Ice Man

by Artie Richard

Once upon a time, in Gerritsen Beach, there was an Ice Man. If I remember correctly he was named Cirillo.The most important person in the world, at that time, besides my family was Tommy Keefer. Tommy lived next door and, since I was still too young to go off the block, it was Tommy and me. He was my "best friend." Our morning ritual was waiting for the ice man. The ice lay in large blocks in a wooden wagon pulled by a horse. It was covered by burlap and the tools of the trade were everywhere. Ice picks protruded from various places and wicked looking tongs hung from the sides of the wagon like instruments of torture.

If there were any refrigerators around, I never saw one, not even in the movies. What you had was an ice box, and some were quite large. As the ice melted it was caught in a pan which was periodically dumped. Every couple of days there was another ice delivery. 

iceman.jpg (6037 bytes)
Photo courtesy Mountain
Water Ice Company
The game went like this. Tommy and I would sit on the running board of his father's car. I don't know what his dad did for a living, but he had a car. He must not have used it for work because it was always there. There may have been two others on the block. That's all. Anyway, we would sit on the running board and wait. The first thing that would happen was we would hear the sound of the ice man. Clop, clop, cloppity, clop. It was the ice man making his deliveries on Aster Court. When he got to Bevy Court, where we lived, he always came from the same direction, Channel Ave. That meant he got to my house before Tommy's. He would stop the wagon and jump down. I remember he was always dressed in black like he was in mourning. He'd say something like, "So. Whatta you two up to this morning?" We never had a good answer. The guilt in our hearts, knowing what we had planned, caused us to back up a step or two.

Then he would yell "YO ICE, ICE." As if the neighborhood had not noticed his arrival. If you didn't need any that day you would come to the door and yell back, "We don't need any this morning." But none of them could yell as loud as the ice man. Then he would grab his tongs and, using it open, reach in and slam one hook into a big block of ice and drag it into position. He then grabbed a big ice pick and made some quick stabs. We winced. Again, that guilty conscience. Then we would notice, every time, how thick his wrists were. We imagined those cold fingers around our throats.

With the ice stabbed to the proper size, he would throw a piece of burlap over one shoulder. Then, like the jaws of a giant ant, the tongs closed around the cold ice and he heaved it up onto the burlap waiting on his shoulder, holding it fast with those awful tongs. Sometimes he would say something then like, "OK don't tease the horse. You can pet him though, but don't go between him and the wagon." What did he take us for ? We would never tease that horse.  We loved that silent witness to our dark deed. We always knew we could depend on the silence of that horse and my faithful dog and sidekick "Blackie" imaginatively named for his dominant color.

Then the ice man would head for my house--tromp, tromp. It seemed he always wore old army issue buckle boots. My accomplice and I both knew, to the second, exactly how much time we had. More than enough.

As soon as the ice man disappeared through my door we slowly counted to ten, in case he forgot something. I truly believe that, at this point in our lives, we would have made world class criminals. Then dashing for the back of the wagon we reached in. Sometimes suitable, bite-sized pieces of ice would be right there for the taking. Often, though, we had to scramble up onto the wagon to get at the prizes. we would run for the curbside running board of the Keefer car. There we would sit slurping away on our ill-gotten goods

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Artie and Tommy, April 1941

Elaine and Artie about 1940.

The ice man returned to his wagon, throwing tongs and burlap in the back. Once he stood staring into the wagon. We held our breath. Now what ? My God, he's counting the little pieces and slivers of ice. He'll know. We were the only ones there. It wasn't so bad for Tommy. He had a straight shot right for his front door only a few feet away. But I would have to get past the ice man. Out of the question. I could dash across the street, through the yard where Elaine used to live, jump the fence, run through the Smith yard, and I'd be on Aster Court. Usually this was out of bounds but this was not usual. I had heard that the people over there were pretty friendly. I'd probably get asylum somewhere. 

But then the ice man jumped into the driver's seat and whistled the horse into motion. He was smiling, or as close as the ice man ever came to that expression. We were safe until next time.

Tommy and I would use his old man's car for cover until the ice man was at a safe distance. Mr. Keefer never realized that his car was being used in the commission of a crime, and an ongoing one at that. Tommy and I would laugh and punch each other on the arm. We had outwitted the ice man one more time, taking for free what he was selling. There were some other kids on the block but they were mostly girls and not at all interested in besting the ice man. So there we were, guffawing and dancing around each other while "Blackie" was enjoying his share of the loot, when suddenly--"SONNY, WHAT ARE YOU DOING ?" The voice of Molly, my grandmother, the only other person I knew who could handle a full block of ice and the only person I feared more than the ice man.

Time about 1941

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Last changed: March 09, 2005