I don’t know about you, but the constant news cycle is getting me down. Larry Nassar, Rob Porter, and all of our defense, security, and spy agencies. The White House. Maybe I’ve lived too long. My brother keeps talking about how our health care system is screwed, how we’re being screwed or squeezed by the twin forces of Big medicine and Big Insurance. It’s not that I disagree, but I have a stiff neck, a pinched nerve. I have lost much feeling in my right index finger, the one I count on to lead me on and through this keyboard. I need a lift, I really do.
I wonder: is an ICEE the answer?
It’s been at least forty-five years since I had an ICEE. Most days of my life, I don’t think about ICEE’s and if asked, would likely say that they haven’t existed since the beginning of the new millennium, at least. But driving in to Bessemer yesterday to help my mother celebrate her 85th birthday, I saw a sign as I exited I-459 near McAdory. It was a sign at a convenience store, and on that sign was the jolly ICEE bear, who likely has a nickname, enticing me to come on in and re-try that frozen, syrupy confection.
I have never known exactly what differentiates an ICEE from an ordinary sno-cone, except that you usually use a straw with an ICEE. I guess it’s slushier than a sno-cone, so maybe I should be asking what differentiates an ICEE from a Slushie? Nothing, but a brand, I assume, much the same as the difference between the CIA and the DIA, the latter I learned existed only today as Congress was making inquiries into our readiness to combat cyber attacks.
Is ICEE an acronym, too?
And speaking of sno-cones, do you remember that episode of The Andy Griffith Show where Barney tells Andy the story of being a kid at school, buying a sno-cone, and then allowing a little girl to have some? She was an uppity girl, Barney remembers, little Vicky Harmes, but the thing that drove him crazy was that she took his raspberry sno-cone, bit the end off the bottom, and then sucked all the syrup out of it and gave Barney back the only thing remaining, the ice. For revenge, Barney vows that if he could do it now, he would show up at her house with a sno-cone and before she could reach for it, he’d bite off the bottom, suck the syrup out, and then hand it to her.
What do you think of that, he asks Andy?
Andy says that if he saw a grown man walking up to his house carrying a sno-cone, he wouldn’t let him in, which is the way I think about those appearing on my news feed each night.
You couldn’t do that with an ICEE, though Barney.
I must have been eight or nine years old when ICEE’s came along. My down-the-street friend, Steve, called me one day to tell me the news:
“You gotta go to the Quik-Mart in Cloverdale and get an ICEE. They’re so good.”
“What are they?”
“A frozen drink, kind of like a sno-cone.”
Maybe he didn’t say that, but Steve did tell me that ICEE’s came in four sizes: the 10 cent, 15 cent, 25 and 35 cent varieties. He also told me they had two flavors: Cherry and Coke.
So I did what any kid would do when presented with the newest taste sensation: I badgered and begged my mother to take my brother Mike and me — that day. I think I had to wait until the following afternoon, as we rode back from taking Dissie, our maid, home. My mother gave us a dime each, and Mike and I both got Cherry ICEE’s. We always got the same thing, even the very same comic book each, a decision that always drove my father to the depths of economic and logical woe.
This, though, was one of those kid moments — a moment when a cherished dream actually came true. An ICEE, in my hand, straw at the ready, slurping to ensue. And so I slurped in the frozen treat, which tasted to me exactly like a Dr. Pepper.
I hated Dr. Pepper. Still do.
I barely swallowed that first taste of ICEE and refused to drink any more. My poor mother: another one of her precious dimes wasted.
I would try again, though. Steve advised me to order a Coke flavored ICEE the next time, and unbelievably, my mother gave me another dime the following week, and I found that the Coke flavor wasn’t so bad. So along with begging for baseball cards from the Highland Bakery, comic books from the Stop and Shop, I now had another passionate desire in my begging repertoire.
“Please, please, can we get an ICEE!”
We got more flavors over the months: grape, orange-pineapple, strawberry, lemon-lime, and just plain lime. To me, lime was the best, and even my Dad liked those. I don’t think my mother ever found them worth the taste, but she sure bought us more than I can remember.
Eventually, you could buy ICEE’s everywhere, including at the Stop and Shop, and with my fifty cents a week allowance, I could sometimes get both a comic book and an ICEE. Soon our standard ICEE was the 15 cent size, but once, our friend Rusty Morris and his mother bought us all 25 cent Coke ICEE’s. On that day, we thought we had truly died. It was an Alabama summer weekday, and if you’ve spent time in this state in the middle of the summer, you know how good an ICEE can taste, just how refreshed you are after.
Oh, what a relief it is.
The last time I looked, it was still winter, though the high in Bessemer today was 68. It’s supposed to reach the 70’s tomorrow. Today, I drove past that old Quik-Mart in Cloverdale. To say things have changed there, just doesn’t describe how bad it’s gotten.
Quik-Marts used to be pristine: their white background signs, labeled in red beckoned from wherever they appeared, and they popped up all over our region: on 4th Avenue near Lakewood, on Highland Avenue in Birmingham, and in obscure community street corners from Mountain Brook to Ensley.
I am tempted to go the convenience store near the interstate tomorrow. How much do ICEE’s cost now? What are their flavors? Would Cherry still taste like Dr. Pepper? Is it possible that I might find a lime ICEE, or strawberry, my brother’s favorite? Does my friend Steve still buy them? I asked my friend Joe how long it’s been since he had one, and he says it’s been 45 years. Imagine that.
And what about imagining Vicky Harmes? Barney said she had pretty curls and wore printed dresses. He’s still bitter about her, too, as you would know if you would only You Tube the Barney Fife sno-cone dilemma.
Maybe that’s what the figures we hear too much about in the news should do: watch reruns of Andy Griffith more often. Buy a sno-cone or an ICEE. It would cost way less than a parade, and might bring back better memories, too — memories that would sustain them and provide them comfort, even if the old place they once frequented to buy them no longer can.