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Posted on Oct 30, 2011

Bells of a Past Long Gone

Bells of a Past Long Gone

We heard the bell ringing. Like that great scene in the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory  when they romanticize ‘the candy man’ who brings sunshine to the world; we turned, and behold THE ICE CREAM MAN! He’s calmly meandering down the street in his orange shirt; we’re hysterically running to the house to find Kobi (well, actually his wallet). But the ‘ice cream man’ means a lot more to us than just sweet coldness.To us, it signifies a past long gone.

Way back when, way before we became a nomadic family, way before we moved to Israel, and waaaay before we had kids; Kobi and I had honorable professions that brought sunshine to many children. We were…… yup!
(Look carefully at the only picture we could get on the road [and even that was a long story]. Look carefully on the front of the car, it says Kobi IC)
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We were ice cream vendors.We drove our own ice cream trucks up and down the streets with songs like “Old McDonald” and “Pop Goes The Weasel” blaring from the loud speakers. We worked like mad dogs- sunshine, pouring rain, weekends, even Christmas.
Christmas was fun for us. As Jews, it was just another day on the job; but for the kindly Christians whom we served and lavished us in generous tips and blessings; working on Christmas means we must have really needed the money. Kobi and I worked our way through community college, university, and a great down payment to our home-to-be in Israel. When I became a Sunday School teacher with the ice cream truck parked in the back of the synagogue: I would change from my appropriate Sunday School teacher attire to a t-shirt and shorts and I instantly metamorphosized into every kid’s living, breathing hero. I was THE ICE CREAM (WO)MAN!
And so I see my kids, in Santa Lusia, Panama,  jumping up and down in sheer excitement. I see them squealing from the anticipation of picking out that “just right” flavor; and it takes me back. Back to kids waiting on the corner with that wadded up dollar in their sweaty, sweet palm. Back to how, even back then, Kobi and I did things differently. We were the first in Houston to sell shaved ice, nachos, hot dogs, and Mexican paletas out of an ice cream van. Kobi took out the plug of an igloo cooler, siliconed in a heating fork, and made us enough steam to heat hot dogs and nacho cheese. Genius! We printed cards and little rubber stamps with our logo on it. Once a kid got 15 stamps, he got a free ice cream and was entered in our monthly drawing for 25 free ice creams. 
I do admit we rigged the contest. (And, we’re not going to hell for it). Because of the monthly contest, lots of big shots in pretty impressive construction sites would whip out a twenty and buy for the crew. Or foreigners off the Port of Houston would buy 50 ice creams for the ships’ crew. It was kind of them. But, what melted our hearts were those scrawny kids in the mobile home parks. The ones who were always dirty and dirt poor. And how those kids would light up and run home and dig out all the money they had saved to buy a ‘grab bag’ and maybe, maybe this time, they would win. Well, sure, they’d win. As often as we could rig it, we took that nerdy kid that no one talked to, that kid that looked like his dad maybe pushed him around a bit, or that kid who was so quiet and shy.
We couldn’t change the circumstances of their lives, but we could make them our big winners! And you should see the look on this kid from the tough side of the street, living the life of hard knocks. You should see him woo-hooing all across that mobile home park with twenty kids, and neighborhood dogs at his feet, as he becomes hero of the day. So, we rigged our contests, and boy did it feel good. 

And as I stand there on the curb in Northern Panama, translating for my kids all the flavors from the ice cream man, it all came back to me:
The kids who we made so very happy, and those who sat in the doorway and cried cuz their parents told them no. The retarded boy who would wait for me on the curb every day  to order his pink screwball with the gumball on the bottom; and all those days that I didn’t go to work, I wonder how long he waited until he went back inside. That freckled-face kid in the trailer park who won the contest; and our competition freaking out when kids presented the K&G card and decided to wait for our truck to come instead of buying from him. 
The kids who ran into the street without even pausing as they ran to our “Piped Piper” music; and the cars that screeched to a deafening halt mere inches from the child ran into the street without so much as a glance to the sides. The heat of the Houston sun and the layers of black sweat that came off each night in the shower.The eating fast food and ice cream for months on end so that no competitor would dare enter a neighborhood before us and get our extra 30 bucks of the day.Being the only whites in an all-Nigerian ice cream community; how they all welcomed us joyfully with their bright white teeth and how when we fought with the boss one day, I got a bit suffocated and scared. And, how I would never stop for a man who got stuck on the side of the road; but if it was an ice cream truck, even at night, even in the bad part of town,and even years after I stopped selling ice creams; I always did stop. We’re breathen you know.
The time I was arrested in Neches, Texas for selling without a permit and was surrounded by four vehicles and told to “take your hands off the steering wheel and exit the vehicle with your hands above your head”. And how I told the officer that I would like the experience of spending a night in prison rather than post bail. In a kind but firm manner, he lowered his head and said to me in that thick southern drawl reserved only for Texas Rangers, “Darlin’, them other women in this ole jail ain’t here for selling no ice cream”.

Those were the days. The good ‘ole days. And now, as a nomadic family in Northern Panama; we proudly tipped the ice cream man, for we knew how that felt. 
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