The Ice-man Cometh
“The ice-man is coming!” The words would cause little bare feet to start moving and in the direction of the ice wagon.
It has been many years since I, as a little boy, would be in the number of those who would follow the ice wagon as it traveled along the narrow dirt streets of our village. The ice wagon, pulled along the streets by a big brown mule and guided by a kind black man, was a welcome visitor to our village during the hot summer months. I remember those days of a long time ago time.
Once a week, usually on Fridays, the wagon which was loaded with huge blocks of frozen ice would make its appearance. A nickel or dime piece of ice purchased on Friday would mean that at the Sunday dinner, a glass of ice tea would be enjoyed. That would be the last time cold tea would be served until the next Sunday. Only the few that lived through that period can know what a difference a small piece of ice could make.
As the ice wagon traveled along the village streets, children would follow behind hoping that at each stop they might get some small chips of ice that were made when the man cut on the big blocks. Sometimes I thought the kind man purposely made chips just to be able to give a small piece to each of the children. It would be hard for anyone today to imagine what a small piece of ice meant to a child.
The piece of ice bought on Friday would be wrapped with a piece of Mama’s discarded quilts to prevent it from melting too quickly. There came a time when my Dad purchased a used icebox (non electric) at Lyle’s Used Furniture Store on Pearl Street in Darlington. We thought we had really moved up the ladder. The first thing Dad did, after bringing it home, was to paint it white. Now we could buy a larger piece of ice and it would last longer, almost a week if it wasn’t chipped on.
If lemons were available, a large bucket of lemonade would occasionally be made on a Sunday afternoon and enjoyed by family and neighbors who might be visiting. The long front porch served as the meeting place for neighbors to gather and spend the long summer afternoons and early evenings. A bucket of lemonade would often add to those enjoyable and memorable times.
We did a lot of living on our front porch ant he memories made often return. I see faces and listen again to tales that were shared on those long summer evenings. When the hot days of summer were past, the ice-man could be seen delivering wagon loads of black coal to be used for burning in the open fireplace inside the small houses. As the long summer days turned to short winter days, no longer did neighbors have time for visiting. When darkness settled over the village, the fire in the farmplace was allowed to burn to a flicker and then die. It would be started again early the next morning.
That long ago way of life has gone and most of those who lived it have moved on also. The few who remain and remember, including this writer, continue to share memories of that unique time that was – but is no more.
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. and author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week.