Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Thinking About Ice

Since the temperature reached a balmy 103 today, I found myself thinking a lot about ice.

For many, many years, my grandfather ran an ice and cold storage in our little town. It was the town freezer. (Hence the cold storage part) Back in the days before everyone had freezers, small towns (and large too, I imagine) had community freezers. Small, medium and large freezer lockboxes. Lets say your uncle Fred butchered a cow. Your family didn't have a freezer in which to keep all that cow. So you rented a cold space from my grandfather. You'd come in to the office, and get the key, which I remember was on a long piece of broomstick, and go in and fetch your meat. Or you wanted to freeze that bumper crop of green beans from your garden. You marched the green beans down to the Ice & Cold Storage, got the key, and safely stowed them. Everyone was on their honor to take only from their freezer boxes. And honor mattered to people then.

He sold ice too. He had a big red truck, and would make an ice run once or twice a week to the big town nearby. When he got back, he'd back that truck up to the dock, and he and his helper, Mr. Mosser, would drag off these enormous blocks of ice with big tongs. They'd take an ice pick and score the big blocks into smaller blocks for people to buy. He also had a big ice crusher (we were told to stay away, we'd get hurt) where they'd load the smaller ice into to make crushed ice. I remember standing down in the street and watching my grandfather and Mr. Mosser chip and score that ice. He'd see me and wave, and go right back to working that ice. In the winter, he wore green dickies work pants and shirts, and in summer, they were khaki. Always.

In the store he sold eggs, milk, bread, snacks, and all kinds of produce. I can still see the big bushel baskets of apples, pears, oranges, lemons, bananas, and the rows of strawberries in their little green cardboard quart containers. Summer was cool because of all the different kinds of produce. Green and yellow beans in big bins, carrots, red and white potatoes, green peppers, tomatoes. I can smell it right now. (Funny how the senses can drag you back to a place you haven't been in decades)

In the office part of the store, he had a giant Coke chest freezer. That freezer always had a big block of ice inside, keeping the bottles of Coke, Pepsi, root beer, and Seven Up cold. There was an upright soda machine too. The kind with the long narrow door, and you had to pull the bottles out by the top. The grape, cream soda, and some red pop was kept in there.

There was a gumball machine, that had a yellow and red striped gumball in amongst all the others. He always told me that whoever got that won a big prize. The eggs were also kept in a cooler in there. They came in gray cardboard egg cartons, and he'd always tie them up with string. The string came from a cone above the egg cooler. He'd tot your bill up with the smallest nubbin of a pencil, on the back of a brown paper sack. I never remember seeing him have anything but a little tiny pencil nub.

One of the great treats were the snow cones he sold. My grandmother would make the syrup, and he'd have a row of bottles of all the flavors: Cherry, grape, lime, root beer, and orange. I alternated between grape and cherry. The snow cones came in the paper cones that would always get soaked thru with juice before you were done, so you'd have to bite off the paper end and suck the juice thru the bottom. Those snow cones were top notch. He'd fire up the snow cone machine, make snow from a big old chunk of ice. He also sold Hershey's and Rakestraw's ice cream, but I think only the square half gallons, not cones. But there were fudgicles, Banjos, Orangesicles, Nutty Buddys, popsicles and ice cream sandwiches. Most of which were a nickle or dime.

Occasionally, I'd get to go along when he went for stock. The egg farm was my favorite, as the lady was really nice, and her chickens were very personable. They'd all flock around and carry on when we pulled into her farmyard. There was a radio tower near her place, so it was easy to find. For years after I moved up here, whenever I was on 81 South near Chambersburg, I looked for her place. It was there until very recently, when it was flattened and paved over in the name of progress (and a warehouse) Another place we went was where all the dry goods were sold. The wholesale house he called it. I had to sit in the office, and the secretaries all made over me, and gave me candy from the little glass jars on their desks. I remember lots of bouffant hairdos and funny glasses. When we got back, I was seated on a milk crate in the office, and given an icy bottle of Seven Up, and a package of Lance cheese crackers to keep me occupied while they unloaded the truck. It was my job to stay out of the way of Mr. Mosser, Tony and Baba while they worked.

He also took me along in the fall when he went for cider. We'd go to the orchard and buy a whole truckload of apples. Then we'd go to the cider house, and they would load all the apples into the grinder/squeezer from the back of the truck. I watched from the cab. I remember being VERY impressed by the process. He'd sell loads of cider in the fall, too. To this very day, I haven't tasted any cider that is as good as what he sold.

Also in the fall, he sold pumpkins. He'd take my brother and I along to the pumpkin farm, and we'd walk thru the fields looking for our perfect pumpkins. There were always hundreds of wooly bear caterpillers in those fields. The man who owned the farm would talk with my grandfather and they'd do 'business' and at the end of the transaction, they loaded dozens of pumpkins, large and small into the back of his truck. OUR pumpkins rode up front with us.

Christmas brought trees. Baba would get the best trees for Mom, my Grandmother and my Aunt. He was very particular about his Christmas trees. He turned the whole one part of the parking lot at the store into the tree shopping area, with those light bulbs on string all strung around the area, with trees parked up on sawhorses, so people could check them out.

A peculiar thing he had, which I have yet to figure out or see again was this big generator thing off to the side of the store. It was a big fencelike enclosure, and water ran over it all the time. It smelled of oil and ozone, and were were warned of dire consequences if we fooled around with it. I still don't get what that was. I'll have to ask Mom. I'm just assuming it was a generator. But it was very large and very loud. Mom will know. She worked there for many years until she went off to college.

My grandfather's life was this store, and he ran it until he was diagnosed with Parkinsons in the early 70's. He worked there as long as he could, until the shakes got too bad, and he had to sell it. I'm always looking for some memorabilia from that place at auctions. (Mercersburg Ice & Cold Storage...if you ever run across anything from there, I'll buy it. Seriously)

So there you go. A trip down memory lane with me. Maybe it's cooled you off a little bit, imagining those snow cones or popsicles. If I ever hit the lottery, I'm opening a store just like that. Walmart/Target/Giant/Weis/Supermegahyper marts be damned.

  • Blogroll Me!
  • My Photo
    Location: Pennsylvania, Fiji
    My Amazon.com Wish List

    Image hosting by Photobucket

    Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

    I Took The Handmade Pledge! BuyHandmade.org

    Powered by Blogger

    Blogwise - blog directory

    Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com