMom said...

Woo! I remember how bad Stockton was in summer with a/c. I can't imagine it without! Love that story of your childhood!

gautami tripathy said...

I was 4 when my dad bought a fridge. I still remember how we would keep opening the door to get a glimpse of the ice.

Thanks for this post. I loved it.

spaced out

colleen said...

Now we use electricity to keep our ice cream cold just in case we might want to eat some. It seems we are so spoiled.

bella mocha said...

I loved this post, and the warmth with which you tell your stories. I so enjoy reading here- I am truly glad you choose to write and share, at a time when so many others choose to withdraw. We have much to learn from you!

I have something for you- Enjoy!

http://bellamocha.blogspot.com/2008/02/and-this-award-goes-to.html

GreenishLady said...

I enjoyed reading this so much. You really deserved your cold treats in that kind of heat!

alex said...

I found your blog through anothers. I love this writing that you for sharing.

Jeanie said...

My grandfather met my grandmother as he was the iceman that delivered ice to the little cafe where she worked!

Loved your story! You are very talented!

Cricket's Hearth said...

What a coincidence - I talk about ice boxes in my post too! I enjoyed your writing.

Kristin said...

Great story, Phyllis. An "heirloom". Haha. It's SO nice to see you back on! Glad you're feeling better.

Rose said...

What a fantastic story. Thank you for sharing!
The things we take for granted these days...

nonizamboni said...

Wonderful glimpse of the iceman--I had only heard about this, but a milk nickel. That was my favorite treat ! I still use the term much to the embarrassment of my modern kids.
Hope you're feeling better!

Heather said...

Your posts are such a treat, and this one is no exception! Thank you so much for sharing these memories with us. ;o)

Honey And Papa said...

What a difference one generation makes. When we were growing up we had a choice to wear shoes in the summer or not.

Sometimes when it was very hot, and before you had A/C added to the '64 Chrysler I remember sucking on chips of ice that you would give us; putting the ice in my mouth for as long as I could stand it, them holding it in my hand dripping until my mouth could take more cold.

tumblewords said...

Friends here, now deceased, used to cut the ice from the lake for their 'little store' customers to use. Nice post!

LittleWing said...

what a wonderful written story.. to the little local store... as if i was a young child walking...with my feet burning... thank you

the mother of this lot said...

What a beautiful story!

Jo Anne O. said...

As a young girl in the 1960's I remember the ice truck which was a dying breed, but still in some use in my part of the country. My mother was born in 1928 and hearing your memory of the ice box brought back a flood of things to mind that she use to tell me. Not only that but I too did not wear shoes from May through September and remember mother cleaning my tar covered feet with lighter fluid at night...I can still smell the lighter fluid after all these years...the memory is a powerful thing!