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Vestiges of Memory

by Sid Winter ©2010, Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-935232-29-2, 174 pp
 

Memory is indeed a gift of life that many people relinquish, or lose sight of for a multitude of reasons as they age. In my case I am fortunate enough to remember the many “Vestiges of Memory” of my youth through the eyes of an inquisitive and precocious four-year-old. These remembrances have given me the credence, substance, and direction in my coming of age.

 

It is my hope that the reader of these thirteen true autobiographical short stories has ensured their own ability to relate my “Vestiges of Memory” to their own lives.

 

“Vestiges of Memory” is an autobiographical collection of short stories beginning with the author’s experiences as a four-year-old Jewish boy.

 

These episodic moments take place from 1939 in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, New York.

Prologue 9

 

Book I

The Ice Cream Man 13

The Chicken Man 23

The Fireman 37

The Letter 47

The Chair 53

The Dish 73

 

Book II

 

The Cloud 75

Becky’s Boy 101

Sam’s Son 121

The Glove 141

The Jacket 147

Walking 167

Either Something, Either Nothing 177

Epilogue 182

The Ice Cream Man

Before I could read or write or went to school, before I had any friends my age, or even before I knew the meaning and value of money I heard the bells. The soft little bells ringing gently on Joe’s ice cream truck as he came by my house on that first warm, spring like day.

This is where he parked his vehicle under the street light beside the house where I lived. It happened regularly, three or four times a day, as if preordained, usually at the same time in the same setting.

I would look out my window and gaze at the kids on the block running as swiftly as strong winter winds towards what they perceived as nirvana. Sometimes they went by themselves, and other times with their parents. They would line up and either speak to Joe directly, telling him what they wanted, or point to a picture logo pasted on the colorful white ice-cream wagon. I looked in wonderment as Joe opened various small compartment doors and pulled out packages, like a magician, to fulfill their unique desires as their eyes twinkled with joyous appreciation and acknowledgement.

Although being sickly, introverted, fearful and reclusive as a pre-school child, I asked my mother (quite out of character for me) if I could go out at that moment. She was overwhelmed and happy to get rid of me for a few moments and said, “Ok, but stay by the house.”

What could be better? I could see Joe, his truck, watch the other kids, see what all the fuss was about and still be by my house.

“Put your jacket on, not to catch a cold,” she said loudly to me in Yiddish, her first and only language.

I was thrilled, this being my first real adventure into the real world by myself. By the time I got out of the house, Joe was gone. And so was everyone else. I was greatly disappointed. However, the saving grace would always be that Joe would eventually return. But when?

I vowed that the next time he arrived I would be ready. The next day came and passed with no Joe. I was sad, moody and despondent as an impulsive child would be, not understanding why Joe didn’t appear.

A day later I heard the bells from the distance beyond where I lived. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs, I began to salivate in anticipation of Joe’s arrival. This time I ran to my mother and demanded that I wanted to go out.

She was shocked at my aggressive demeanor.

I went to the closet and got my jacket, hat and gloves so as not to be late, and ran out the door, not listening to my mother saying, “Stay by the house.”

There I was, the first one in line, looking at Joe as if he were a god. “What do you want?” he asked nicely.

I answered, “Where were you yesterday?”

He answered, “It was raining; too hard to go out.”

I now understood why he was not there the day before.

By now there were many kids by the truck. I got off the line, turned around and stood by the sidewalk, watching while the other kids gave Joe money after they selected their choice of ice cream. Joe gave them their favorite ice cream in a package. Then, in a magical way, Joe would take their money and give them change from a silver looking change maker. I was astonished.

My eyes fixed on the change maker and the quick clicking of his finger. The doors he opened were small refrigerator freezers built into the truck with handles on the outside that housed the ice cream which he quickly opened and closed tightly.

I marveled at the fact that there were so many doors and that Joe could immediately reach in and pull out the exact item the kid requested. When the kids opened the packages they all started eating different kinds of ice cream. I was mesmerized, watching and taking it all in.

After all the kids left I was still standing there on the sidewalk, almost in a trance. Joe approached me hiding his hand behind his back, and like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, produced a package on a stick and gave it to me.

“This is for you little boy,” he said. It was a chocolate coated vanilla ice cream pop.

