School Days and Preschool Days, Too:
A treasury of anecdotes culled from my work and play as a preschool worker and an elementary school after- school activities supervisor


hildren amused themselves on the blacktop toward the end of aftercare on a glorious, early spring day. Little groups were playing kickball and tetherball. A few girls engaged in a game of house, with lines of pine needles outlining the discrete rooms (and you'd better not mess them up!) of their abode. Two boys talked as they walked laps of the playground. Another half an hour or so and we'd be going down to Room 1, the end-of-day parental pick-up point. Everything seemed beautifully under control.
     My peaceful mood was broken by strains of what sounded like Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" suddenly filling the air. A synthesizer doing a bad imitation of a calliope was blaring the melody on a very poor tape loop.
     Was it that time of year already? I turned toward Cordel Road on the other side of the fence, where the music was coming from. Sure enough, the neighborhood ice cream man, an elderly Sikh gentleman with a beard and turban, had come out of his winter retirement and had had the audacity to pull his van directly outside the gate of our fence.
     Shamelessly, the ice cream man let his tape pla over and over. Children began walking or running from their games toward where I stood near the gap in the fence.
     "Mr. Max, can we get ice cream?" began the inevitable questions.
     "No, kids, we've already had our snack."
      "But not ice cream!"
      "The school can't afford to buy ice cream for everyone, and it's close to dinner time, anyway."
      "Will you buy it for us?"
      "I can't afford it, either. Sorry."
      Then came a young voice saying, But I have money!"
      I pretended not to hear.
     Another voice: "I've got five dollars! I can even get ice cream for some other people, not just for me!"
     Now almost all the children on the playground had gathered here beside the fence. I felt like a security guard trying to hold back the tide of Humanity with all its passion. And as I stood there, a memory floated through my mind:

     It was the summer before my junior year of high school. I was driving a freezer-equipped ice cream jeep for the whimsically named Delight Wholesale Company. Every day one of my most lucrative spots was the playground of Elmwood School, in a suburban village populated exclusively by African-Americans.
    Each afternoon I'd enter Elmwood, drive till its dusty dirt road dead-ended, and sell a "malt crunch bomb" to the elderly, one-armed man in overalls who was always sitting on a chair in front of the little house next to his small field of corn and vegetables. Then I'd turn around and, ringing my bell profusely so the kids would hear me, drive straight to the school playground.
      As soon as I parked the children would form a neat line in front of my jeep. Amid our greetings and banter, I'd sell a box or two of "bomb pops" there every day. I felt that we were all friends and that the kids looked forward not just to the ice cream, but to my visit.
      One day David, a school buddy of mine who was a gifted writer, was riding along with me in my jeep. I thought visiting Elmwood, so unlike University City where we lived, would be an adventure for David. As we pulled onto Elmwood School's playground, I felt happy, prosperous, and proud to introduce David to my young friends.

"The Ice Cream Man Cometh" continues on the next page

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