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Chasing the Ice Cream Truck

Everyone has stories to tell surrounding ice cream. How could they not? It is so celebratory and versatile. It is like that pair of pants that you can dress up for an evening on the town or dress down for a last minute rendezvous with a long lost friend at your local hole-in-the-wall cafe. 

There are ice cream cakes, ice cream pies, ice cream cones, ice cream sandwiches, ice cream sundaes, and of course…ice cream trucks. If you are over 40, particularly a child of the 50s, 60s, 70, or 80s, the carnival-esque sound of the ice cream truck is so deeply embedded in your memory that it could never be mistaken for anything else. It is a sound that brings a smile to even the most inscrutable face.

Thinking of ice cream trucks transports me to a time of riding bikes and building forts. There were always makeshift baseball games in the vacant field, roller skates strewn on driveways, and bikes in cul-du-sacs. Calls for lunch and Kool-Aid echoed throughout the neighborhood. Regardless of the weekend activity, my feet were adorned with salt water sandals, flip flops, or jellies, which is why stubbing my toe on the hot asphalt was always a real possibility. Summer days were endless. Up early and out the door. You left the house on foot or two wheels with no plans, but no one was ever bored and the days were always full of adventures. Adventures that are now recalled with fondness that a fading few will understand.

Ice cream trucks were a staple of youth. The ice cream truck did not come around every day. There was no routine or schedule, or at least it seemed that way to my 8-year-old self. One moment you were playing with your friends down the street and the next you were sprinting at a speed you didn’t even know you were capable of. It is like the sound of the ice cream truck imparted some superhero powers to you. When you heard the sound, nothing else mattered. No one taught kids the procedure but everyone knew. One kid would race to get the change and the other would chase down the truck. Timing was everything, and, with no time to waste, no one argued over their assigned job. You did your job and you did it well.

Despite your dedication to the task, you did not always succeed. Pinpointing the exact location of the sound and getting back in time with change was 50/50 at best, but that is what made it great. If you were successful everytime, then there would be no hustle, camaraderie, or sense of accomplishment. There is no feeling like making it back in time with change in hand. Standing there, hands on knees, gasping for air, studying the colorful images plastered all over the truck was the prelude to gearing up to make the hardest decision of the day: what ice cream to pick. Would it be a fudgesicle, a push-up, a missile, a drumstick, or a classic cream sandwich? You know, the one that leaves remnants of the cookies on every finger it comes in contact with. 

Once the exchange was made you immediately found the closest curb and dove in at a speed that inevitably resulted in brain freeze. As a kid, the best place to eat your ice cream was the exact place you were standing at that moment. But as an adult, I have found that the space, the views, and the lighting aid in the deliciousness. These elements are the finishing salts, or in this case, the cherry on top. Whether it is your favorite chair nestled by a large open window that allows the sunset to peek in or a spot in the backyard near a tree occupied by a feathered friend sharing a tune with you, creating a space you enjoy is part of food adventures.

This week I paid homage to my childhood by making strawberry ice cream sandwiches. There is something delightfully refreshing and All-American about homemade strawberry ice cream purchased from a strawberry stand just down the street. The ice cream, which is a light springy pink, is enclosed between two homemade lemon sugar cookies that were rolled in a lemon zest sugar.  I must say the cookies complement the fresh fruit ice cream perfectly.

As I begin to wrap up this short piece I am eyeing my dessert spot. Tonight I plan to nestle in the chair between the tomato plants and tomatillos at the far end of my yard. The baby hummingbirds have just left their nest but need a few more moments of solitude before fully taking flight in the vast world. I want to give them their space and catch a curious glance from afar.

The ice cream treats are delicious, but it was such a delight to have been able to watch the hummingbirds’ journey into the world unfold.



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