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Penkava: The ice cream truck cometh

Published: Friday, July 4, 2014 11:42 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 4, 2014 11:44 p.m. CDT

It slowly crept into our neighborhood. Announced by endless refrains of “Turkey in the Straw,” the music wafted through the air like an aroma from a kitchen. Sprinting to the curb in front of our house, I awaited its arrival like a dog anticipating the ring of a Pavlovian bell. The ice cream truck cometh.

As I stood there like Ulysses straining to hear the Siren’s song, I could follow the truck’s path as it weaved its way up and down the streets, closer and closer, the music echoing through yards, bouncing off bungalows and rebounding into my eager ears.

Suddenly it appeared in all its glory at the end of our street, turning the corner and patiently sauntering toward me. I frantically waved my arms like a castaway signaling a rescue helicopter … Here I am! ... Here I am! Oh, where was an emergency flare when you really needed it?

But that wasn’t necessary, for the driver could not miss a shrieking senior citizen with semaphoric arms. He stopped in front of me and leaned out of his window.

“Sir,” he anxiously inquired, “are you OK?”

“Yes,” I replied breathlessly, “I was just worried that you wouldn’t see me.”

“Oh, I saw you, alright. The only thing you were missing was a signal flare.”

Geesh.

The treat selection was printed on the side of the truck … Bomb Pops, Strawberry Shortcake Bars, Screwballs, Fudgsicles, Creamsicles, Push-Ups, Drumsticks, King Cones, Ice Cream Sandwiches, Sundae Cones … the list read like the Great American Novel.

But, when push-ups came to shove, it was the Bomb Pop that won out…a delicious fusing of cherry, lime and blue raspberry flavorings that not only melted in your mouth, but also dribbled down your chin and onto your shirt. I paid the man, made him commit to visiting my street at least three times a week and slowly moseyed to my patio to slurp my syrupy tri-colored treasure.

As I worked my way down from red to white to blue, I couldn’t help thinking about the universality of the ice cream truck. How its visits transcended gender and age. There truly is no generation gap or battle of the sexes when it comes to the idea of chasing a multi-decaled refrigerated melodic vehicle down the street.

What about those songs the ice cream trucks play? I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t enjoy a snappy version of “Pop Goes the Weasel” or “The Entertainer.” In fact, we like these tunes so much that our brains ceaselessly replay them long after the sugar high has subsided.

And there’s something to be said for how a Drumstick or a King Cone satisfies our worldwide collective taste buds. If ever there were a global rallying point, would it not be frozen snacks musically transported to your door? Wouldn’t it be ironic if Crunch Bars turned out to be the key to international brotherhood and universal peace? Instead of tanks, I can just imagine sending a fleet of ice cream trucks into battle playing “It’s a Small World After All.” Weapons drop and suddenly we have détente via Dreamsicles.

Sure, maybe it’s the Bomb Pop in me talking, but I think there’s something more to an ice cream truck than just Big Sundae Cups and Giant Neapolitan Ice Cream Sandwiches and lively refrains of “Camptown Races.” For when the ice cream truck cometh, we are all united in the common bond of the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of the Choco Taco.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. When he was young he never got anything from the ice cream truck because his parents told him it only played music when it was sold out. He can be reached at mikepenkava@comcast.net.

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