Highlight of a Summer Day
by John C. Westervelt
Like other working moms and dads, part of the Asbury staff needs childcare for the summer. Eryn Wallis, Asbury’s Nursery Childcare Supervisor, accepted the job of fulfilling this need. In addition to planning curriculum, Eryn asked senior adults to be pen pals and exchange weekly letters with the children.
My pen pals were Brendan Perkins, going into sixth grade, and Ethan Craig, who will be in kindergarten. Ethan shared through his drawings. Brendan wrote real letters. When Brendan asked what I did in the summer when I was his age, I sent him a Grandpa John story published in the Tidings in 1997 titled “The Iceman Delivers.” I’ll insert some paragraphs from that story.
“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 iceman’s 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.
“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 two wooden rocking chairs. I would sit on the narrow wooden banister. It was hard on my skinny bottom, but I didn’t want to miss my daddy’s 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.”
In June the pen pals were invited to watch a talent show. In July we toured the second floor gathering area to view several kinds of artwork each student had created. While looking at art, I visited with Brendan and his mother Gayle, who is an Early Childhood Team Associate at Asbury. The next day Gayle sent me the email that follows:
“I read Brendan your story 'The Iceman Delivers' as he was having his afternoon snack today. He could have read it on his own but since he just finished reading his 700-page book today I thought he might like to hear the story as I read it. Besides, I enjoyed reading it so much that I wanted to see his reaction as I told him the story. After I read, "Eating ice was the highlight of our day," he said, "THAT was the highlight?" I reminded him that back then people didn't have icemakers so it was a real treat.
“My mom and dad grew up in the 1930's just like you did, so they like to collect antiques from their childhood. When I read about the cardboard ice sign, Alex, our 15-year-old, said he had seen one of those at grandma and grandpa's house along with a set of ice tongs. My mother also has a collection of old milk bottles that she displays in her kitchen on a shelf. I know that she must have the same fond memories of the iceman.
“I reminded Brendan that back in the 1930's people didn't have television so they entertained each other by telling stories and playing board games, just like we do at our yearly family campout. My husband's grandmother (the mother of 12 children) started the annual camping trip over 50 years ago! Camping is a favorite tradition of our boys (and my husband who is a boy at heart). I think it is so enjoyable for the children because there are no electronics, just the great outdoors and their active imaginations to keep them occupied.”
When Eryn began her summer program, she hoped that I would come to understand Brendan’s boyhood and he would understand mine. We made good progress with his mother’s explanation of how my “highlight of a summer day” differed from Brendan’s.
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