Adopting a lesson from writer and educator Don Graves, I took the phrase I Remember and set to writing for five minutes with as much detail as possible. Well, it is rarely five minutes, and for me, that is part of the point. I am using the same exercise to conclude my current podcast series of interviews (I Remember) with people recounting their family heritage.
I remember the beach.
Walking on the sides of my feet, my ankles bent outward because the sand was too hot for the tender soles of a city kid who never went anywhere barefoot. Dropping the folding chairs, towels, and coolers in an unorganized heap, we hurried to plant our feet firmly back on the earth, ankle deep in the cold, lapping edges of the ocean.
I remember the beach.
The man lugging a chilled case on his back, slung over his shoulder. The fog of dry ice, like a halo, hovered above the lid. He called out like a sideshow announcer. Vowels were lengthened and amplified. Consonants were soft, a bridge to carry his breath to its next carnivalized vowel. He made syllables as palpable as dribbling wet sand into molten castles, "FU-dgIE WU-dgIE here-AH! Ice CrEAm sANd-wIch-Es! CrEAm-sI-cles...Soda pOp!" It was lyrical and familiar.
It turned our heads in the same way as the xylophone tones of ice cream trucks echoed through out our neighborhood streets at home.
Imagine the inmates at Bedlam wriggling for loose change inside unforgiving strait jackets as the ice cream truck song tortured them through barred windows.
Without money or means to make it, we only had moments to find it and beg for it. We employed every strategy at our disposal. We flipped every pillow, every coaster, and every coffee table magazine in the hopes of reviving a forgotten quarter or two. Hopping from foot to foot from wall to wall, as mom rooted in her purse for a dollar or two, the ice cream truck's song faded. It forced us to judge just how far and how fast we would have to run to catch him.
And out the screen door we'd go, sprinting. We were out of our minds insane.
Other kids, spread throughout the neighborhood, were also in full sprint with dollar bills squeezed in our fists. We were blue tick hounds and we were going to tree a fox, but instead of yelping we were screaming, "Ice Cream Man! Ice Cream Man!"
We worked together without a plan. Some ran alongside the right of his truck, some along the left. We paid attention to move ourselves into his line of vision in the rear view mirrors.
But, being city streets, space to pull over wasn't always available--and sometimes he needed a pack of Winston's more than another few sales--so we ran and ran and ran through multiple intersections, the siren song of the ice cream truck pulling us further away from home. Our hopes that the truck would soon pull over and stop were sometimes dashed.
If we ran too far, the thrill of eating ice cream would be spoiled.
Huffing and puffing, we'd gobble our ice cream down like famished wolves. It would melt and run down our wrists while we carried something back for mom.
By the time mom got her Vanilla & Chocolate Swirl Push-Up it was soft mess. A disgrace to the ice cream community. Mom would smile and say that it was alright and walk off eating it, head tilted, and feet hurrying to the kitchen sink.
But at the beach it was different.
Here the ice cream man sang and came to you. With everyplace and anyplace to pull over, he'd nod as we waved dollar bills pulled from the deepest recesses of our sneakers which pinned down the corners of our blankets.
From one stop to the next, he leaned forward to counterbalance his feet sinking into the soft sand and sang his song while trudging to our blankets. Glazed with sweat, the summers tanned and weathered him like leather.
When he set the case down next to us, relief rose like steam as he mopped at himself with a rag.
His ice cream would still melt down our wrists before we'd finish, but at the beach with the Fudgie Wudgie Man, alongside the music of the ocean, the collective aroma of thousands of bottles of tanning lotion, the UV rays lashing and drying us so that our skin felt tight and warm, and the company of family, that cheap novelty ice cream never tasted any better.