I believe in a sense of wonder. I had it when I was a boy growing up in Virginia Beach, Virginia in the 1950s, and I still do, some fifty years later, in New York City where I live, as a sixty-two year old man. At least, I pray that I do. It, probably more than anything else, has guided me in my writing, and in how I live. It has stood me in good stead. I look at the world with a sense of wonder, because there are wonderful things to see, to taste, to smell, to hear, to read, to experience. It seems to me the only suitable reaction to these unparalleled things life provides us. Anything less would be a kind of heresy. Not only that, I just can’t help myself. It’s different than admiration, wonder is. Wonder is wide-eyed, and grateful, and excited. Wonder is enthusiasm, pure, simple. It implies How was that done? It’s everything a child feels but the trick is to never to lose it as we grow older. Why? Because I believe the loss of a sense of wonder is the first sure step toward cynicism.
The origins of my sense of wonder are my childhood as I would suspect most people’s sense of wonder is, too. It’s connected with nature, I’m sure, but it emanates as much, if not more, from—strange as it sounds—a truck that brought ice to our house in the hot summer months.
We had an ice-box in our home in Virginia Beach, Virginia. It was shaped exactly like a refrigerator and served the same purpose, but its cooling powers came not from electricity but from ice. Every few days in the heart of the furiously hot summer, the ice man would come to our house with his long flat truck, the back of which was made of dark corrugated iron. On it were huge glistening blocks of ice covered by a canvas tarp. No magician ever elicited as much astonishment as when he threw aside the canvas to reveal the stacked 100- and 50-pound transluscent blocks of shimmering ice. Nothing was ever as pure, before or since. And on such a hot Virginia day! The blocks radiated coolness. If I got close to them—and I did—I could breathe in the cool they exuded, in waves. The ice man took his ice pick, slim and menacing-looking, and, with one perfectly placed jab, cleaved a block in half, like a diamond cutter. If my eye was quick, I could see the fissure run, and then part the steaming ice, instantly. But to do this with one strike! How? What was mystery, if not this?
I would have hopped on the back of the truck by now. My bare feet were chilly from the cold wet corrugated iron.
“Please, can I have a piece of ice!” I pleaded. The ice man, indulgent of so many children he encountered throughout the day, would take his pick and chip away at a remnant. The sparks of ice flew onto my tummy, and my muscles laughed in response to the cold. Then he would hand me a slim tower of ice, all for myself. I marveled at its inside frozen veins. I chomped. The ice was slick and cold. Who ever knew water was this delicious to eat?
The ice man clamped the two mandibles of his curved hooks onto a block of ice. He slid the block to the edge of the truck. Then he jumped off and hauled the block onto his shoulder and carried it inside. He placed the already-melting block into the top section of the ice-box. There, for as long as it lived, it sent waves of fresh cool down to the main part of the ice-box. Here, my mother had placed the most precious bounty of the Virginia summer: peaches, watermelons, apricots, grapes, strawberries and, most coveted of all, fat, dark cherries.
Then the ice man would get in his truck and depart. I watched him as he pulled away and disappeared down the street. I was left there to try to figure out, and to understand, how he could do what he did—how a huge block of ice could, with just one sure jab, sigh apart. How? I wondered how. I still do.
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