I was maybe 5 years old when I had my first encounter with an ice cream truck.
It was a late 70s model Chevy Step-Van, rolling through our neighborhood like the U.S.S. Wisconsin. The music on the truck’s loudspeaker was a slow rendition of “Pop Goes the Weasel.”
The guy behind the wheel was Mister Jimmy. Jimmy always wore a white peaked cap, he had a five o’clock shadow, and he smelled like unfiltered Camels. He bought the ice cream truck after he’d made parole.
Mister Jimmy was a mythical hero within kiddom. To us children, Mister Jimmy was somewhere on par with Superman, Captain Kangaroo, and Charles Bronson.
Which is why whenever the ice cream truck came around it was a national event. Your entire life stopped.
“ICE CREAM!” one of your friends would shout.
It didn’t matter what you were busy doing. It didn’t matter whether you were cleaning your cap guns, damming the creek, or climbing the branches of a 65-foot oak, studying the complex physics of falling spit.
When you heard the ice-cream man music box playing, you dropped what you were doing and followed the noise unto salvation.
My chubby legs carried me across an open field where I joined two million kids who were all chasing the truck. One boy was clutching the bumper, his body dragging on the pavement like a rag doll. Little girls were openly weeping like it was a Donny Osmond concert.
The large vehicle finally pulled over, and We the People rejoiced.
All across the neighborhood you could see boys and girls emerging from homes, joining the multitude of seekers.
The ice cream truck was the only attraction in our world which could draw the children like gnats to a pile of organic fertilizer.
Mister Jimmy would pull to the curb, slide open the service window, and say, “Alright now! One at a time! No pushing! Quit kicking! Gimme some air!”
We’d form a chaotic horde around his window, howling in mob-like tones, grasping, clawing, hoping to touch the hem of his garment.
When he was ready, he’d shake a smoke from the carton, click his lighter shut, then shout, “Who’s first?”
And it was open season.
You only had a fraction of a moment to decide what you wanted from The List, which was about nine miles long, with items most kids had never heard of. Many of the children suffered clinical panic attacks simply by trying to choose from the menu.
There were Fla-Vor-Ice Freeze Pops, snowcones, red-white-and-blue Firecrackers, Screwballs, Fuddy-Duddys, Strawberry Shortcake bars, Candy Center Crunches, Bubble Plays, Chipwiches, ice cream sandwiches, Oreo cookie sandwiches, King Cones, Choco Tacos, Chocolate Eclairs, Bubblegum Swirls, Creamsicles, Crunch Bars, Drumsticks, Fudgesicles, Klondike Bars, Lick-A-Colors, Pink Panthers, Tweety Bird Bars, Homewreckers, Mortgage Makers, Seam Splitters, Double-D Snowballs, and the almighty sherbet push-up pops.
Kids practically threw their pocket change at Mister Jimmy. It’s a wonder the man never lost an eye.
Then, children would sprint away from the truck, tearing wrappers from their sacraments. In mere moments there would be ice cream oozing down everyone’s chins.
Often, there was some unfortunate kid standing on the sidelines who couldn’t afford to buy anything. Sometimes, you were that unlucky kid. Other times, that poor soul was someone else.
One summer, the unlucky kid was Charles Powers, whose father was out of work when the mill closed. Charles was watching silently while other kids stuffed their faces with frozen lactose.
My father usually gave me extra change to buy two push-up pops. One for me and one for Charles. Whereupon Charles, and I would sit on the steps in the baking sunlight, licking our melting sherbet, but wearing most of it.
Charles always seemed to enjoy his frozen treats more than the other kids.
I was thinking about all this yesterday when my wife and I drove past an ice cream truck downtown.
“Ice cream,” said my wife in a half whisper.
Primal instinct took over. Soon, we were standing in a line of mostly adults. There were business professionals, soccer moms, retail workers, people in fast-food uniforms, construction workers, Carmelite nuns, and one member of the police department.
“What’re you gonna get?” my wife asked.
I was still reading the list. “I don’t know.”
My brain was short circuiting. The menu had changed considerably over the last quarter century.
When it was our turn to order, my wife ordered the ice-cream sandwich, and I went with the sherbet push-up pop because it’s hard to beat a classic. The two of us ate without exchanging a single word.
Wherever you are, Charles Powers, look me up. I bought extras.
oldlibrariansshelf - March 20, 2022 7:45 am
Of course you bought extras. Your dad taught you compassion. His spirit will ALWAYS live in the writing you share with us.
Carol from GA - March 20, 2022 10:13 am
Sean…. are you sure you weren’t born in the early 50’s?! You definitely have an “old soul” when it comes to your writing … which is wonderful to my real old soul! You are loved!
