A scoop of nostalgia returns in its seasonal glory

Day-five of spring, it’s 50 degrees out and there it is (no, not already): the tinkly, telltale tune of the ice cream man and his ramshackle, rainbow-colored truck, plastered with cartoons and photos of the products he’s pulled up to peddle.

He’s making the rounds, up and down streets and avenues, Pied-Pipering children to chase his truck until he stops, the chugging engine idling in the middle of the road and kids, some on tippy-toes, pressing at the sliding glass window, jostling for a sweet treat.

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This is tradition in action. Didn’t we all have an ice cream man tooling around in a boxy little mail truck or van, delivering Drumsticks, Push Ups, Choco Tacos, Fudgsicles and snow cones? One assumes it all started with the folkloric Good Humor Man in the 1930s, but who really knows.

And who cares when sprinkles-dipped delectations await? (Even if they do average a swindler’s $3 to $4 each. In my day …) At the window today is a globe-shaped man with a ruddy face and hairy arms. He’s as nice as can be without being creepy.

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But back to that tootling, anodyne jingle we all know and loathe. That unmistakable melody that, in some grade schools, has become the innocent singalong “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” (Another popular truck song is Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” aka the theme to the classic film “The Sting.”)

Here’s where things get ugly. That song, the one our local confectionary vehicle and thousands nationwide blare as a Pavlovian call to calories, is actually a 100-year-old minstrel ditty that’s aggressively racist. I don’t want to plunge into that swamp here, but you can read all about its malignant history at NPR. It’s shocking; the story even comes with a reader caution.

So if lawn mowers aren’t quite buzzing yet — last week’s season-flouting snow is still busy melting — other sounds are filling the air, those of yelping children by turns asking for money from tall people and chirping orders for Bomb Pops, as well as some questionable earworms swirling out of megaphones atop Skittles-hued trucks and vans.

It’s a bi-seasonal symphony — just wait for the clamor come summer — that I’m a bit old to partake in. (The last thing I bought from an ice cream truck was a Diet Coke.) Still, the view from afar is fine. One delights in forbidden treats vicariously, observes the joy of mass satisfaction, and maybe takes a sweet nostalgic journey all the while.

4 thoughts on “A scoop of nostalgia returns in its seasonal glory

  1. I’ve definitely read that about the ice cream truck song before, though it’s still pretty appalling. Honestly, ice cream trucks only came around to my neighbourhood a handful of times when I was a kid, and it was always really exciting when they did turn up, but I genuinely don’t remember what song they played (I was probably too distracted by picking out a character pop- they still had shark pops and those Mickey Mouse ones with M&M eyes when I was a kid). I think British ice cream vans generally play “Greensleeves” or “Oranges and Lemons”, not that either one is recognisable as such by the time they get through with it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had never heard about the origins of the ice cream truck song, but you are right, it’s truly appalling (and bizarre). As a little kid, I was allergic to chocolate (so lame), so I generally went for the Push Ups, whose tubes were decorated with Flintstones characters. Very interesting about the British vans. “Greensleeves”!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I liked Push Ups, but I preferred the Schwan’s version – no Flintstones on the tube, but they made chocolate malt ones, which were the best. But I guess you wouldn’t have been able to have those anyway, what with your allergy. Ugh, allergic to chocolate! I can’t imagine!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, my god. I had to eat carob, a chocolate substitute for quite some time. I grew out of the allergy (at last!) and moved on to Fudgsicles and Drumsticks, the latter still my favorite. I of course had fruit-flavored Push Ups before that, and I ate a lot of rainbow sherbert. Ridiculous. (I’m going to Google the Schwan brand right now.)

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