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new featureAn Out of Country Experience-Part 13
(Please check the archives if you've missed previous installments)

Rebecca L. Morgan
Giving up Good for Better
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Barfly Tales From The Barstool By: Clint Lien
The Land of the Behemoth
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In My Opinion
By L.N.P.

"...We All Scream for Ice Cream"

Lately we've been hearing the sound of the Good Humor man. Those musical bells that announce the truck's imminent arrival. Of course, he's not a real Good Humor man; his rather brightly colored truck has all kinds of signs and bumper stickers advertising, among other things, several types of Mexican delicacies, balloons, a pawn shop, and, I can only assume, ice cream. I've never been able to find out, however, because although he teases us with those bells, he never drives all the way down our street. He just cruises in, U-turns and cruises out. I've never once seen him stop.

Now in my day, the far-off sound of the Good Humor man was the highlight of the day. The idea of him not stopping was inconceivable, and as he approached, throngs of children went into instant motion, appearing from behind trees, from backyards and driveways, and abandoning, for the moment, their bikes and dolls and hula hoops. There was the simultaneous dash inside for money from Mom, and the indescribable thrill of anticipation; which of his wondrous treats would we choose this time. For me it had to be on a stick, and it had to be part chocolate. Although I do remember a brief toasted almond phase I experimented with. But it didn't last.

Those ding-a-linging bells and that sparkling white truck meant summer vacation. It meant carefree days exploring the surrounding woods or jumping gleefully through sprinklers, and warm nights playing outside in my neighborhood until way past dark. Everyone felt safe and secure. It never even occurred to our parents to worry. All the kids played together, whether it was hide and seek, kickball, or catching fireflies. I don't see fireflies anymore either.

Of course, the Good Humor man was a summer phenomenon, signaling both its wondrous beginning and its inevitable end, and in New York, summer only lasted from the end of June 'til the beginning of September. No fake summers like we have in California. So ice cream from the Good Humor man had to be replaced with something, and I remember what that something was with equal pleasure. It was part of the school experience known as "lunchtime."

The very first thing that comes to my mind when I think of "school lunches" are those vanilla and chocolate dixie cups. Actually, the chocolate ones. I think it was Breyers, because I've always remembered that brand….I even thought it was clever of someone to come up with Dreyers years later, as though they could fool me into thinking it was the ice cream of my childhood. At any rate, the chocolate ones were my favorite dessert for years. Same ritual every day. I'd buy the cup along with the wooden spoon. It was covered by that thin white paper, kind of like rolling paper. And they weren't really spoons; they were flat. I can taste them, or rather feel them in my mouth as I write. In fact, now that I think of it, that's a much better way to savor ice cream….without the plastic or metal. Probably the same reason that Chinese food tastes better with chopsticks.

So anyway, I'd buy the cup, and then sit with it for a few minutes until it had softened, hastening the process by rolling the cardboard cup between my palms. Then, instead of eating the ice cream out of the cup, I inserted the wooden spoon, which in my mind had already become a stick, into the center of the cup, invert it, and delicately, but with supreme expertise, pull the whole thing out, having for myself a soft chocolate ice cream on a stick. It was the perfect texture and flavor for chocolate…not too strong, light-flavored and creamy. I could take my tongue and lick around the circumference of the upside down cup and that first delectable, soft silky taste was like a mouthful of heaven.

But to me that was ice cream, both those school lunch chocolate Dixie cups and the Good Humor bars of summer. Of course, school days were also lessons, and blackboards, and spelling bees, and recess, where kids played jump rope, jacks, and hopscotch on the blacktop, and where we ran off boundless energy playing tag and racing as fast as we could across the huge, unfenced-in grassy schoolyard. The worst thing that happened to a kid was a scraped knee, or grass stains on a new dress.

And then, magically, summer vacation rolled around once more, those idyllic, liberating summers, with ladybugs and four leaf clovers, sudden exhilarating thunderstorms, unlocked screen doors, and riding our bikes anywhere without asking permission, because everywhere was safe. The best thing that could happen to a kid was a trip to Jones Beach: an hour in the car to reach the majesty of the Atlantic Ocean, the endless stretches of soft white sand, the gentle waves, the tuna sandwiches consumed at 10 A.M because we were "starving to death." We stayed out in the sun all day, never even heard of sunscreen. The sun was "good for us" back then.

Now, when I buy a quart of ice cream at the supermarket and bring it home with the rest of my groceries, I can't resist taking a spoon and going around the edge of the container where the ice cream has just begun to melt into something soft and creamy, and devouring that taste before I put the container into the freezer. It will never taste as good to me again. It will never achieve that just barely melted (but not mushy or watery or freezer-burned) perfection again. Somehow, for a moment, it captures the flavor and the consistency of what I remember as ice cream. And, perhaps, the flavor of a childhood lived in a far less complicated time.

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