Laura W - March 20, 2022 10:57 am
Orange sherbet push up pops were my favorite. I might have to hunt some down now. Thanks for the memory.
Leia Lona - March 20, 2022 11:09 am
Made my old eyes leak this morning.
Joy Jacobs - March 20, 2022 11:39 am
Chocolate Eclair…. YUM
Keloth Anne - March 20, 2022 11:43 am
We lived in the country so the ice cream truck never came to our area. But when I visited my Grandmother in St. Andrews—one came around and my sweet Grandmother always let me buy something—my favorite was a Nutty Buddy 🥰🥰
Thanks for a wonderful memory ♥️♥️
Joey - March 20, 2022 12:02 pm
You and your dad were obviously cut from the same cloth.
But really, Sean…” Double-D Snowballs”???!!!!
Ginny Nevins - March 20, 2022 12:28 pm
We lived at the top of a cul-de-sac hill (then known as a dead-end) off a circle. I was one of five kids and hearing that music would literally send chills of excitement through all of us. His truck never came up our hill so you’d have to be quick to catch him. And you are right, nothing you were doing took precedence over getting that ice cream. Would love to have that experience again-so happy to hear they are still around-gotta love Birmingham. Thanks for sharing-with Charles and with us.
Trudy - March 20, 2022 12:31 pm
Sean, you paint such wonderful pictures with your words. I could visualize the entire scenario. You are a wonderful artist. Thanks for sharing your memories with us.
Shelton A. - March 20, 2022 12:59 pm
We didn’t have an ice cream truck. Sad, but true. We invited kids from our neighborhood to our house one day a week for an ice cream break. other families would do the same. We had all the days covered, each family taking a turn. It was a community thing we kids all shared in with our moms and dads. Those memories feel better than an ice cream truck. Hope unpacking is almost done. God bless you and Jaime plus Otis and Thelma Lou.
Kathy. - March 20, 2022 1:21 pm
Our corner store was our supplier. Push-ups were so good on a hot day.
Paul McCutchen - March 20, 2022 1:44 pm
My boys could here the truck when it left the neighboring town which was 5 miles away.
Bob Barnett - March 20, 2022 1:53 pm
This brought back memories. Sycamore “didn’t have no” ice cream trucks. I didn’t even know what one was.
I had gone to spend the week with my cousin Joe in Birmingham in the summer. We were out playing with lots of other kids which was strange because we didn’t have neighbors close enough to play with.
I heard a noise of music and bells. All the kids quit playing and ran home. I was standing there by myself! In a few minutes they were all back with money and the ice cream truck stopped. My cousin took care of his country cousin and bought me an ice cream. Well ice cream in Sycamore was a once in a summer occurrence. Normally home made on the 4th of July. To get ice cream was a special occasion. And my cousin got it everyday. Man what a wonderful life he lead.
We also took the bus from Edgewood to downtown to the “picture show”. I was scared to death. I knew I would get separated from my cousin and never see home again.
Connie - March 20, 2022 2:28 pm
Thanks for the memories!! 💕
Melanie - March 20, 2022 2:43 pm
Wonderful memories. Thank you for sharing. My favorite was the one with the little chocolate candy bar in the center. Heaven on a stick.
Ken M. - March 20, 2022 2:51 pm
Up until I was about 10 or 11, I never knew of the Ice Cream Truck because we lived so far out in the country. When my folks got divorced and my mom and I moved closer to the city, my eyes and soul were introduced to, what should be, another Wonder of the World. I could hear the ice cream truck a mile away… like Radar O’Reilly on M*A*S*H. Much like you, Sean, my favorite was the Push Up Sherbet because, well… it was heavenly. Thanks for bringing back old memories… and cheers to the Ice Cream Man (and his Truck of Wonder)!
wfsuga - March 20, 2022 3:13 pm
No mention of Eskimo Pies?? Yeah, I suppose that would be considered a racist dessert these days.
Martha Black - March 20, 2022 4:08 pm
I remember the ice cream truck in our neighborhood when our kids were small. My husband told me I didnt need to but the kids an ice cream “everyday” I tried to comply until the ice cream truck showed up and I heard the back screen door slam and watched my two year old in his short cut off jeans, boots & cowboy hat race through the house an grab his change jar and hurry back oyput yellung, “wait mister, I got money”. I beat him to the truck with my wallet! I told my husband to shut his mouth & open his heart!
Martha Black - March 20, 2022 4:11 pm
Sorry about the spelling errors. Ive got “fat” fingers apparently………
Vicki Hendrickson - March 20, 2022 4:26 pm
Thank you for bringing back such wonderful childhood memories. I read your post to my husband for the first time this morning. All the childhood things you described was like describing his childhood. We both were laughing and shared our childhood memories of the oh so wonderful Ice Cream Man.
