In an earlier chapter I mentioned that the Good Humor ice cream truck made regular runs through our neighborhood. I also mentioned that it was a rare occasion when we were behaved enough that Mom would give us money for an ice cream bar. Well, this particular day, the stars were aligned perfectly. I heard the Good Humor truck from a few blocks away. The tune that came out of the truck, alerting the kids that he was soon approaching, was a melody that not only stirred up excitement, but was one of those melodies that stuck with you long after you heard it. It was as if the Pied Piper of Hamelin was wandering through the neighborhood, luring kids to their eventual doom at the hands of the Good Humor man. I can still whistle the tune today.
Anyway, I got excited as the truck got closer and closer to our street. I knew that I had been pretty good lately, that morning to be specific, and there was a slight possibility that Mom would come up with enough change to allow us to buy the coveted ice cream of our choice. The truck was now on our street and had stopped. Kids came running from near and far with dollar bills clinched between their grubby little fingers. I grabbed Kathy and said, “Kathy, run home and see if Mommy has any money, and if she does, if she’ll let us have any for some ice cream. Hurry!” As usual Kathy was obstinate and answered, “No, you go.” I switched to Timmy, hoping he would run the errand. “Timmy, run home to Mommy and get some money for ice cream. Hurry! I’ll keep an eye on the truck.” Surprisingly Timmy was agreeable and said, “Okay. I’uh be back. Don’t wet the twuck weave.”
So the kids, one after another, picked out their favorite ice cream bar (on the inside of the door there were pictures of all the favorite bars so even the little kids could pick one without knowing the name), gave the driver their money, stuck the change in their other hands, and walked by those still standing in line, tauntingly licking their ice cream with a triumphant grin on their faces.
I was at this point getting a little nervous; Timmy still hadn’t come back with the money and the line was dwindling. I couldn’t leave to go find Timmy; what if the truck drove away? I was getting very agitated and panicky. Finally, the last kid paid their money and as they walked by me with ice cream in hand, stuck out their tongue. The driver looked at me and said, “Hey kid, you want to buy some ice cream?” I was nervous and answered, “I don’t have any money, but don’t leave; someone’s coming with some money.” The driver impatiently replied, “Sorry kid, I’ve got a big day ahead of me and this stop’s taken longer than I’d planned. Gotta go.” By now I was desperate and cried, “Noooo! You can’t go! I want some ice cream. Wait!!!”
As the truck started driving away, with the wonderful, melodious tune beginning to warn the next street that the ice cream truck was on the way, I made a decision, one that in retrospect wasn’t too bright. I ran after the truck, shouting for the driver to stop, but the truck kept going, slowly driving down the street. The truck was going so slow that I finally caught up with it and then I did it. I grabbed hold of the bumper with both hands, planning to do what, I’m not sure (I think I had just watched a Mighty Mouse cartoon and thought that I could grab the truck, pick it up, and shake it so that ice cream bars would fall all over the neighborhood and all the kids would love me), but I planted both feet on the ground and amazingly enough the truck didn’t stop. It kept right on going and I kept right on holding and eventually the truck dragged me down the street with me yelling, “Stop. Stop. I want some ice cream. Timmy’s coming with some money!”
The driver must have finally realized there was something wrong at the rear of the truck and he stopped and got out to see what was going on. As he stepped around to the back of the truck, he found me, still hanging on to the bumper, tears streaming down my face, knees ripped raw from the asphalt. I don’t remember his exact words (something like, “Hey kid, get out of here”), but I immediately let go of the bumper and ran home crying all the way. When I came into the house and got to the kitchen where Mom was, I glanced over at the kitchen table and there was Timmy, eating a bowl of ice cream. I was expecting some sympathy from Mom, what with the torn up knees and other scrapes and bruises, but got nothing of the kind. “Ronnie, where have you been and why are your knees all scraped up?” I tried my best to explain and figured in this instance the truth might just work, “The ice cream truck was driving away and I tried to stop it.” Surprisingly not surprised, Mom answered rather abruptly, “Ronnie, go to the bathroom and grab the Merthiolate. I’ll be right in.”
I went to the bathroom (along with little sympathy) and when Mom got there she applied her usual remedy for all cuts and scrapes; Merthiolate! Rather than apply a salve or ointment that made the sore feel better, Mom applied a substance that burned like fire! I believe Merthiolate was invented by the same man who invented the rack, crucifixion, and burning at the stake.
Merthiolate came in a glass bottle with a glass applicator and once this bright, reddish orange substance was applied to the wound (it would stain the skin and remain for days, long after the wound had healed), no matter how much the injury originally hurt, it would now hurt worse and the pain would be almost unbearable. The pain was so intense that the skin would shiver at the application.
Dad, especially, was fond of using Merthiolate (there were other less painful remedies such as tincture of iodine, but none of those would do. Apparently if it didn’t cause extreme pain, it wasn’t effective) and usually had a smile on his face while doing so. Little did we know it at the time, but Merthiolate contained a poisonous substance called thimerosal, and in the late 1990’s the FDA banned Merthiolate in all over-the-counter products. I suppose we did our part for science. With us around, who needed Guinea Pigs?
*This is an excerpt from the book Little Heathens and a chapter titled “Strange But True” (Abby Normal). Buy your copy here: http://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781625102034