This was the first time anyone, besides my parents, had ever given me anything. I was speechless. He smiled and said, “Eat it or it will all melt.” I obliged, as this was my first ice cream ever. I ate every morsel and licked the pop stick. I ran into my house and my mother noticed there were ice cream smudges on my face.

She asked me, “Where did you get what you just ate?”

I didn’t want to tell. I was frightened and excited at the same time. She persisted, rapidly firing multiple questions at me. “What were you eating, who gave it to you? Didn’t I tell you not to take anything from anybody you didn’t know. How could you do such a thing?”

I cried and softly said, “The ice cream man…”

“We don’t take charity from anybody. If you want something, anything, you ask me. Next time he comes I want to talk to him, understand?”

I felt awful and confused. I felt like a rat being unfaithful to Joe. I didn’t know what my mother’s response to Joe would be, when or if they would ever meet. Would there be a confrontation, a fight, who knows what… I wondered to myself. This was the first major crisis in my life. How would it be resolved?

The next day I heard the little soft sound of the bells, but I was too frightened and fearful to get my mother. I didn’t have the confidence within myself to pursue the matter further. That night, I tossed and turned in an attempt to sleep soundly, but I could not. I came to the conclusion that the only way to resolve my dilemma was to meet the problem directly. My mind was made up. The next day when Joe came, I would get my mother.

As predictable as a morning sunrise, I heard the bells, ran towards my mother, pulled on her skirt and said, “Joe’s here, let’s go or he will be gone.”

“Alright, alright,” she answered quickly. She put on a jacket to cover her cleaning clothes and then grabbed her little purse in a gruff manner. My mother, Becky Winter, was a fastidious cleaner. It’s the one thing she did best. Our house was always spotless, never a crumb to be found, never a dish in the sink.

Everything was always in the same place. The living room’s soft furniture was covered in plastic. The wood furniture was covered over with towels to protect it from the sun and house dust. Our home was immaculate. I was afraid of making a mess or bringing any kind of dirt into the house. My mother’s aggressive mood seemed to match her fierce temper.

I was scared about the upcoming confrontation with Joe. One thing was for sure, I would be in the center of what would be happening next. I would be the eye witness. My anticipation was killing me. I just couldn’t wait any longer.

Joe was always dressed in white with a white hat to match his uniform. He was short, had a dark, Mediterranean complexion, as if sunburned to go with his dark black hair and little potbelly. He had a distinguished pencil thin mustache accentuating his image as the ice cream man with the change maker attached to his belt.

No two people who were to meet each other were more different. The only thing they had in common was their heavy accent when they spoke. My mother’s was Yiddish, Joe’s was Italian.

I was my mother’s translator. She asked me to ask Joe why he gave me the ice cream pop the other day.

He explained, “Your son seemed sad because the other kids got ice cream and that he wanted what they had gotten but he didn’t have any money. That’s why I gave him the pop.”

My mother respectfully acknowledged his kindness and asked how much the ice cream cost. She said, with pride, that I should tell him that we don’t want anything for nothing and gave him a folded up dollar.

He said, “I couldn’t take money for what I gave him as a present, but if your son wants something now, I would accept the money.” She agreed. They both smiled. Joe pointed at the ice cream decals.

I said, “Give me what you gave me before.” Joe thought for a moment, remembered and pulled out an ice cream pop. I smiled. Joe clicked away like crazy and gave my mother ninety-five cents change. Watching him was almost as good as the ice cream itself.

My mother was impressed and pleased. She now knew the cost of the item and saw that Joe was honest and could be trusted to take care of me. Then Joe asked me what my name was. My mother answered, “Moisha.”

Joe had trouble with the pronunciation and settled for “Moish.” He was the only person who ever called me Moish. Joe then pointed to the pop on the stick and said it might be a lucky pop. I didn’t understand.

He explained that some pops were lucky in that they had markings on the stick which entitled the owner to a free ice cream. Apparently he knew that the pop he gave me was a lucky pop. After I finished eating the pop I saw the marking. This day turned into a happy occasion for all concerned.

However, with the passage of time, a stranger came riding down the block on a three wheel, white bicycle ice cream wagon, carrying a new brand of ice cream. This was my first contact with “The Good Humor Man.” It was Eskimo Pie versus Good Humor; the motorized truck vs. the foot peddled bicycle wagon; Joe versus the Good Humor Man.

