The Ice Cream Trike

It amazes me, sometimes, the way childhood memories long forgotten suddenly come to the fore of the mind after decades have passed. In this case, 56 or 57 years have passed, and out of the blue this morning, while enjoying a chilly Spring morning on my back porch, I remembered the tricycle I once rode. In that moment, I relived riding it on my childhood street of row homes, restricted to the sidewalk of the half on which we lived, and never permitted to cross the curb onto the asphalt. We lived on the side that was perennially in the shade, so I seldom experienced a day in the sun unless I was given permission to cross the street by my mom or an adult neighbor.

I distinctly remember the air, sky and atmosphere in those days seeming very clean and sparkling despite living in a section of South Philly that was surrounded by factories that belched out toxic fumes day and night to the extent that our neighborhood became one of the top cancer prone sections of the city. I was also too young to know that elsewhere in the world the detonation of nuclear test bombs was poisoning the air with radiactive refuse. Maybe that’s why it seemed so clean: the air was electrified.

I could still picture the trike. It looked like the ones in the photos here, and it must have been a Radio Flyer or Murray brand – I don’t recall which. It was gleaming, metallic red with white accents; a wide saddle seat of white vinyl with red striping; a wide platform step in the rear that straddled the two smaller back wheels, and a particularly large front wheel. It had one of those annoying, thumb operated bike bells that I used liberally, the sound of which was reminiscent of the one used by an ice cream vendor who drove his truck through the neighborhood streets on the warm days of Spring through early Fall. 

I remembered a game that I had created. I don’t know if I learned to do this from someone older, or if it was an imaginative idea I conjured at that young age. Whenever I was riding and encountered someone along the sidewalk, I would stop pedaling, dismount, grab the handlebars and then pull my tricycle backwards and upright, and rest the front handlbars with rubber grips on the ground. I recall it making the bike almost as tall as I stood, and somehow this gave me a feeling of power, of command over the elements. I’d then stand behind it while turning the pedals with one hand, ringing my thumb-bell with the other and yelling “Ice cream! Ice cream!” I pretended to be an ice cream hawker, imagining that I could make ice cream by turning the pedals. 

My friends didn’t judge or question this activity, but, without hesitation, would instead just join into the game as it was manifesting and promptly come over, put out their hands, and pretend to buy a cone of the good stuff from me. I would ask what flavor they wanted – a choice of only 3 flavors – Vanilla, Chocolate, or Strawberry. When they decided, I would crank the big front wheel with the pedals a few times, and then pretend to fill a cone and hand it to them in exchange for their imaginary money. I made a fortune in imaginary money that way by the time I was 5 years old!

This morning’s 30 second adventure

Wednesday, September 5th, 2018 8:52 am

I saw a squirrel meandering through my neighbor’s garden on the other side of the cyclone fence dividing our property. Then I saw Tux, the feral cat our neighbor feeds, charging across her driveway after the squirrel. The squirrel becomes alert and darts through the garden, Tux in pursuit. Tux gets within inches of scoring the squirrel, so close that I thought for sure I was about to witness her enjoy a fine breakfast.

But the squirrel leaps through an opening in the fence into our yard. At the same time, our dog Queenie saw Tux running and ran toward the fence after him. Then she sees the squirrel and pursues it. The squirrel leaps and rummages quickly through the back portion of our garden to escape. Our other dog Conan sees the desperate squirrel and bolts after it from the other direction. The squirrel sees Conan and runs back in the direction of Queenie with Conan now on its tail. Queenie sees it too, and both dogs run toward each other, inching closer to the squirrel between them.

I thought for certain the squirrel had met its fate, when just as Queenie and Conan were in front of each other, the squirrel leaps on the stone wall and claws its way quickly into the refuge of Ivy that cascades down our wall. Conan and Queenie continue to alertly sniff and poke about, befuddled over the abrupt disappearance of the clever squirrel, their bodies and manner a complete expression of “Where did it go? Did you see it? I saw it. It was right here.” They sniffed about a little longer before getting distracted by something else.

Tux lay forlornly in the neighbor’s garden, irritated by his own unsuccessful campaign. The squirrel held tightly onto the Ivy, remaining perfectly still and breathing heavily, pondering its options.

A small chirp of encouragement


“Bird through a Pin Hole.” Original Pastel drawing by Tom Curley © 2019

10/14/2017 – 9:00am

I saw a cardinal just now. They say when you see a cardinal in an odd place that it’s an omen from heaven that an ancestor or someone from heaven is paying you a visit, an acknowledgement of their love for you. Every time I see a cardinal I think of dad. That’s because once, when we lived on Mifflin Street, when dad was sick, he saw a cardinal sitting atop the street light pole in front of our house. He was amazed with it, looking on like a child filled with wonder. 

I don’t see cardinals around my home too often. But, here’s the odd thing. I was in my living room when I heard a loud, repeated singular chirp. It sounded like I had a cricket in our house, so I went in the direction of an air conditioner we have in a window at the foot of the stairs. As I drew closer, it sounded like it was in the little nook outside were the accordion flap fills the gap between the sides of the air conditioner and the window. I peered through our blinds but couldn’t see anything so I just let it go, comfortable that it was not in the house. 

10 minutes or so later I was out in my yard with our dogs and wasn’t paying too much attention to the noises around me. But then I heard the same chirp and realized it had been happening in the background for a short while. I looked up in the direction of the chirp and saw a cardinal sitting atop the cyclone fence high above the stone wall that lines the back of my property. Just as I noticed the cardinal it stopped chirping and took off in flight. It was so quick. But that’s what’s odd. The chirping has ceased altogether now. The cardinal is gone. It’s as if the bird had been calling me for over a half hour on our property until I finally saw it. Once I saw it, it’s task was done and flew away. 

It immediately made me think of dad. I am in the middle of writing my current book “Mark Twain, my father and me” right now, a narrative memoir focused on my relationship with Dad. A few times when I thought about throwing in the towel on this project, some little sign has cajoled me to persist and keep working. I wasn’t having doubts exactly, today, but I had been comparing my work with that of another author, and questioning how I was writing. If the cardinal was a visit or a sign from dad, I’d say it was just a simple announcement of “Don’t worry. Just keep at it.” A small chirp of encouragement.