It was the doldrums.
I was draped sideways across the turquoise painted Adirondack chair in the backyard like a soggy beach towel. My mother pushed through the screen door and sat on the back step, letting the dish towel she was holding dangle from her fingers.
Across the cinder road that served as a driveway between the Johnson’s house and ours, Nephew hung on the rope swing, holding on with both hands stiff-armed, straddling the knot, head thrown back so it almost dragged the dirt, viewing the world upside down. Every so often he pushed off the apple tree trunk with his sneaker toe, but even that looked too hot to do.
Mrs. Treadwell, Nephew’s auntie, came out of the kitchen door of the Johnson house and leaned her squishy elbows on the porch railing.
It was only early morning, but already we were all waiting for the day to be over.
In the distance I heard the hum of a truck making the curve off of Hazlewood Avenue onto Hart Street, up by the Royal Gardens Picnic Grounds. I knew by the sound that the driver hadn’t been on this road before, because his tires made a tentative squeal. He was going too fast.
If he didn’t slow down before the next curve where Hart Street turned into Randolph Avenue, right in front of my house, he certainly wasn’t going to make this curve, and could very well end up in our driveway, or on our front lawn.
I didn’t hear him slowing down. This was going to get interesting.
The intersection of Randolph Avenue and Hart Street was a notorious place for all types and degrees of automotive mishaps. No one was ever killed on that corner, but it was “an accident waiting to happen” sort of place. The problem arose from the local drivers knowing that Hart Street onto Randolph Avenue was the traditional “right of way”, and drivers new to the area made the erroneous assumption, based on appearances, that Randolph Avenue was the through street. It wasn’t unusual for us to hear blaring horns, the squeal of tires, the whine of bending metal, and the tinkle of breaking glass, followed by loud voices and cussing, sometimes as often as twice a day.
By this time, everybody that was outside heard the truck coming and knew this guy wasn’t slowing down. Despite the heat, we all perked up and waited to see what was going to happen.
My mother got up from the back step and walked into the middle of the driveway in preparation for what was inevitable. She had been known to run into the middle of some of the worse accidents to help the injured. My father wholly disapproved of that behavior on my mother’s part, but he couldn’t convince my mother not to do it.
It was a delivery truck of some sort, barreling down Hart Street headed straight toward our driveway. If he ‘didn’t make the curve’, he’d run right into the driveway, or if he ‘almost made the curve’, he’d run right into the front yard. My grandfather had strategically placed a number of painted white boulders along the curve in front of the hedges as a deterrent to careening vehicles in the hope of keeping them out of the yard.
It looked like the boulders, and my mother, were our only hope against this fast approaching delivery truck.
At the last possible moment, maybe seeing my mother standing in his way arms akimbo, or seeing the boulders and knowing the damage they were waiting to inflict, the delivery truck driver corrected his misjudgment with a massive twist of the steering wheel rather than applying the brakes, and swung the top-heavy truck into the curve. The centrifugal force almost toppled him.
By some fortuitous circumstance for the driver, and for us … maybe the weight of the humidity in the air acting as a cushion … the truck righted itself, made the curve with a foot to spare between it and the leering white boulders, and missed Calamity altogether.
Or so the driver thought.
The centrifugal force had not toppled the truck, but it had torqued the body enough that the rear doors of the deliver truck came open in a huge swinging motion, and boxes came spilling out from the back. In addition to the boxes, a huge block of ice crashed to the pavement, smashing and skidding along in the direction of the retreating truck, as if trying to catch up to it wanting to hop back on for the remainder of the ride. The ice twirled to a halt and immediately began to smoke.
We’d all seen stuff fall off trucks on this curve before, and typically the drivers turned around in the NatVar parking lot, came back, picked up what had jettisoned, and continued on their way.
The sound of the delivery truck disappeared completely and was replaced by the sound of humidity.
Finally my mother said, “Let’s get those boxes out of the road before someone runs over them.”
I knew my mother meant exactly that. There would be no looking inside. Not even if they were boxes of diamond necklaces. She would probably spend the rest of the day on the telephone trying to find the trucking company to report what had happened, and finding out how we could honestly return the boxes. Such a mommy.
I walked in the direction of the smoking chunk of ice. My mother yelled, “Don’t touch that! That’s dry ice and you’ll stick to it!” Sticking to something called “ice” sounded pretty good to me at the moment, but the note in my mother’s voice told me I needed to not touch it, “dry” or otherwise.
I walked back to the less interesting brown cardboard boxes that were scattered in the road and stood and watched as Mom and Mrs. Treadwell each hoisted one, none of the boxes being small enough for me to manage.
As they held the boxes to their sweaty fronts, something happened. They both looked at each other and grinned.
Mom and Mrs. Treadwell made quick trips back and forth from the middle of the road, putting the boxes in the shade of the apple tree, and kicked the chunk of ice off the road next to one of the white boulders.
Completely out of character, Mom began to open the boxes.
The boxes that fell off the long gone delivery truck were filled to the top with ice cream! Popsicles, squeeze pops, creamsicles, push up pops, fudgesicles, dixiecups, ice cream sandwiches, brown cows. Red and blue and green and yellow, chocolate and vanilla, all cold and foggy with condensation.
And all starting to melt.
Mom ran into the house and called the neighbors. “Do you have any freezer space?”, she was asking.
Freezer space?!! For goodness sake, throw out the TV dinners and frozen vegetables in OUR freezer if you need room, I was thinking.
Ruthie and Mary were over in a jiffy with brown grocery bags. The moms and auntie Treadwell spent the next half hour divvying up the spoils and carting it off to their respective Frigidaires. All the neighborhood kids showed up, good news travelling fast, even through humid air.
All summer long we had varieties of ice cream that I had never dreamed existed. The push-up pops filled with vanilla ice cream and layered blue and red syrupy stuff was a totally new experience for me. I would never have squandered my one alloted dime on anything other than chocolate, let alone the fifty cents it would have cost to get one of these multi-colored giants.
I vaguely recall one late summer day when Mom announced that “these are the last of the popsicles”, as she handed me a red one.
Mom never bothered to find the trucking company that had lost the boxes of ice cream. I have to think she thought losing all those boxes of treats on our corner was an appropriate punishment for someone who had been driving too fast in the first place.