I’ve always liked the Ice Cream man. I like the songs he plays and the memories of childhood they evoke. I even like the little white mail van he drives with pictures of ice cream colorfully pasted on the sides. This is why I was a bit confused when, while walking the dog, I found my son hunkered down behind a garbage can. When I asked him why he was hiding he said,
“The Ice Cream Man eats children and he doesn’t wear pants.” At that moment the offending vendor was busy selling ice cream to other unwary kids.
“How do you know he doesn’t wear pants?” I started with the more easily explained question.
“I snuck up on him once. All he was wearing was a wife beater and a pair of blue boxers.”
“Oh dear!” At that moment a little blond girl walked over and asked Duncan why he was hiding.
“I don’t trust the Ice Cream Man!” With that he waved us both away from his hiding place.
My son still wrestles with the suburban rituals he’s been thrown into. He was raised in a tiny cabin on a hill some thirty minutes from the nearest town. In our wild old life there was no such thing as pavement, garbage men, or ice cream vendors. The only people bold enough to visit our rural farm were unwary Mormon missionaries and brave Jehovah’s Witnesses.
We had lots of wild visitors: raccoons, rats, deer, possums, cougars, lynx and even a bear. When a hard winter rolled in we’d invariably lose power. On these days Duncan and I would haul firewood from the barn to the house on a large red sled. He’d walk behind picking up the wood that fell off while I’d drag the sled over the snow towards the house. It wasn’t fun but it built character.
Four years ago we moved to the Wow House (so named because it earned ten wows on Duncan’s home-search scale). It is a large suburban home in a lovely neighborhood. The Wow House came with pavement where Duncan rides his scooter and a garbage man who I appreciate more than I can ever say. Though I miss my horses, the 90 degree view of the Cascade Mountains and the deer I fed in the winter, I am happy. Life at the Wow House has been wonderful. Only one week after we moved in Duncan looked up at me and said,
“Mom? I think we used to have it pretty hard!” I don’t remember saying anything in that moment. What I do remember is smiling at my insightful little boy who’d slept beside the wood stove when it was so cold that the heat from the fire couldn’t reach our bedroom.
We are molded by our experiences. We are made by what life hands us, shaped by the twists and turns that lead us into today. I loved my years on my farm but they were hard, rugged and filled with impossible beauty and never ending solitude. Maybe this is why Duncan is now so suspicious of strangers selling treats. When you’ve had to melt snow to flush you’re toilets then home delivered goodies might seem too good to be true.