ice cream trucks

Red headed girl eating ice cream by Ken PeacockAs the northern hemisphere sinks slowly into increased darkness and a long cold winter the southern hemisphere is waking up to the sounds of spring and summer. The birds and the bees are happy, the gardens have come alive and the grass has started growing again. Families are heading for the parks and beaches to enjoy the warm days. The sounds of lawn mowers, edge trimmers, leaf blowers and chain saws fill the air.

There is one sound that is the most welcome, especially for the children. It signals that spring is here and summer not far behind. There is no Groundhog Day to announce the beginning of spring. The change of season is announced by an old English folk song “Greensleeves” churned out by the Mr Whippy ice cream trucks that slowly motor up and down suburban streets and strategically place themselves near beaches, parks and sporting events. Mr Whippy has been synonymous with mobile soft serve ice cream trucks here since the 1960s and the beginning of spring. The sounds of “Greensleeves” and excited happy children running out from their houses to buy their first ice cream cone echo across the city.

The origin of soft serve ice cream dates back to the 1930s when an ice cream truck driver in New York State and Dairy Queen in Illinois both developed a soft serve formula. Mr Whippy ice cream was started in the UK in 1958 by an English/Italian named Dominic Facchino after a visit to the US where he saw the blue and white Mr Softee ice cream trucks. He painted his trucks pink and white and adopted the “Greensleeves” folk song. The folk song “Greensleeves” dates back to the 16th century in England but doesn’t seem to have any connection with Mr Whippy except to symbolize the love of ice cream. The words, lyrics and music were published in 1584 in a collection of songs called A Handful of Pleasant Delights. The author of the song is unknown. SixWives.info suggests that “Greensleeves” may have been written by King Henry VIII, an accomplished musician and composer, for Anne Boleyn during their love affair. One chorus, in modern spelling, could provide a link to both Henry VIIIs love of Anne Boleyn and children’s love of Mr Whippy’s ice cream:

Greensleeves was all my joy
Greensleeves was my delight,
Greensleeves was my heart of gold,
And who but my lady greensleeves.

Mr Whippy became so popular that several other entrepreneurs copied the idea and their trucks began to appear around the cities, at parks, beaches and rest stops alongside the main highways, long before the coffee and food trucks. They play more contemporary music but it, and the brightly painted trucks, still attract the children.

At a family gathering in a seaside park to celebrate a second birthday I heard the music from an ice cream truck parked by the water. Some of the children heard it too and asked if they could have money to buy an ice cream. The party had been well catered and the large birthday cake quickly demolished. The children were told they had enough sugar and sent off to play while the parents relaxed with a cold glass of wine. Their jobs were almost done for the day.

As the kids began playing and running around the park I noticed two of the cousins quietly leave the group and walk towards the water. I followed, at a distance, to make sure they were safe. They weren’t heading for the water but towards the ice cream truck. As they slowly approached the truck they cautiously looked around to see if anyone was watching them. Satisfied no one was looking they moved closer.

When they reached the truck they stopped and Amelia pointed to the long list of ice creams they could buy if they had the money. The little cousins stood there for a long time before the driver asked what they wanted. They replied that they would like an ice cream but didn’t have any money. The driver looked down from the truck at the two barefooted children with pleading looks on their faces. He asked them why they didn’t get some money from their parents and they replied their parents had refused. The driver studied their sad faces once more before handing them each an ice cream.

Business had been good for him that day and he couldn’t resist the pleading looks on their faces. Amelia and Liam quickly found a bench to sit while they enjoyed their ice creams, hoping to avoid the envy of their other cousins and the inevitable lecture from their parents. They didn’t avoid their grandfather and his camera.

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Images: The photo in this story were taken by the childrens' grandfather, Ken Peacock.

Ken Peacock

Ken Peacock

Ken Peacock, a former senior Australian executive of a mining company, first visited China in 1972 at the end of the Cultural Revolution and before diplomatic recognition by the Australian and US Governments. This was the first of many visits to China during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1978, he traveled throughout China with a trade delegation and revisited Shanghai where he stayed at the Shanghai Mansions Hotel and discovered the “Last Bottle of Gin in China”.