My childhood memories are tinged in shades of black and white.
Although various relatives and friends used their Kodak and Polaroid cameras to capture in vivid color many of the moments from the late 1970s and early 1980s, when my father got behind the lens they were recorded in black and white or sepia tones.
My father, a journalism professor who moonlighted as a small town newspaper editor, used my brother and I (and any of our friends or neighbors who happened to be in the area) as the subjects for countless photos of our growing-up years. Some of them made their way into the newspaper; others remain piled in boxes at my parents’ home decades later.
Take this one photo for instance.
Its point of view is of the backs of four children as they wait for an ice cream truck to make it to its destination. The gravel road fades into a blur of a vehicle that today we would affectionately label as “vintage.”
The children are me, my brother Christopher, and two friends whose names now escape me more than forty years later. The arrival of the ice cream man and his wife captured our rapt attention once a week in our small lower-middle class neighborhood. We heard the jingle-jangle of the horn and raced to the curve in the road where the truck stopped, the dimes and quarters burning holes in our pockets.
In the picture my brother wears a cap backwards on his head (a symbol of his signature precociousness), the youngest neighbor dons saddle shoes, and my other friend and I are barefoot. I rarely wore shoes in the Summers of my youth.
The black and white of the photo doesn’t capture the colors we experienced on those hot northwest Arkansas Summer days, but I can still see (and taste) them in my mind (and mouth).
The red, green and purple of the snowballs packed tightly into their paper cones and covered with cheap cellophane. The ice burned our teeth with coldness when we tried to bite into them, so instead we violently sucked the juice out of them. Our lips turned a graffiti of colors.
The creamy, dreamy orange of the push up, my favorite of the ice cream truck’s treats. It was only sherbet (something my mother purchased regularly from the grocery store), but when packaged in its cardboard tube it somehow became magical. I mastered the art of pushing it up to just the right height, then sculpting it perfectly with my tongue; I often took the delicacy with me to the beach towel splayed out under the big tree in our front yard, somehow managing the ability to sculpt it and read a book at the same time.
The small cups of ice cream–chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry–that I remember those neighbor girls purchasing. They’d jump up and down with excitement, amazed by the little wooden spoons stuck to the top of the cup’s colorful packaging. They’d sometimes join me on the beach towel after the ice cream man and his wife departed, but they usually bored quickly and went back to riding their bikes down the road.
Those ice cream days remain a fixture in my memories, idyllic ones that I have felt both grateful and guilty for over the years knowing that not everyone enjoyed such benefits. My parents were engaged caregivers, and my Summers consisted of ice cream and bikes and reading on beach towels under a big tree that housed branches that became both a spaceship and the Batcave in my imagination.
This one particular photo made it into the pages of the newspaper Dad operated–grouped with others of the day into a photo essay titled “The Ice Cream Man Cometh.” I used to enjoy seeing my moments captured in such a permanent way; I wasn’t old enough yet to be embarrassed by the attention.
I remain grateful for those Summers, that ice cream, that brother, those neighbors, those memories.
And a Dad who captured my carefree, colorful days in black and white.
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Very well written. Keep up the good work!
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Original narrative & well developed characters