Summer is here with a vengeance, and the streets and sidewalks of Brookfield are ovens set on “Broil.” But this is nothing new. I remember it was pretty much the same back when I was a kid living at 3729 Morton Ave.
Our family home didn’t have air conditioning, either, so we broiled by day and simmered at night. When we wearily came down to breakfast in the morning, the refrigerator was humming, humming, humming away. During hot spells, it rarely seemed to stop humming. And we kids didn’t make its mechanical life any easier by our opening the doors to get Kool-Aid or an ice cube to run across our fevered foreheads.
Speaking of Kool-Aid, I’ve noticed over the last couple of decades that kids’ Kool-Aid Stands are becoming scarcer every summer. Forty-odd years ago, there wasn’t a summer that I didn’t set up a stand outside of my house on Morton. I put out the same small wooden table under a cool shade tree, made some Kool-Aid-always Kool-Aid-and got out the plastic cups and went into business.
“Kool-Aid, two cents a glass!” I’d shout out at passing people, or even passing cars. Sometimes I’d even shout it out when nobody was around, just to fine tune my delivery-style.
Mom was always my first customer. You could always rely on good old Mom. Then she’d slip my sisters a few cents each, so they could come out and give me some business, too. But from then on, I was strictly on my own. At least until the poor suffering mailman came by. He’d slip me a few cents, or even a nickel, and gratefully (I hoped) drink a cold glass of flavor and sugar.
Every kid I ever knew who ran a cold drink stand knew about what soft touches Brookfield mailmen were. I take off my straw hat to them, and give them a bow for their business, even though they had to push mail strollers and walk up and down hot sidewalks to houses in the muggy summertime.
Sometimes an hour or two might go by in the afternoon, but there I’d be at my stand, maybe drawing or playing some sort of game to pass the time. Then around 4 o’clock, things would pick up, as the train commuters came home from work, and passed me right by. A few would stop for a quick glass. Every penny counted, right? And pennies did count for something in those days. Five of them would buy you a Hershey chocolate bar, and there was still such a thing as “penny candy,” candy you could actually buy for just one red cent.
Another thing I’d do with my collected Kool-Aid money was to wait impatiently for the Good Humor Ice Cream truck to come by. In the summer, when all our house windows were open, we kids were usually the first to hear the approach of the ice cream truck, heralded by the jingling, jangling bells on it. We kids could tell within a few seconds which street it was on, how far down the street it was, and which direction it was going. And we knew what was being sold, and the prices of each item.
In the late 1960s, the Good Humor Man started selling something called Wahoo Bars, a single-stick ice pop, for only a nickel. I was in heaven! I’d just begun my job at the Brookfield Jewel, and I had real money to spend, dollars of it. So I bought 20 bars for a buck, of various flavors-cherry, grape, and orange, I think-and carried the chilly armful of them into the house and shoved them into the freezer. Then I told my family, “There’s free Wahoo Bars for everybody in there!”
So I looked pretty philanthropic, especially to my brothers and sisters, and it only cost me one single dollar.
Some people used to complain about the noise of the bells on the Good Humor truck, but not us kids. To us, the sound of the bells were as much a part of summer as the crickets or the slurp of Kool-Aid at a kid’s stand. Today there are still ice cream trucks that go around, but not nearly as many as in the summers of my youth. And now they play the same old tune over and over, until it drives you mad, and you’re glad to see the truck go away.
But I’m pretty sure that there are some kids who still listen for the truck’s tune, and can tell which block it’s on, and get out some of their cold drink stand money to buy an ice cream bar.