It's Summertime So Now It Begins ~ No, The Other Thing

And now it begins. Summertime, kids, and ice cream.

These upcoming, everyday street scenes in Chicago were hardly everyday scenes among our early generations. Ice cream back then was only fit-for-kings.To be more specific, King Louis XIV of France was the first to serve this tongue-teasing concoction of cream, sugar and flavors in his 17th C banquets at Versailles.

This month’s gaggle of little ice cream lovers won’t much care about how it eventually entered the American colonies. But for those who might, the record will show them this luxury dessert was on some wealthy tables even before Jefferson penned our Declaration of Independence.

Truth be told, ice cream backed into its popularity among the less wealthy largely because women couldn’t be served in the taverns of the day. So — American capitalism at its spunkiest — people started opening ice cream gardens. Women and children soon discovered them, and the creamy revolution was on.

Returning to those eager young faces of summer, chances are they may not have learned how our 1900 occupation of Cuba and our 1904 St Louis Worlds Fair both played a role in their giggly obsessions. The first meant new supplies of sugar, and the second introduced the celebrated ice cream cone.

Can you see where this is going….?

While all this was unfolding, in the wings of ice cream history hovered an old tradition of street food. Back in Naples, Italy, and then in Italian immigrant neighborhoods here, there was the Hokey Pokey Man. The fella who strode the streets selling food on foot. If cheese and bread, why not ice cream?

In 1920 in Youngstown, Ohio, the idea arrived that you could make ice cream portable if your froze it. And then maybe coat it. And with that hot idea about a cold confection, the Good Humor Man was born. At a nickle a pop, it was fairly accessible even during the Great Depression.

The fleet of white trucks, white uniformed Good Humor Men, and 85 versions of the product were all part of the American scene by 1960. Hey, many of you know it and remember it and hear it in your own best memory like I do. The sound of those bells meant, well, it meant school was out and summer was in….!

The trucks were usually allowed to travel wherever they could. Meaning the local ordinances and local street violence were the only limits you had to live with. But lets not pretend those restrictions have been small ones. Especially in diverse cities like ours. The tragedy, of course, is that all too often the kids and families who might enjoy the treat most, are most likely denied it the most.

The vendors — from Good Humor men to their post-1976 successors — continue to stay out of “harm’s way.” Another ugly way of admitting that this simple summer pleasure has ironically circled back to its historic origins: Limited availability.

Why…? That question raises the timeless matter of CAUSES. But here’s guessing the kids of summer are more concerned with the more timely matter of CONSEQUENCES. Right kids??

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