Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rebooting memories of Creamsicles

I just read a story by writing instructor and coach Sharon Lippincott entitled “Too Old for Ice Cream,” and it took me back. (I "met" Sharon when she responded to one of my blogs,and I visited her blog at http://heartandcraft.blogspot.com/.)

Her story was about an encounter – or rather, a non-encounter – with a modern-day ice cream truck – a red van with a raised roof, a neighborhood-tempting sound system, numerous big decals and a cooler hung under the window on the passenger side. She was struck by the contrast with the “white, spotlessly clean” ice cream trucks of her youth.

The teenage driver passed her right by without stopping – twice – and Sharon wondered if he thought she looked too old to be buying ice cream. Upon reflection, she happily dismissed this notion, went to her freezer at home, pulled out a Klondike bar and thoroughly enjoyed it. Her pang of nostalgia, it turned out, was about ice cream trucks, not ice cream.

Even though the story was published in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review almost three years ago, it was as fresh for me as a frosty Popsicle. It brought to mind the ice cream vendors when I was a little boy – before the days of ice cream trucks, when “the ice cream man” came by pushing a clunky white box mounted on two bike wheels or pedaling a bike-powered version of the same basic box.

They didn’t have amplified sound systems. They had cowbells hanging on their handlebars. Still, you could hear them half a block away.

The chocolate and vanilla delicacy known today as an Eskimo Pie today was a “Big Boy” to us. There were also Fudgsicles, which were all chocolate with no coating. But Popsicles were Popsicles then, just as they are today. And every now and then, if we were lucky, the ice cream man would have Creamsicles, which was a Popsicle on the outside and ice cream on the inside. Heaven on a stick!

The ice cream man – who more often than not was a teenager – also had something really special at the bottom of his box – dry ice. That’s how they kept the ice cream from melting. If you begged long enough, and the ice cream man was feeling generous, he would break off a tiny piece of dry ice and give it to you.

It was so cold you couldn’t hold it in your hand. You had to toss it back and forth or it would burn you. You would put a penny on the dry ice and it would sizzle – in addition to getting very cold. If you were really brave and cool (no pun intended), you’d put the dry ice in your mouth (making sure you had enough saliva to keep it swishing around) and “blow smoke” by breathing out with your mouth open.

I agree with Sharon that you never get too old for ice cream. Sometimes, in the interest of health, the refreshment option is frozen yogurt. But for genuine goodness and perfect taste, nothing beats old fashioned ice cream.

Except, every now and then, a Creamsicle.

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