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Penny A Pop
[from Letters I Should Have Written]
by Chris Darwin Cox

For Elvis, it was rock and roll; for Chris Darwin Cox
it was a Banana Pop. Not a lick of difference . . .
and oh, so sweet.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


My dad taught thousands of students over thirty years in the business. He got his first teaching job in 1960, the year I was born. Teaching jobs in north Louisiana were few and far between. So, in the summer of 1960, my parents and a slew of other teachers moved to the southern part of the state.

Teaching jobs were plentiful in South Louisiana. Oil rigs were popping up all over the Gulf of Mexico and suddenly sleepy little Cajun communities were alive with activity paid for by the crude oil being sucked out of the depths of the gulf. Shrimpers were trading in their nets to ferry roughnecks and roustabouts to and from the towering frames of steel islands.

Dad may have been a simple junior high science teacher from Crowville, Louisiana, but he learned early that you make hay while the sun's shining. The Cajuns loved him immediately and they took us into their homes like long lost family. Mom even managed to find a Baptist church for us to attend. That was quite a fete when you consider that ninety percent of the local population was Roman Catholic. Having just been born, I didn't really care one way or the other. Houma could have been Chicago for all I knew. That attitude would change as I grew and became more aware of my surroundings.

The first thing I became aware of as a local perk was the ice cream truck. Everyday in the summer the ice cream man drove the neighborhoods of this small community, stopping occasionally to serve up the goods that took away all the misery of eighty-percent humidity. If there were ever any doubt the condition known as temporary insanity really existed, I proved it every day when I heard the far away tinkling of the ice cream truck music. I literally lost my mind during the ten minutes it took for the truck to reach my street. Due to my out of body experience, I have had to rely on my mother to fill in the gaps. Her recollection was that I somehow instinctively knew the time the ice cream truck was supposed to arrive and my attitude became more excitable as that time drew nigh.

As the first sound wave from the hypnotic music penetrated our screen door, I would go into some kind of convulsion that manifested itself in uncontrollable jumping and screaming. You have to remember now that I was not aware of my behavior; I was simply reacting to the music. I think Elvis must have had the same condition, causing his hips and legs to move the way they did. People simply do not understand the power of the music. Elvis and I were victims of the same demon. His nemesis was Rock and Roll while mine was Rocky Road.

According to Mom, as the music drew closer, my convulsions became more severe much like those of a dog that will bite itself in an excited state. Mom frantically gathered loose change for me as my eyes rolled back in my head. She put the change in my hand and miraculously, as if the metallic content of the coins grounded me, my mind became as focused as a neuro-surgeon in the middle of a delicate brain operation. I had a purpose. I had means. All I needed now was THE ICE CREAM TRUCK! Slowly the truck crept up Townsend Street. I could feel my mind beginning to slip again. "Hold on son. Just another few minutes and all will be revealed."

There he is.

The truck slowly moved along with the music beckoning hordes of mindless preteen zombies like myself to come out onto the boiling hot pavement to pay homage. The neighborhood kids lined up, and naturally the bigger kids got in front. That stunk. I was always at the end. One by one, the children got their double dipped cones, ice cream sandwiches, and fudgesickles. I always held out for a Banana Pop. Finally, everyone cleared out; left were just the ice cream man and me.

I placed my order and the ice cream man began to rummage through his inventory of frozen heaven. A moment later he leaned over with one hand and delivered my summer salvation. He held out the other hand to accept the small fee for this great deed. I happily handed over the collection of coins.

I was about to turn my back and walk away when I heard the ice cream man say something that froze my blood like a thousand Banana Pops. "Son, you're a penny short here." I turned slowly, not sure how to react. I was thinking: Do I give him the ice cream back? I've already licked it several times. Do I go home and beg for more money and risk Mom's wrath?

The ice cream man undoubtedly saw the workings of my small brain and came up with a solution the World Bank hasn't been able to figure out. He said, "Here, let's do this." He handed me a penny. I stood there on that hot street dumbfounded, staring at the small copper coin. He said, "Now you owe me a penny." I must have looked at him as if he were speaking a foreign language. He pointed to the penny he had just given me. "You owe me a penny and you have a penny there in your hand." Again, all I could do was stare at him and then the penny. He finally realized he wasn't dealing with Donald Trump, so he reached over and took the penny from my small hand. "Ok, we're square now. You owed me a penny and you gave me a penny. Ok?" All I could do was nod my head in agreement still unsure of what had taken place. No problem, I had my Banana Pop and that was all that mattered.

It didn't hit me until later in life what the man had done for me. I should have written him a letter, but there was one problem. I was a bit too young to write letters when these events actually happened. So, here is the letter I write now as I recall the kindness of the ice cream man.

Dear Ice Cream Man,

I'm sure you don't remember me, but I was the little
blonde-headed kid who lived at 138 Townsend Street in
Houma. I had really short hair because my dad always made
me get it cut short even though I didn't like it. You used to
sell ice cream on our street. One day I didn't have enough
money and you still let me have my Banana Pop. I have never
forgotten your kindness and have always tried to repay it by
helping others if they were a little short on money as I was
that day. I hope you have had a great life full of rewards for
all of your kind deeds. I just wanted you to know those
deeds have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. I am a
better person for having known you.

Your friend,
Chris


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chris D. Cox is a middle school English teacher in Sterlington, Louisiana. His first book, Letters I Should Have Written, is a collection of memoirs currently being edited for publication. His stories have been published on LifeSmart Solutions and various story sites throughtout the web. Chris has also written four feature length screenplays.

Contact Chris at ccox@mail.opsb.net.


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