The Iceman delivered much more than ice to this North Florida neighborhood in the late 1940s. He brought a friendly smile, generous heart, and icy gifts that have continued to offer solace from feverish thoughts after all these years.
I was very busy during World War II..trying to avoid being “drafted” (into Kindergarten). I was mentioned in dispatches only once during the conflict: for “willful stubbornness in the face of intimidating authority and refusal to be coerced into institutionalized mind control.” Specifically, I had pitched a fit and literally dragged my heels when the driver of the “kindergarten bus,” tried to shanghai me when I was five years old. My “over the top behavior must have been a doozy. It got me another year of freedom before reporting to North Sure Elementary School and the stern ministrations of Mrs. Estelle Stevens.
Following my “defense of Freedom” in the face of Kindergarten, I softened the trauma with daily Camphor therapy. This was a somewhat eclectic, homeopathic prescription consisting largely of climbing the big Camphor tree that grew in front of our house on West 58th Street One important exercise, “The Bail Out,” had worn the bark on certain “Exit Limbs” smooth as a result of the number of times we had used them to “bail out” after being shot up by the “Jerries” during a bombing raid over my brother and other, younger neighborhood kids.
Another important activity during the hot summer months was caging ice off the Atlantic Ice and Coal Company iceman that used to come through Jacksonville’s North Shore neighborhood several times a week, delivering ice to those families still using real “ice boxes.”
I can still hear the slow, regular creak of the wagon wheels and worn leather harness as the faded green wagon made its way slowly up our street. About every third house, the old man would tug on the reins. Instantly, the mule would stop so still it could have been a brown haired statue–except for those tall ears that seemed to be on ball bearings as they pivoted back and forth to follow sounds or noises.
The old man would swing down and go to the back of the wagon. Throwing back a thick, wet, brown piece of canvas covering the precious contents, he would palm a worn, but sinister ice pick.
He was a genial, elderly black man whose ability with the ice pick was impressive, even to 4-5 five year olds. The big blocks of ice, hidden under a thick canvas tarp, must have weighed hundreds of pounds…before the iceman went to work.
Zip, slash, stab, stab…the powerful arm and hand went to work…the deadly steel ice pick glinting in the sun at squinting young eyes. The ice protested with rippling, crunching sounds as it gave way to the sharp steel point. In just seconds of blurred, but unerringly accurate, staccato attacks, the Iceman would “carve” off a 50-pound block of ice, grab it with his clamping tongs, swing it over his shoulder and head down the driveway to the back of the house where the kitchen’s ice box and its full “drip pan,” awaited.
When he returned to the mule-pulled wagon with the heavy, wet canvas tarp protecting the precious contents from the worst of the Florida sun, we would be waiting–the saddest, hottest, most bedraggled “urchins” you could imagine. Barefoot, “bronzed” by the relentless Florida sun, and clad only in “boxer shorts” made by our mothers from scrap cloth (some even out of feed bags), and held up with “liberated” rubber tubing provided by our dads who worked at NAS Jacksonville or at Merrill Shipyard, we begged…with our eyes. We must have been a sight…
Taking pity on these Florida desert rats, with a flashing smile the iceman would do a “quick draw” of his ice pick from his holster and set to work on the resisting, but always vanquished, block of ice.
Slash, stab, pick, pick and seconds later he was handing us, with a beaming smile, big chunks of ice…already beginning to glisten as it started to melt.
A provident higher power had surely sent this Lazarus to bring cooling succor to our burning tongues, tormented in the “flames” of the Florida sun.
(We went to church a lot, too, about the only time we were not wearing the homemade boxer shorts. Our preacher had raised Lazarus from the dead so many times that we were beginning to think of him as Lazarup.)
© Tracy D. Connors 2015 All Rights Reserved