As I have previously mentioned on the virtual pages of running with carrots, I am currently leading classes of high school students through J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. (These classes are, I will note, the reason why I have been terribly remiss in updating.)
In a way, Tolkien’s novel is about family, about relationships between generations. Frodo, through no fault of his own, inherits a demon ring from his Uncle Bilbo. Frodo is just kicking back and enjoying the Shire, eating his six meals per day with his friend Sam, perhaps artfully arranging his foot fur, when he finds himself the troubled owner of an evil piece of jewelry that watches him like an eye and demands an impromptu vacation to the Cracks of Doom.
Sometimes, the material world has a way of haunting a family. For the Baggins clan, it was a supernatural ring. For the Fords, it’s an ice cream truck. But this might require some explanation.
When my dad was growing up in Silver Spring, he drove an ice cream truck. This is one of many odd jobs that comprise my dad’s career history, and sometimes the details of these jobs are part truth and part apocryphal. In any case, I can imagine him puttering around the streets of Maryland, wearing a white uniform, a starched cap perched on his flat-top haircut. He pauses here and there to distribute Popsicles and Drumsticks to local children. These children smile and use phrases like “Golly gee!” Everything is sepia, of course.
And yet his ice cream truck days were not idyllic. His ice cream truck — it was robbed! For some reason I recall that there were baseball bats involved, although I don’t think my dad was injured in protecting his frozen goods. But imagine: a hot July night, orange sherbet dripping onto the pavement, and his daily haul… gone!
Years later, my father, a man with a troubled relationship with ice cream trucks, has a little girl: me, a girl who loves ice cream. Like Frodo in Tolkien’s novel, I am aware of the legend that connects my family to a certain degree of trouble and distress regarding the mobile dessert industry, but I never imagine that these misadventures will come to haunt me. And so, one afternoon, I perk up as I hear the winsome tones of our own local truck, grab a dollar, and head out the door. I am looking to score a Mickey Mouse ice cream pop, or perhaps a Choco Taco. I don’t exactly plan on using the phrase “Golly gee,” but I am certainly looking to have a positive ice cream truck experience.
I make it within a block of the truck. I see the gentleman at the wheel peer at me in his rearview mirror. He doesn’t slow down.
I fall and break my arm.
The driver, in my memory, laughs at me. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. He laughs at me and drives away. I spend the rest of the summer — sans ice cream truck ice cream — nursing a fractured radius bone and using empty bread bags to protect my cast during baths. The plaster is hot pink and, conveniently, matches my summer dance recital costume, but this is an inconsequential perk when you consider a summer without the local pool, plagued with the smelly-itchy-arm conditions that inevitably accompany a cast.
I am optimistic that the ice cream curse ends with my generation. I feel I paid our dues in doctor fees and pain and suffering. I have, if you will, thrown the ice cream truck into the Cracks of Doom.
Perhaps, if Danny and I have kids, they can have a normal relationship with ice cream trucks.