My aunt Dolores used to wait near the ice-cream truck on summer days. As the flurry of children dispersed back to play, ice cream in hand, she would scan the periphery. Some children had held back, watching, tempted to the spectacle but without money to spend. She’d wave them in towards the window of the truck and have them point to the picture of what they wanted on the outside of the truck. And then she’d buy each of them an ice-cream. Brilliant. It was a poor neighborhood, we were all poor, and my aunt wasn’t any different. But she invested in humanity this way.
I wish I could track the effect. It must have been for some of these children like Dolores was buying stock in them early, when the vision of their company was a child and needed someone to believe in its worth.
This neighborhood was split by the railroad tracks, adjacent to the public housing project where I lived, and was filled with families and children. There were good people here, there were bad people here, and there was a lot of noise. I remember the noise of the train: the soul-rattling blast of the horn, the rumble and blur of tons of dirty metal wheels, and the cyclone rush as we stood as close to it as we dared. Playing ‘chicken’ with a train at full speed drowned out being less. We sometimes put pennies on the railroad track and learned with fascination what can happen to small objects under pressure.
Against this noise, on summer afternoons, the melody of an ice-cream truck would dance into the parking lot like a rainbow ballerina stepping out of a black and white photograph. My aunt Dolores would gather up her change.
This was decades ago. When I think about it now I picture a child, perhaps a little girl in a little dress, lighting up as she realizes that a nice woman was going to buy her ice-cream on a day that her parents couldn’t, or wouldn’t, give her a quarter. And I hope Aunt Dolores remembers, and will always see, that girl’s little finger pointed carefully, and shyly, at the glossy orange Creamsicle picture on the side of that white, white truck on a bright sunny summer day.