When we lived in Michigan, our house happened to be the main stop for the neighborhood ice cream man. We lived in the middle of a long stretch of houses and dozens of children would run from both directions all summer long to buy ice cream in front of my kids. I never bought. $1.75 for a Popsicle seemed extreme to me and so I would let my kids choose what they wanted from the pictures on the truck and then drive around the corner to Big Box Mart and buy them a WHOLE box for the price I'd have paid the ice cream man for just the one. This seemed to satisfy the kids enough.
I, however, felt a little bad about it...or sad, or something, mostly because I have fond memories of the ice cream man from my own childhood. I remember playing in the backyard with my siblings and all our neighborhood friends and hearing the music call us to excitement. There almost always were neighborhood kids in our yard. Nine children in one house was something of an attraction. One was always guaranteed a play mate at our house. A neighborhood girl my age was known to ask for me, then my sister if I was busy, then the younger brother and even younger brother in turn, all the way down...unless my mother found some excuse why the whole family couldn't play today. But often someone could play, and so she kept coming... and many others, too.
But I remember...
...summer days spent riding on bikes or roller skates through elaborate chalk cities we'd draw on many of the neighborhood driveways and how we'd even connect them through the road and ride freely throughout. I remember hop scotch and four square and jump rope. I remember comparing tans, running through the sprinklers, wearing Dr Scholl's and knowing there was corn on the cob for dinner. I remember hearing the music from the ice cream man and running with all the neighborhood to buy ice cream and candy. But I think it was nickels and dimes we had in our pockets--at least I don't remember my parents taking out a second mortgage so that we could buy ice cream.
When my husband and I moved with our children to Connecticut we saw and heard the ice cream man far less often, anyway. Also, I learned a funny trick from my older brother where you ask your kids if they "hear the tuna fish truck? Would you like to run over with those other kids and get some tuna fish, too?" Very handy trick, that. But it really only works on children under three years old. Older children have more developed remote candy detectors and they resent your joking about their thwarted desires. My children have learned that we don't buy from the ice cream man. We just don't. We get plenty of ice cream all summer long, but we don't ever get it from the ice cream man.
But I remember...
...buying, as a kid, enough candy from the ice cream man to save for summer nights. I remember wearing breezy pajamas and reading Beverly Cleary books in the long evening light while sipping water from a plastic mug and savoring Jolly Ranchers.
Then today, when we were on our way to the pool an ice cream truck parked out front. The children had run ahead while I gathered belongings. As I came up the rear, I could see them standing back from the truck, though eying it with a certain guilty curiosity. I remembered the cash in my pocket left over from yet another blueberry picking trip earlier in the morning.
"Would you boys like an ice cream?" I asked. All five lit up and looked surprised that I had any idea what they had been thinking. "Ya-ya-ya!" Nicholas shouted for them all and we walked to the truck. There was a small selection of ice creams for $1.00, but I was surprised to find that in order to buy one of those pops that looks like Spider Man's head, for example, you must pay $2.50 a piece these days. Luckily, my children have simple tastes and no special desire to eat Spider Man's head and so they were delighted with the $1.00 menu. A "Great White" lemonade shark, a "Cotton Candy" striped pop, and a few "Bubble Gum" swirly cones were ordered. Inside the pool gates I asked Simeon, "Is it good? Do you like it?"
"Yes," he said looking a bit confused, "Would you like some?"
"No, no...it's for you," I said.
"Ok," he laughed, "It's just that, that was the fourth time you asked me if I liked it."
Ah well, I don't think my five dollars purchased a wealth of childhood memories for my kids today, but I do think it eased my conscience a bit.