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Lin Stone

These days ice is taken for granted. We go to the freezer and there those little sparkling cubes are, ready to be scooped into a glass for our frosty pleasure. It wasn't always that way. Not so long ago, just having ice was a treat rarer than candy.

It meant fire crackers and a long turn on the crank to make ice cream. It meant relatives were coming and big doings were doing. It meant food would be plentiful and the tin-can glasses we drank out of would be sweating on the table.
Just twice a year, back when I was a kid, we drove 30 miles to buy a huge chunk of ice. We always took a wool blanket along to wrap the ice up in to keep it from melting. Just before the Fourth of July was one of our ice days. We'd pile into the truck, ready for the big event. The sun would be scorching down, and the wind against our faces would be as dry as crumbly old locust shells.

The ice house was the biggest building in town, except for the Roxy Theatre, or maybe the grocery store that sold shoes and everything. The owners would let us walk inside to look at all the blocks. It was colder than Christmas inside.

As we walked on wooden slats we saw chips of ice beneath our feet. We shivered with excitement to see big blades sawing the slabs of ice into smaller blocks. Even as cold as it was in there, we were glad to suck on the shavings, because at the same time we could remember all the heat shimmering down in dancing waves outside. One owner always had a white towel around his neck. "It keeps the warm air in when I'm in here, and the ice that freezes in it keeps my neck cool when I have to wait on a customer."

The ice was hauled down to them in big trucks from up north. Ice was chiseled from rivers and lakes during the winter, and then sawed into blocks and packed in sawdust to last out the summer in special buildings.

Having ice houses nearby made us almost as rich as Roman emperors. They were crazy about ice too. They used to have fast runners bring snow down off the mountains. The snow was put in thick-walled buildings and sold from the top. The snow exposed on top constantly melted, but being held by the walls, simply refroze again. Because of pressure, the bottom was pure ice, and much more valuable than snow.

Aztec rulers did it the other way around. They hauled food to the mountain to let it freeze overnight. By taking food back and forth they learned how to do freeze-dried preservation.

When I was a kid, people living in town or nearby had ice boxes at home. They'd put a chunk in top and the ice would keep food almost cold for 2 or 3 days, unless they were rich enough to waste the ice in drinks.

When our first refrigerator came home we invited friends into the kitchen to witness the ice being made in a big tin bowl. "Ice, can you believe it? Ice!" 

Then at every meal we'd chop the ice up for a corn-can cup and pour water over it, then have more at any time in between. When Mama discovered Kool Aid we thought we were the richest people in the country. Ice trays, on the other hand, were always a nuisance; hard to fill, harder to pry apart; they took some getting used to.

About once a month I got to defrost the refrigerator. That was even more exciting than getting to have ice at every meal. We'd take the frost and make snow-cream. We'd suck on the icicles to make daggers.

Ice was still precious; We never wasted any. 

Daddy carried his water in a canvas water bag. So any extra ice got put in the Karo bucket that we carried to where he was working in the hot fields. As we walked the ice would glide and grate in the bucket. Every so often we'd stop to lick the sweat off the tin sides. By the time we got there the ice would be almost all water. 

Daddy would tilt his head back to drink while we watched, fascinated by the jerking of his adam's apple. When he set the bucket down, it was empty. - - a whole gallon, GONE!

Then came the day Daddy hung the old canvas water bag up forever, and chunked a Thermos jug so full of ice it lasted all day long. I often wonder if Daddy misses drinking out of that old battered bucket as much as I miss hauling it to him.

Today ice is so plentiful that every store and restaurant in town can make its own ice chips. Every drink served in a restaurant is 3/4 ice. There seems to be a never-ending supply. But even now, on a hot summer day, kids forget how common ice is -- and remember that with a chunk in your mouth you can run twice as far and play twice as hard. As long as there are kids, ice will never be so common it goes out of style.

The End

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