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
THE ICE-CREAM MAN COMETH
Children 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
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
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.
Ice Cream Man Cometh" continues on the next page
continued back contents title
"What Remains Is
the Essence", the home pages of Max Reif:
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