Its the kind of neighborhood every kid should get to grow up in. The neighbors are on a first-name basis, and they all watch out for the occasional child chasing a ball or pet into the street. Often, you can hear their shouts after dark as they struggle to prolong a game of tag or basketball, despite parental demands that they wrap it up at once and come on home.
The dogs are all friendly, and some of them even run loose, falling into step with whoever is passing on the street. Everyone returning from work in the evenings is careful to watch out for kids, dogs or both.
Summer is the perfect time to be a child in a neighborhood like this. Our younger neighbors seldom stand still, let alone sit down as the sun browns them during their all-day outside playtime. So, I was surprised the other evening, as I rolled in from a long day at work, to see six or seven of the youngsters sitting cross-legged in two rows in somebodys driveway, as if they were waiting for an outdoor movie to start.
I waved to them, as I always do, and I got the typical response. Wild waving and yells. Still, though, they remained in those two rows, watching the street.
It was not until after I had checked the mail and gone in the house that things became clear. I heard in the distance the start of that goofy, dissonant clown music that signals only one thing: the ice cream truck. Sure enough, the ragtag group on the street had it timed perfectly, and they surrounded the truck driver, assaulting him with oohs and aahs before he could come anywhere close to a complete stop. I dont know how many purchases actually took place, but much admiration was paid to the fluorescent, dappled confections pictured on the side of the truck. What is it about a purple, green and orange frozen monstrosity that never fails to appeal to a 6-year-old?
Since then, Ive noticed several ice cream trucks, besides the one that appears in our neighborhood with regularity. They are the relics I remember from my childhood: always slightly dilapidated, plastered with photos of ice cream novelties with just one perfect bite taken out to reveal the creamy-smooth contents of some slightly sweating chocolate shell studded with crunchy flecks of nugget.
And what about those prices? Good heavens, you could practically buy a whole box of brown cows at the grocery store for what you pay for one off the ice cream truck. Back in the day, (i.e. my childhood), I guess you could justify the purchase since some of those novelties had not yet made it into local retailers freezers, but today, most of them are in stock. Still, once in a while, its worth it. Youre not really paying for ice cream anyway; youre paying for the singular experience and convenience of having a rickety little truck playing clown music drive right up to you and, as an afterthought, provide you with something cold and sweet to enjoy as you watch it coast off down the street with your last bit of cash.
Im sure, to a few parents, the money was worth the amount of time and energy that went into the organized stakeout in my neighborhood. As I said, Ive never seen that bunch of kids stay that still or quiet for that amount of time.
Although the arrival of the ice cream truck is frequently seen as a chance to take a reprieve, there is a time and place for it. For instance, most of us are not going to run out of the office and hail one down. Its always better to take the first heavenly bite while you are standing barefoot in your driveway, holding in your right hand a stack of bills you just retrieved from the mailbox and simultaneously forgot as you struggled to make a decision on how to squander the $2.50 you scraped together from your cars ashtray. Youre ruining your dinner, as your mother used to complain, and you can chew on that splintery wooden stick as long as you want without scaring your coworkers. Now thats doing it right.
Elizabeth Crumbly is the editor of The Catoosa County News. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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