It always started out so quietly. We would stop playing and shush those of us who may not have heard it. Everyone on a bike would put one foot to the ground for fear the spinning wheels and pedaling and shouting between friends might drown out that growing sound. But as it got closer, the sound got louder, and we’d scream, “The ice cream man!” and dash into our respective homes to beg our respective parents for a couple of bucks for the sweet stuff. I remember panicking as I waited for my mother to find her purse, then dig for her wallet, and finally produce a dollar or two. I always got a Bubble O’Bill ice cream bar. It was in the shape of a cowboy face. His hat was chocolate ice cream, his face vanilla, his cheeks strawberry. The back was held together by a layer of chocolate, but the best part was his bubble gum ball of a nose—a treat to hold on to long after the ice cream was gone.
I first heard the ice cream truck in my current Milesburg neighborhood in May. My son was nearly a year old, and bedtime for a teething child in the heat was proving to be a chore. Inevitably, just as Sam would drift off to sleep, I’d hear it—that annoying, repetitive tune that surely must drive the ice cream man himself mad. And just as I did when I was a kid, I’d stop moving. I’d quit rocking the baby, put one foot on the ground, hold my breath, and wait. When I was sure the ice cream truck was on its way to my street, rather than scream in joy, I’d whisper under my breath, “Noooooo.” As the sound grew louder with each passing minute, my son—cranky, hot, and teething—would wake up, and I’d have to start the bedtime routine all over again.
When we were kids, I think our mad dash was for fear we’d miss the ice cream man, but as a 30-year-old mom trying to coax a child to sleep, I realize that that’s next to impossible. Not only does the ice cream man in our town drive about 4 miles per hour, he traipses up and down each street, and if you somehow miss him at one end, all you have to do is jog a bit, and you’ll catch him at the other. As kids though, the very idea that he drive away before we could get back outside, cash in hand, leaving us Bubble O’Bill-free was nothing short of terrifying. But it rarely happened. More often, we all made it out to the truck, picked our pleasure, and sat on the curb to indulge before picking up our bikes and resuming our ride.
On a recent neighborhood walk with Sam riding along in his stroller, I heard that music from a distance, and saw the white truck creeping toward us. In that instant, I realized that every neighborhood, be it in an overcrowded city or out in country, deserves a resident ice cream man—no matter how much cranky, sleep-deprived adults curse the man behind the wheel for waking our infant children, for sending the older ones into the house begging for money, and for drowning out 60 Minutes. On the walk that day, I grew nostalgic and thought of Bubble O’Bill and Fat Frogs and Ice Cream Sandwiches, and I remembered how good cold ice cream tastes after you’ve played all day and parked yourself on the curb to lick it off your fingers as it melts. And, more importantly, I thought of the not-so-distant future when Sam will be the one tossing his bike aside to run into the house and beg me to hurry. But I’m going to be listening too, and I’ll have a five-spot ready.