Not one summer passes me by without thoughts of the Good Humor Man and his ice cream truck. There are still a few independent operators driving around in badly converted minivans selling awful, brightly colored and artificially flavored off-brand concoctions that look MUCH better than they taste. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the ice cream trucks of my childhood…the sparkling pure white open-cab Good Humor truck with the immaculately uniformed driver…the Good Humor Man. That was how I REALLY knew that it was summer. The trucks were not mechanically refrigerated in those days. They were basically rolling ice boxes, with several small doors (so as not to let out too much of the cold) opening into carefully stocked compartments chilled to below freezing with chunks of dry ice. I can vividly remember the burst of frigid air on my small, uplifted too-warm face as the man in white would open one of the doors to retrieve my treat.
We were living in the northeast, so the Good Humor Man only appeared in warmer months, like bathing suits and robins. I always wondered what they did (the Good Humor Men, not the robins, and certainly not the bathing suits) the rest of the year. Perhaps in the winter when all the lawns were brown they delivered heating oil, or coal, or perhaps they just climbed into their trucks and hibernated atop the dry ice chunks until spring. I never knew. All I knew for sure was that when the first Good Humor Man appeared, like the first robin, it was officially spring, and school was almost done, and my summer vacation was about to begin. It was nice to have indicators like the Good Humor Man…harbingers to help mark the way through the year and through the years to come.
My family never knew when the Good Humor Man would show up. Sometimes we would hear the tinkle of the music from the truck while we were out in the yard in the early evening. Sometimes we would see a truck while out for a drive, and my father would make a show of “chasing him down.” It was fun, the products were really good, and more than anything, it was summer with my mother and my father, and this was as much a part of it as the warm tall green grass or the fireworks on the Fourth of July. My father always had the Toasted Almond Bar, my mother, the Strawberry Shortcake Bar, and for some reason, I never wanted the ice cream…I always had the Lime Ice Pop. And so there we were, the three of us, eating our frozen treats and getting sticky and laughing. And nothing would ever change…ever. At least in the mind of the little boy with the Lime Ice Pop.
And so we moved to south Florida, where we have only two seasons, the warm one and the hot one. And the grass is always green. For a while we would still see the Good Humor Man, but since it was summer almost all year ’round, some of the excitement was gone. There was a newsstand in our new neighborhood where my father would go every evening after dinner to buy the early edition of the morning paper. They sold Popsicles there as well, and I could have one whenever I wanted. For a while I wanted one every evening, and then less often, and eventually, not at all. And the tinkling music from the ice cream truck, when one did drive through the neighborhood…it didn’t sound quite the same after a while. And then I stopped hearing it altogether. And then I stopped missing hearing it.
I’m an old man now, and once in a while I buy what today passes for a Lime Ice Pop. They call them “Frozen Juice Bars” to appeal to the health-conscious, but just like the old days, they are sugar and water and coloring and a bit of lime flavoring. They’re not bad, but they’re not the same. I’d like to think that it’s because they don’t make ’em like they used to, but deep down inside I know that it’s because I’ve grown up, and my parents are gone and the only Good Humor truck I’ve seen in decades was at an antique car show, where I spent much too long looking at it. The truck had been meticulously restored, but it was empty, a butterfly pinned in a frame, as beautiful as ever, but as lifeless as a tomb. And as I looked at that truck, I realized what I had learned from the Good Humor Man. When you’re a kid, have every Lime Ice Pop that you can. And savor each one. Because just like the Lime Ice Pop, childhood itself, as sweet and tasty as it may be, melts away so very quickly, and when winter arrives, as it inevitably does, the Good Humor Man doesn’t come around any more.