December 22, 2019
Each Christmas, my son Arthur 4th takes over my now 38-year-old column. Here is this year’s installment.
By Arthur H. Gunther IV
The clothes were still piled up in the ice cream truck. That was as far as he made it. It had taken all his effort to actually clean out the closets in his dad’s room. He hadn’t meant for the truck to become a de-facto museum of his father’s clothes. It was the only place he had with enough room to contain everything. His plan had been to gradually go through the pants, shirts, jackets, coats, hats, and gloves, keep a few things, and donate all the rest. He had chosen a few things to keep, but the giving-away part had been too much to bear.
The sheer volume of clothes his father owned wasn’t due to his dad being some kid of hoarder. In fact, he had only acquired a few new items every year. It was just that the few things he did buy were quality-made items. His father tended toward classic styles that never seemed to be quite in or out of style. Over the years the collection built up, and his father never seemed to quite wear anything out or give anything away.
The only things the man did buy several of each spring, and subsequently wear out by the end of the summer, were the ice cream man uniforms he donned each morning from Memorial Day to Labor Day without fail. There was no evidence of the 65 summers of selling ice cream anywhere in his closet. He had made it to Labor Day this year and then that was it, for the ice cream and him. His son had the truck packed with the clothes by Halloween, but that’s where it ceased. Now it was Christmas Eve, and the truck just sat there in the driveway, filled with too many memories to move. If the younger man had any delusions that Christmas, and everything that went with it, would get him to finally make a move, then time was just about out.
Christmas morning dawned sunny and cold. Always an early riser, the man threw on an extra layer and jumped in his car to run his usual morning errands. Turning the key in the ignition, he was greeted by the unsettling silence of a dead battery. He could have simply turned around and gone back inside, but being a man of routine, the notion was only a passing thought. His only other choice, other than walking the five miles to his first stop, was to take the ice cream truck. He grabbed the key where it hung on the hook by the side door and jumped in. Within a minute he was rumbling up the hill in the truck with only his father’s clothes and the radio as company.
As he drove through the center of town and headed up the hill away from the river, he noticed two men, one maybe 17 and the other twice that, walking toward the convenience store that bordered the highway overpass. It was here that 20 or 30 men gathered each morning looking for work. Christmas appeared to be the exception because as he passed there was no one waiting to be picked up for whatever jobs and wages awaited. He drove on.
About 30 minutes later, his errands completed, the man drove the same route in reverse. Passing the convenience store, the driver noticed the two fellows from before sitting on a bench, seemingly waiting. Letting his curiosity get the better of him, the man pulled the truck into the parking lot and got out.
Sitting in the truck, it appeared that the two men were indeed waiting for work. On top of that, they were underdressed for the temperature. Without really giving it a second thought, the ice cream truck driver got out and walked toward the two men.
“Hi,” said the driver. Both men nodded in reply.
“Are you looking for work?”
“Yes,” said the younger of the two, perking up a bit. “We can do anything.”
Now, in the moments that passed before what happened next, perhaps some generalizations were made. It’s more likely that a leap of faith was taken. But, then again, it was Christmas, and if you couldn’t make a leap of faith today, then it wasn’t likely you ever would.
“Here,” said the driver, handing the older man the keys. “It runs well and can make you a good living. It sent me to college. Just do me a favor, make good use of those clothes in the back. Merry Christmas.”
With that, the man turned and began walking downhill toward the river. Back home.
The writer is a teacher at the William O. Schaefer Elementary School in Orangeburg, N.Y., and is also a writer.