Monday, August 11, 2014

THE PRIME OF POPSICLES

While reading news on the Net this morning, a bit of trivia sent me into major nostalgia about a treat on which I spent my weekly allowance during the 1940's. The trivia was about the origin of the popsicle, or ice pop, a treat of my childhood when the ice cream cart traveled the neighborhood circuit in Baton Rouge during hot Louisiana summers.  For five cents we could buy a frozen orange or strawberry confection on a stick, and if we tired of the flavor, we could switch to a fudgsicle, a frozen, chocolate confection also on a stick. Somewhere in my files of old photographs, I have a photo of me and a friend named Pattie Jo sitting on the front steps of my family home on Birch Street, licking a popsicle and looking down woefully at rivers of orange popsicle melting on the steps and streaking our feet.

This morning's news trivia revealed that the first popsicle was made in 1905 when Frank Epperson, an eleven-year old boy, left a glass of homemade soda on his porch during a chilly night in San Francisco, California. The next morning when he went outdoors to get the soda, he found it was frozen with the stirring stick intact. He pulled the frozen soda on a stick from the glass and sampled it, declaring it delicious. The confection was a favored dessert of Epperson, and seventeen years later, he served the treat at a fireman's ball. The popsicle became a sought after treat, so he started a small business, selling them at Neptune Beach in an Alameda California amusement park. He patented the Epsicle ice pop in 1924, then later renamed it Popsicle. The story doesn't have a happy ending as Epperson sold his rights to the Popsicle to a New York company after he had liquidated all of his assets. Eventually, Good Humor Company bought the rights to this popular flavored ice on a stick, and the ice pop has morphed into many variations of the original popsicle.

Popsicles are still marketed around the world, but I don't think they hold the same allure as they did when men dressed in white uniforms pushed ice cream carts and rang their bells to announce the arrival of these summer treats. Sometimes we waited all morning in the humid Louisiana weather for the vendor to show up. And if it rained, we went up on the front porch to watch and wait, hoping that he would have the courage to make an appearance in the summer downpour—such was our yearning for the taste of orange and strawberry ices. In Grandma's Good War, A Verse Retrospective of the Forties, I included a piece of my doggerel about popsicles entitled "The Ice Cream Cart, 1943":

"Asphalt, black and pliant, in rising heat
lures us to the bubbling city street
where we make dark tracks on the sidewalk,
squares marked with hopscotch chalk,
waiting for the morning ice cream cart,
a white ambulance carrying ices of every sort;
Pattie Jo on the top step, smiling wide,
nuisance sister Sidney Sue at my side,
tricycles braked, listening for the bell,
the arrival of popsicles, an easy sell
of stickiness melting in a stain that lingers,
the sweet indelibility of orange fingers.

The three of us, as listless as the deserted street,
safe from brothers' torments, in quiet retreat
from peashooter battles and marble marathons,
starched pinafore lambs stitched on our uniforms:
the red appliqu├ęs on bodices primly flat
as we wiggle our bare feet and chat,
toes curled around summer liberty
in the innocent peace of pre-puberty."


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