Patricia Gibson - March 20, 2022 5:26 pm
Great memory! I love push-up pops!
MAM - March 20, 2022 5:41 pm
When did ice cream trucks become a “thing?” We lived out in the country and I never heard of one. I don’t remember one in our small town, but somewhere along the way, I became acquainted with them, and thought it was a wonderful idea. I’m with Jamie. I’m still an ice cream sandwich fan. But, oh my, homemade ice cream is the best!
Susie - March 21, 2022 3:19 pm
Yes, Mam, I, too, love the I cream sandwiches!! Also, another fav of mine is those great paper wrapped sugar cones…..DRUMSTICKS,……for goodness sake! For a minute, I could NOT think of the name of them!! Lol
Linda Moon - March 20, 2022 7:03 pm
Ice Cream Trucks….great memories from great times! We had a vegetable truck, too, but my Mama enjoyed that one more than I did. And now I have nothing else to say here while thinking about your story and my memories…just wandering thoughts and wonder, thanks to you…….
Janet Gilchrist - March 21, 2022 1:45 am
Our ice cream man had to get out of the truck snd open a small freezer door holding his treasures. He wore a milkman’s uniform. Treats were .10 and those of us who could buy considered ourselves lucky. My favorite was the Fudgesicle. Thanks for the memory.
Gary Nichols - March 21, 2022 2:36 am
This column resonates with me for two reasons: 1, I, too, enjoyed pushup ice cream, orange sherbet. And, 2, my Father served on the USS Wisconsin in WWII. A couple of years ago, a couple of weeks prepandemic, our grandson and I flew to Norfolk to see the ship his Great Grandfather served.
We should have had ice cream, too.
Judy Jones - March 21, 2022 3:31 am
Love you Sean. You will do just fine here in the Ham. And we will be the better for you being here…
Naomi Smith - March 21, 2022 11:56 am
You dad had a kind heart, as evidenced by him giving you extra money for Charles to buy the ice cream. Be proud of that heritage, many can only wish for parents with kind hearts. My dad had a very kind heart.
Susie - March 23, 2022 2:33 pm
Yes, Naomi, my dad had a sweet and kind heart, too, like yours and Sean’s dads. He was generous, even tho we weren’t made of $.
Ruth Mitchell - March 21, 2022 2:50 pm
Oh, how you made me smile with this entry. I never saw a real ice cream truck until I had grandchildren. Nothing excites them at my house like a far off sound of “Pop Goes the Weasel.” They, like you and your friends, drop everything, grab money from their granddaddy, and run for the road. True story: once we were eating homemade ice cream, and one granddaughter pitched hers in the garbage as she ran to catch the truck. No ice cream equals ice cream truck ice cream!!
Arnold Kring - March 21, 2022 4:24 pm
As a father of four children, I would always try to keep from funding them when the ice cream truck came to our block. I told my kids that when the ice cream man played music, that meant he was out of ice cream!! Did they ever believe me? Of course not, but I still enjoyed telling them.
Susie - March 21, 2022 6:06 pm
Actually, Arnold, that’s kinda mean, and only funny to you, probably. Teasing children is not a good thing to do and is also the lowest form of humor. My bet is they got tired of it and didn’t really think it was funny.
Kim Morris Ladoczky - March 21, 2022 6:48 pm
You have wonderful memory! I can’t remember the song, or name of our Ice Cream Man. But ohhhhh, I remember the feeling… & screaming ICE CREAM! We didn’t always have the money, when we did I had the hardest time deciding between a push-up & a screwball. The screwball had BUBBLEGUM. Sure wish life as simple as it used to be.
Karen Holderman - March 21, 2022 6:51 pm
You brought back some great memories. Thank you.
seemstress2 - March 21, 2022 8:16 pm
I was 3 or 4 and stubbed my toe as I ran for the first ice cream truck I ever saw. Blood everywhere. I ran back to the house bawling, hurting twice as much because I was missing the ice cream, too. And my dad, in true heroic-dad style, scooped me up in his arms and made it back to the ice cream truck before it pulled away from the curb. That was 60 years ago, and he’s still my hero.
Susie - March 21, 2022 11:48 pm
Now THATS a sweet father you have there, seemstress2 !! How special that memorie is for you!
Mary Ann B - March 23, 2022 12:54 pm
Our ice cream man in Sweetwater, Texas, was so familiar with us that he called me “Annie” when he asked me what I wanted. Made me feel so important, and I’m sure it made my popsicle taste better. Thanks for the pleasant memories!
Susie - March 23, 2022 2:38 pm
Yes, Mary Ann, thank goodness for people like your ice cream man!! How wonderful of him to make little people feel important and SEEN !! (He must have been drinking the “sweet”water there in Sweetwater!! ) 🤗
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - March 28, 2022 12:53 am