My immediate reaction was that of confusion.

“Wasn’t all ice cream the same?” I thought naively. I hadn’t eaten enough ice cream to know the difference. I didn’t know what it meant to make a comparison. All I saw was a rivalry, a battle for the ice cream business on my block.

I would think that Joe would have the advantage, being the first ice cream man on my block. He had a large following, made more visits to our block everyday. He knew his customers. He was trustworthy, friendly and dependable. Joe was also a great salesman, a gentleman always with a smile, and a friendly demeanor who gave away lucky sticks. Even my mother approved of likeable Joe and said that I should buy from Joe and no one else.

But eventually the other children and their parents began to embrace the Good Humor Man and his ice cream. Soon enough, the bicycle wagon had been replaced with an ice cream truck similar to Joe’s.

One day, Joe and the Good Humor man came to our block at the same time. As usual, Joe parked his truck at my house. The Good Humor man parked on the other side of the street. It was a warm sunny day and the children and their parents came out in abundance.

They all lined up at the Good Humor Man’s truck. There was no one at Joe’s truck, except for me. I looked into Joe’s eyes and asked for an Eskimo Pie Pop. I could tell he was sad. This was the beginning of his end. This was his livelihood, his world crumbling right before him. He was defeated. He felt betrayed by the children and their parents on the block, but said nothing to me. I felt bad looking at him, as he stared sadly at me in disbelief..

I then made a silent promise to myself. As long as Joe sold ice cream on my block I would always buy from him, and him alone. I felt for Joe, and felt disdain for those who had abandoned him.

A year passed and there was no Joe, and then another. I was now in elementary school with peers of my own age, some of whom had become my friends. Then, on one early spring day, I heard the ice cream bells. Surprisingly, a white truck pulled up and stopped at my house. Out stepped a man clad in white regalia. I looked closer.

Could it be? Would it be?

Oh my God, it was Joe coming out of a Good Humor truck. He was a little heavier, baldish, with grey at his temples and in his moustache. He still had the same change maker attached to his belt. It was Joe, reincarnated as the Good Humor Man. I ran towards him and we hugged.

I asked, “How are you? I haven’t seen you in more than two years!”

He answered, “I’ve had some heart problems, but I’m ok now.

I continued, “Are you actually a Good Humor Man now?”

“Yes,” he said. “I couldn’t beat them. They offered to train me, so I joined them.”

“Do you like your new job?”

“It’s ok,” he said.

I could see that he was not the same man I had known. He still had that upbeat manner although his life experiences had beaten him down.

This was the story of Joe, a simple, hard working man who in my little mind played a memorable role in my young life. For me, Joe was more than an ice cream man. He was my friend when I had none.

For many readers, the book was a fast moving read, poignant, empathetic, and moralistic. The content is genuine and remarkable in its details.

 

Other remarks included “I was so moved that I read it all in one sitting, and I relived my youth once again: it was a cathartic experience for myself, as the author’s mother was in effect my mother.”

 

Another reader said, “It was an earthy account simply put for all to understand and cherish; a period piece of what life used to be like for my parents’ and grandparents’ generation.”

 

Others comments included, “The stories were in the vein of W. Somerset Maugham and O’Henry in their clarity and personal signature of these authors.”

 

Many say, “Vestiges of Memory” provides an interesting relatable “Coming of Age” perspective to be enjoyed by the reader.”

Sid Winter was born and bred in the Bensonhurst Section of Brooklyn, New York City. He attended Lafayette High School and Brooklyn College where he earned his B.A. and M.A. in the field of History and Social Science.

 

Sid was a New York City Board of Education secondary school social studies teacher, chairman and dean for thirty-three years and taught at New York City Community College as an adjunct instructor and lecturer for twelve years before retiring.

 

Sid is still active teaching part-time in private and parochial schools in New Jersey for the past nine years.

 

As an author Sid has written “Vestiges of Memory,” a thirteen short story audiobiography, the plays, “Bocacabana and Shakespeare Too” and “Death Nesting,” and his first and second full-length screenplays entitled, “The Opportunist” and “My First Name is Mister.” He has had a very prolific and on-going productive life.

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