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Sweet summer 

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Pavlov's dogs salivated at the sound of a bell. My trigger: the tinny tunes cranked out by an ice cream truck.

Several weeks ago, the sounds of that should-be-irritating carnival music wafted through our open window. Bare feet, hair flying, I sprinted out the front door in search of the truck. I caught a glimpse of my husband's shocked, then disbelieving, face. He'd never seen me move that fast.

The ice cream truck, this moving desserteria (I realize this isn't a word), heralds hazy, lazy days. It's as sure a sign of summer's advance as the appearance of lightning bugs in evening skies or the elementary school field day festivities that precede The Last Day of School.

I had never heard an ice cream truck's alluring song in my neighborhood, far off Durham's East Club Boulevard. After following my ears and chasing my personal pied piper for several blocks, I saw a humble truck that apparently began its life as a U.S. Postal Service delivery vehicle. Its sides were plastered with faded stickers of the frozen confections inside: the red-white-and-blue Rocket pops, strawberry shortcake Good Humor bars, plain-Jane Popsicles. All $1 or less—no yuppie ice cream with things "smashed" into them or socially conscious messages.

I pondered the choices, standing in front of the truck, a line of children snaking behind me. Catching the impatient glance of a human less than 3 feet tall, I realized that thirtysomething adults should allow the kids to get fast-tracked to the front of the line.

Propriety aside, I was reliving all the things the ice cream truck meant to me. My neighborhood ice cream and Sno-Cone trucks represented some of my first experiences with "commerce" and making decisions for myself. My mother would be the voice of moderation, quietly asking, "Do you really need that giant Nutty Buddy?" My penny-pinching father would tell me to do the math. A dollar would buy that expensive tower o' ice cream or two smaller treats, one of which I could share with my best friend next door. It's up to you, he said.

Standing there, I realized how different things are from 1980, when I was 6 years old and happiness meant the arrival of the ice cream truck. My parents never worried—or at least didn't verbalize it—that an ice cream truck was just a pedophile's tool to lure innocents. We knew the Sno-Cone man, not his name, but his spirit, just as he knew that grape was my favorite flavor. My parents didn't call the truck's songs "noise pollution." And when I came home with a Sno-Cone drenched in purple sugar water, they didn't lecture about the evils of high fructose corn syrup, either.

But change isn't all bad. My mobile ice cream man now also sells raspados—the same shaved ices, but with Latin flavors. His English is limited to making change and the names of his products; my Spanish doesn't go much further. But in any language, an orange Push-Up is delicious. It tastes like nostalgia.

  • Pavlov's dogs salivated at the sound of a bell. My trigger: the tinny tunes cranked out by an ice cream truck.

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