When Grandpa John Was a Kid - The Iceman Delivers

One of my favorite summer activities as a boy during the Great Depression of the 1930s was to sit on the wooden steps of the front porch in the morning to watch for the iceman. When it was my turn, and after Mother told me how much ice we needed, I would put the square cardboard sign in the front window. I could select the number 12, 25, 50, or 100 to place at the top to tell the iceman how many pounds of ice to deliver.

The back of the icemanís truck was filled with 100-pound blocks of ice. These were scored so that the iceman could chop on the line with his ice pick to split the block into 50, 25, or 12 pound pieces. Often, as he chipped on the ice block, a hand-sized chunk would fall onto the bed of the truck. With his ice tongs, he lifted fifty pounds of ice onto his shoulder and back across a piece of leather for delivery directly into our icebox.

As the iceman walked around the house to the screened-in, back porch, my barefoot friends and I scrambled into the back of the truck looking for scrap chunks of ice. After finding one, we would circle around our treasure while seated on the sidewalk to break up the ice into mouth-size pieces. Eating ice was the highlight of our day.

While the ice came by truck, the milk came by a horse-drawn milk-wagon. The horse knew the route as well as the milkman did. The milkman would step out of the milk-wagon grasping the handle of a metal basket holding eight, glass bottles of milk. By the time he had left milk and picked up empty, quart bottles at three houses, the horse and wagon would be waiting out front three doors down. My brother and I would ride with the milkman for several blocks, then walk home.

My mother was stricter than most mothers in our neighborhood. At the time, I thought she was unfair. After lunch, my year-older brother, my year-younger sister, and I had to take a nap. The pallet, a quilt spread on the living room floor, didnít seem hard because my young body was pliable. I still remember the tingling of my arms as the dry summer breeze blowing through the south screen door swept across my perspiring body. Eight oíclock was bedtime in the winter, but during the summer we could stay up until nine, since we had had an hourís nap. There was no Daylight Saving Time.

Mother fixed supper. Daddy washed the dishes, and two children dried them. After the kitchen was cleaned, the family gathered on the south porch that extended completely across the front of the house. Daddy and Mother sat on the two wooden chairs. I would sit on the narrow wooden banister. It was hard on my skinny bottom, but I didnít want to miss my daddyís boyhood stories. Occasionally, a neighbor stopped out front to talk about how President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was going to end the depression, and everyone would have a job.

As darkness enveloped all the outdoors, tiny, blinking, fluorescent yellow lights appeared under the sycamore trees. On some nights I chased lightning bugs and captured a few in a glass jar with air holes in the lid to use as a night light in the bedroom. The unfair nap now seemed a fair enough trade for the pleasures of a summer night.

Copyright 1998 by John C. Westervelt

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