By Larry Z. Weston
There were many peddlers roaming through our streets in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn when we were kids. Summer brought out the bell clanging ices man in his horse drawn gaily painted wagon selling his frozen treats for two or three cents a cup.
I remember a sweating little man hoarsely shouting, “Snow cones! Snow cones! Come and get your frozen snow cones,” struggling with a pushcart laden with a huge block of ice and rows of bottles filled with brightly colored liquids to flavor the shavings scraped from the block, then handing the heaping paper cup to an eagerly awaiting kid in exchange for a few pennies.
We had a grey-haired elderly lady who usually stationed herself on the corner of our block sitting on a folding chair watching over an old baby carriage with its hood missing. Enormous delicious salty soft pretzels threaded on sticks jutting up around the edges of the shabby buggy while she called out, “Pretzels, pretzels, a nickel apiece.”
The cold winter months brought out a vendor pushing a cart with a small wood fire burning in its base. On top were trays of hot chestnuts and in a drawer underneath was a tray of baked sweet potatoes served to us in a piece of paper tissue.
One of the neighborhood favorites was the “knish” man. He had a cart heated by a small fire in its bottom. The crispy golden brown coating filled with a mass of mashed potatoes and spiced beyond a fault is beyond description. Unfortunately, today, knishes can only be found in the frozen food section of your local supermarket.
All those wonderful flavors and aromas have disappeared with the passage of time. In those days we didn’t worry or even consider sanitation or germs. We simply enjoyed.
Echoing loudest down the halls of my memory are the jingling bells of the Good Humor ice cream man. The sound that announced the arrival of the spotless white truck piloted by Martin, our Good Humor man, produced a child’s version of Pavlov’s reflex. With mouthwatering anticipation, kids came running from all directions to gather around this bearer of sweet delights. Some of the children were prepared in advance by their mothers with dimes wrapped in a piece of paper tightly clutched in their fists, while others dashed home to stand in front of their houses screaming, “Ma! Ma! The Good Humor man is here. Can I have a dime for ice cream?”
During the dismal days of the Thirties there were many times when “Ma” couldn’t afford to give her brood two cents, much less a dime. I remember when little Herbie Jaffrey, who was a nickel short, offered a Liberty magazine he had brought from home along with five pennies for a chocolate covered vanilla ice cream bar. Martin, a jolly short middle aged man wearing his snow white uniform, smiled and with kindness and understanding, graciously accepted Herbie”s offering. That was a mistake. When he returned the next day, the street was practically lined with stacks of magazines, piled up by kids eager to exchange periodicals for Good Humors. Poor Martin had a tough time turning them down.
Upon finishing our ice cream bar, the greatest thrill of all was to find the words “Lucky Stick” stamped in little brown letters upon the licked clean wooden stick. This entitled us to a free second bar. Incredible as it may seem, in 1939 the Federal Trade Commission outlawed the promotion as an illegal lottery.
Back then, we didn’t have choices of exotic flavors. A “Good Humor” was a three ounce chocolate covered vanilla ice cream bar on a stick. A few years later, chocolate ice cream was introduced and by 1960, the product line had grown to 85 flavors or combinations. A far cry from what we had available in the old days.
It’s been nearly a century since Good Humor was born and it’s still a major player in the ice cream industry. The thing that I remember best is handing over my dime to Martin as he reached into the freezer box for that vanilla delight, handing it over with a big smile, rumpling my hair with a pat on my head saying, “Enjoy this, son. It’ll make you grow up big and strong.”
Larry Z. Weston, 89 years young, currently lives with his wife Sandy in the Weldon neighborhood of Kingspoint in Tamarac. Read more from Larry Weston here