Friday, April 18, 2014

Block Ice

My dad and I were sent on a mission. It was a very hot memorial day weekend, 1964.  And it was the day that we were hosting a reception in honor of my brother's bar mitzvah.

My folks had decided to have the reception in our home.  It was May so the idea was that people would come into the house, but then eventually move to the backyard where we had tables set up.  We had a large, but not enormous yard.  A delightful feature was that there was a covered patio where we often ate meals in the summer, most enjoyably.  It could be pouring but we would bring the food down to the patio level and eat on a picnic table on the covered patio.

On this day it was not pouring. A bit overcast which caused some nervousness because our house could not hold the guest list if some couldn't spill out into the backyard beyond the patio.  The forecast was that clouds would dissipate and that is what, as it turned out, occurred.

But it was hot.  Humid 90 plus degree energy sapping hot.  In those days we did not have any air conditioner units in the house except for some window units in upstairs bedrooms. The living room was a furnace.  Add onto this the fact that maybe a hundred people would be parading through the house, and the plan was for some food to be warmed up--our not inaccurate feeling was that we would broil in the living room.

The general atmosphere pre party was frenetic. We kids were sent to this room and that with a rag to clean something or other.  Some item had to be moved from one storage spot to another.  We had to arrange the chairs in the backyard and put some sort of paper table cloths on the tables we opened up.

One job was to put cans of soda and beer in a large new garbage pail purchased specifically for this purpose.  One thing we should have, but did not, foresee was a need for ice to keep the soda and beer cold in the 90 plus degree day.

Much was presented as crisis during the hours before guests would arrive. I am not sure exactly what my mother said when she realized that the cubes of ice we had might be enough to put in glasses, but were not nearly enough to keep the cans of soda cold in the garbage pail. It was probably something like two screaming words, "Meyer! Ice!"

My father's sputtering response probably coming out staccato--because he had been sent in five directions at once to (a) check the tables in the backyard, (b) see if there is enough toilet paper, (c) make sure the bridge chairs are washed down,  (d) take our coats out of the closet for guests even though nobody sane would arrive that day with a coat, and (e) dust the coffee table)--his response to "Meyer! Ice!" was probably a stammer of "Ice...What... What... Ice...?"

My mother's compassionate retort was likely something akin to, "Ice, Meyer. I-C-E. Ice."  Again dad probably sputtered, "Ice? Why? We don't have ice?"

"Meyer, if we had enough Ice, would I be standing here spelling Ice for you.  Ice. Let's offer our guests a nice hot soda. Ice. Meyer. Ice."

So, dad and I went on a frenzied mission. Frenzied because people were coming shortly and we had the tables to clean, coats to take out of the closet, etc.

The beverage barn had ice machines. We'd been there before on other occasions. Put in a quarter you got a bag of cubed ice.  For 50 cents you could get block ice.  We never got the block ice.  Dad kept putting in quarters for bags of ice cubes.  This was going to take forever. We needed a lot of bags of cubes to fill up the entire garbage can so that the soda would get cold.

So, I made a suggestion.  Why not get the block ice.  I figured instead of a bag filled with cubes, we would get a bigger bag filled with blocks of ice more likely to do the job.  This was not something we ever did, but the bags of cubed ice were already melting as we were buying the next bag. So, he reluctantly agreed to the block ice idea, put two quarters in, and pushed the button that read, "Block Ice."

And instead of a bag of anything coming out of the chute, out kerplunked a huge cinder block of ice. The look on my dad's face when that block of ice slid out will forever be etched into my consciousness. The ice staring back at him as if saying, "You wanted block ice, you got block ice."

What the hell were we going to do with this block of ice?  The thing was melting as we were staring at it.  I started cackling hysterically. Dad was not amused.

The block was too big for either of us to pick up ourselves. Plus where were we going to put it. It was not in any sort of bag.  Dad found some newspapers somewhere, spread them in the trunk, and the two of us carried the ice like a boulder from the machine to the car.  It nearly slipped out of our hands a couple of times as we were carrying it. We plunked it down in the trunk and then got in the car and drove home fast, before we had a flood in the trunk.

We are coming up on fifty years since this incident.   Today it crossed my mind as I was driving to work, thinking about my dad. Until the day he died,  this was a live joke for us.  If he asked for ice for a drink, I'd ask him if he wanted block ice.  I tried to explain it to others and almost always would start crying from laughter before I finished the story when I recalled my dad's face when that huge block of ice slid out.  But the thing is, it is one of those events that just he and I shared.  How precious it was to have had that shared memory and connection and laughter.

Shared memories and moments are value added elements to true love--familial and romantic and fraternal.  It's rarely a bad time to dwell on those moments and immerse ourselves in them when we feel the pain of having lost romantic, filial, or fraternal love.

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