A Heritage of Ice Cream

“Why are you arguing with me young man!?  You agreed last night to get those weeds pulled today.  It must be done before your father gets home – you know this. . .”

“But mom,  I can’t start now.  It’s almost time!”

Mom looked at me with a degree of suspicion. Rightly so – she knew full well that I hated pulling weeds.  That stupid job was never – ever done.  I wanted to poison all the earth around our house to keep them from popping back up the next day.  ‘How much longer until Round-Up is invented,’ I thought scornfully.

“Almost time for what?”

“The ice cream truck.  I was just about to go down to the corner to meet it.  I can’t miss it mom.  He won’t be back for an hour and then my plan is messed up.”

I had not yet learned to not suggest to mom that I had some kind of plan.  The mere suggestion of such normally caused a string of questions that were, frankly, best left unanswered.

– – = = ( o ) = = – –

If you grew up in Petaluma in the 1960s or 1970s, especially on the west side, you already know from the photo what I was talking about.  The unmissable event was the daily arrival of the red, white and blue, 1954 Chevy pickup truck with the giant cooler built into the bed, tinny music ringing out to alert all kids in the county that it was time to run out to meet the truck.  In the 1960s, the truck and business was owned by a guy named, Gene. By the 1970s, John took over to continue the legacy of ice cream delivery by truck.

We looked forward to all those ice cream stickers around both the doors that the driver, Gene or John, used to access the precious cargo for us.  We simply could not miss him because once he passed, he drove way too fast for us to catch up – or did he?

Gene and John’s ice cream truck remains something of a legend, even today.  For the effort of mowing a lawn, doing your chores or just being so cute that some adult could not help but give you the quarter you needed for your daily fix of ice cream.  While we guys resented that a lot of the girls could get away with pleading for their quarters while we had to work for them, it was only mildly discussed.  The price of admission was reasonable enough given the rewards.

So, this day, not long after Gene began servicing our new neighborhood with all its new families and ice cream addicted children, mom relented.  I had not one, but two quarters ready because I had already noted a pattern and laid down a plan where I got not one, but two chances to make a purchase.  I was 6 at the time and thought I had the best plan, a plan so good that I dared not tell anyone, not my sister and not my friends about it.

What I had discovered by careful observation after John began his new route into our neighborhood was that, first, you would hear the tinkle of the ice cream truck music right around 2:15 each afternoon.  Within a few minutes, that glorious truck would make the turn onto our street.  With critical mass enough to stop him early, he only got to the 3rd house before it was just unsafe to drive because we had him surrounded.

He would park, lock the brakes and get out.  By the time he made it to the opposite side of the truck where the main door was, we had formed a rowdy line of ice cream crazed kids, pushing and shoving but quietly because John would only delay delivery if he thought we were too rowdy.  As soon as he came around the rear end, we stopped most of the pushing and shoving.

He quickly got us through the transactions and was always friendly.  He soon began to learn our names and recognize our normal orders. Then he would drive up the street to the cul-de-sac end and turn around.  By this time, we would be piled over different lawns relishing our frozen delicacies.  The neighborhood was at peace and John drove down to the main street and continued onto the next neighborhood.

Most of the kids were satisfied that the best part of the day had happened and as soon as they finished their treat, they would move on to other things.

But I knew this had only part 1.  Part 2 was still coming.  See, I realized that the neighborhoods south of us were still pretty small.  There were only so many houses out there and John did not extend his route to the ranches because the density of kids fell off pretty quickly.  He would service those few streets and – AND – pass by my street corner again in about an hour.

No one, except for a couple of close friends I needed for the critical mass factor of getting John to stop again, knew this was even possible.  My 6 year old brain, however had pieced it together so I carefully tried to be as close to first in line for my first treat, then consume it fast enough to run into my room to change my shirt (so John would not recognize me as an already serviced customer) then get back down to the corner where John would turn to service the neighborhood closer to Grant School.  I somehow knew that if John recognized me, he wouldn’t stop, so I was resolute about looking different enough to fool him.

I know this may surprise you, but – I got away with this deception every time I tried it.

Life was so good. Good friends, comfortable summers, grammar school teachers I mostly liked and daily ice cream – twice.  At age 6, I understood that this is all that was needed for world peace.

If you lived along Johns’ route, you too knew this and the day had to be pretty screwed up to upset the balance of joy secured by that one red, white and blue ice cream truck.

By the time I was in high school, that truck was still coming around each day, like a fixture on wheels and even I enjoyed an occasional treat or just watching the current generation of kids go nuts like we did.

By the time I moved my own family back to California and to a near by town, I had lost track of the truck and if we’re lucky, someone in the comments below may tell us how long that old 1954 Chevy kept rolling or perhaps it yeilded to some newer rig.  Perhaps John’s company has grown, been sold or passed down to his own kids, and expanded to service all the new neighborhoods of Petaluma today.

By high school, I was much more mobile, so I did not have to wait for the truck and was making enough money to travel to the new A&W, the much older Scarf-n-Barf (yea it had a more normal name, but no one knew the real name.  It was, and is only recalled today as Scarf-n-Barf and they made the best, bar none, greasy burgers and fries) or, if you really wanted great ice cream treats – there was a Foster Freeze down across from the bus station.

When my own kids were much younger, Petaluma was not the same place as I recalled.  Scarf-n-Barf was long gone and those of us who recall it, are still mourning the loss of this national treasure. The A&W has moved around and if you can find it, it’s just not the same.  But the Fosters Freeze – that is still around and we even had one in our nearby smaller town

Thus began a new tradition in our family.  I couldn’t have them running down ice cream trucks like we did.  Such things just aren’t done anymore, But I made some great ice cream memories by pulling into the Fosters Freeze and leaving all three strapped into their car seats, under the watchful eye of mom while I went in to buy milk shakes.  The cool thing was that Fosters Freeze had close to 25 flavors to chose from and the kids were willing to sit still and wait because dad had a game in motion that they supported with their whole hearts.

I would go in  and order whatever mom and I wanted, and 3 identical milkshakes of some weird flavor that the kids were unlikely to recognize and brought them out.  Each kid would then try to beat the others in guessing what the flavor was.

“This one is easy.  It’s caramel.”

“Is not.  It’s butterscotch.”

“What’s butterscosh?”

“It’s butterSCOTCH – like the tape”.

“It doesn’t taste like tape. I think it’s caramel.”

fosters freeze signPretty quickly, mom and I were laughing and the kids were enjoying the verbal interplay of determining the flavor.  Normally, this part was over quickly, unless I found a flavor they’d never heard of.  Because I’m the dad, the rules allowed me to contaminate their logic with things they could not yet know was impossible.

“Okay – give up?  They’re sweet potato.”

Eyes would pop wide open – hoping that I was pulling their legs.

“Eww.  They are not.”

“Dad . . .”

Regardless of how each round turn out, they still talk about our family game of “Mystery Milkshakes” and would beg us to stop when we passed close to a Foster Freeze.

In fact, they talk about that game with the same reverence that we talk about John’s ice cream truck.  Funny how life unfolds.

GW bio card 4