Sidelines: The tinkling music of summers gone by

It's a sound I'll never forget.

To kids, it was like a modern-day version of the Pied Piper. Whenever we heard it, we all came running, no matter what we were doing, or from how far away. It was a sound that drove us wild with excitement, sort of the way a cat reacts when you scratch her on her back, right above the tail.

That little tinkling melody the ice cream truck made as it rounded the corner of your block teased you with fantasies of the frosted goodies hidden in that mysterious compartment in the back that always steamed when the door was opened. It was probably the way the closing whistle sounded to tired factory workers at the end of a hot, summer day.

This was before many fast food restaurants sold ice cream cones. They had milk shakes, but I don't remember them having ice cream cones. About the only places I remember getting such goodies were Prince Castle, Dairy Ripple or the Dog 'n Suds root beer stand.

In our neighborhood, the ice cream truck always seemed to come right before dinner, which was a good excuse for our mothers not to shell out a quarter or 50 cents or whatever it cost back then.

Next to being a lifeguard at the local swimming pool, driving an ice cream truck seemed like an ideal job. You just drove around town, real lazy like, choosing where you wanted to go, jangling your little tune whenever you felt like it. If there was some kid you didn't like that much from school, well, maybe you'd just skip his block. If there was a girl you might be sweet on, maybe you'd have to swing by her house a couple of extra times.

Regardless of where you went, you always made kids happy. What joy it must have been, seeing the faces of those little, wide-eyed children lighting up when you came into view. It was like Santa Claus bringing the carnival down your block.

From an adult's perspective, which always ruins everything, I imagine it's a tough way to make a buck. Plus, there are the looks of the kids whose impassioned pleas were turned down.

As a kid, the worst part of being allowed a treat was deciding what to pick. Do you go with an old favorite, like an ice cream sandwich or a Fudgsicle, or be daring and try something new, like those orange-flavored ice cream things you had to pop up on a cardboard stick. I don't remember what they were called, and I don't know if they still have them.

Even at that age, the explorer in me liked trying new things. Well, a little, anyway. How would you know if you liked something unless you tried it? The problem, of course, was if you got something you really didn't like, who knew when you'd get a chance to redeem yourself? Especially if you complained about it. If anything, complaining only made it worse.

The ice cream truck was perhaps the first thing to make me realize that parents were different from their children. Didn't they realize what the ice cream truck meant? It didn't matter if it was good for us or not; we didn't care. It was ice cream, cold and sweet and delicious. We'd never admit that whatever we got never quite satisfied us; it always left a bittersweet taste in your mouth, leaving you wanting more.

Just like a lot of other things in life.

I don't know if they have ice cream trucks anymore. In fact, I couldn't tell you the last time I heard that familiar tune. But whenever I do, it brings back memories of happier days, back when summer wasn't summer, it was heaven, and it seemed to last forever.

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