Good Humor Man

In 1969, when my father was at the peak of his career as a printing salesman, he decided to put an in-ground swimming pool in our back yard.  It seemed like an odd decision since neither of my parents were swimmers.   When I think back on it now, I believe that the  pool was probably an important sign of success for him.   He had grown up in Cleveland, Ohio, a third son who had to compete with his charismatic older brother, a World War II hero who twice escaped from a German prison camp.  It was a bit of enduring family lore that he was among the prisoners who inspired the classic WWII movie “The Great Escape.”

Several years younger than my Uncle Bill, Dad had participated in the mop-up phases in the war as a navy ensign, where his only notable contribution was running a tug into the Golden Gate Bridge.  After the war, Dad moved to Chicago to start his own life and worked long and irregular hours as a salesman.   Meanwhile, Uncle Bill married a spectacularly wealthy woman, had an ill-defined job and put in an indoor swimming pool adjacent to his dining room.  On one of our rare visits, I remember my parents sniffing their way though a tour of his house.  They whispered to each other, “Pool might be nice, but it sure smells like chlorine in here.  I don’t think I could stand it.”  My father must have felt a heady flush of pride when he put in an odorless swimming pool in the back yard.

The pool became an instant attraction.  There was always an open house on Sunday.  My mother kept a freezer stocked with Popsicles and often laid out a sandwich bar for instant lunches.  Swimming was not the only activity.  There could be a dozen or more people playing pickup soccer, baseball or volleyball, followed by a frenzied game of water basketball in the shallow end.  There were diving competitions to see who could produce the biggest splash.  The neighboring McCutcheons always won with their dramatic “spazz” dives.  Dad was not particularly athletic, and the only time he ever swam was early in the morning before work when he had the pool to himself.  On Sundays, he would sit peacefully in a lawn chair watching the activity swarming around him, proud that he had created such an inviting atmosphere.  Any faint odor of chlorine wafted harmlessly into the air.

We were lucky to have the Reeds as our next door neighbors, whose five children lined up fairly closely with the five children in our family.  Peter was a couple years younger than I, Helen was my age, and Keith was two years older.  All of the Reeds were constantly at our pool and there was so much traffic between our houses that Mrs. Reed installed a flagstone path through the bushes so that we wouldn’t track mud back and forth.  Their youngest son Johnny, who was the same age as my younger brothers, was such a consistent presence in our household that he was included in the yearly height measurements recorded in the door jamb of the playroom.

I was well aware that I had a privileged life, but I lived in a community where you could always find someone who had a little bit more.  As much as we adored the Reeds we always knew they fell into this category.  Every now and then, one of the Reeds would come over and say, “Who wants to swim at Aunt Jean’s pool?”  I never knew what prompted these invitations, how or why Aunt Jean suddenly gave the go ahead, but the opportunity was so coveted that there was no reason to ask further.  I would immediately drop whatever I was doing – even hop out of our pool in my clingy wet bathing suit, pile into the Reed’s car and drive off to Aunt Jean’s.   Once I remember my father standing by our pool with a glass of iced tea in his hand, shaking his head as he witnessed my mad dash to a different pool.  Even as a kid, I felt a pang of betrayal, but there simply was no turning down Aunt Jean’s pool.

She was a mystical figure.  I never met her or even saw her house.  In fact she could have been dead for all I knew.  But her pool lived on, ensconced on an estate so large that you couldn’t see the house or the pool from where we parked in the chauffeur’s separate driveway.  I would follow the Reeds as we walked quietly and almost reverentially across the well-trimmed lawn in acknowledgment of the last vestiges of a gilded age. It was so quiet – there was none of the joyful yelling or splashing that characterized our pool.  If it was steaming hot, at most you might hear the brittle click of a cicada.  The path to the pool entered a grove of pine trees and then suddenly, around the corner the glittering pool would appear on the top of the bluff, its water matching the deep blue expanse of Lake Michigan below.  There was never anyone there, so the surface of the pool was completely unruffled, reflecting the surrounding trees and balustrade.

There was a waterfall at one end that doubled as a high dive.  The low diving board was much springier than ours so our spazz dives were higher and more expressive.  It was also covered with some sort of braided rope to protect against the abrasive surface of mundane diving boards.  Instead of the typical set of narrow steps leading into the shallow end, there was a grand staircase cascading into the deep end, reminding me of the sweeping staircase in Gone With the Wind where Rhett Butler said, “Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn.”  Luxurious lounge chairs with thick upholstered pillows surrounded the patio, and the pool house had two completely furnished locker rooms stocked with elegant fluffy towels, a real departure from the threadbare beach towels and moldy lawn furniture at my house.  Even the water in Aunt Jean’s pool was fresher and clearer than the water in Dad’s pool, which was frequently tepid and murky from the sheer volume of sweaty bodies of friends and neighbors.

There were no popsicles, water basketball or other games at Aunt Jean’s, so I don’t think our swims ever lasted that long.  The appeal was to momentarily soak up the glamour and extravagant privilege.  Once I spotted an opened Architectural Digest in the pool house and realized the magazine featured a spread of Aunt Jean’s pool.  I leaned over to read it, careful not to let a stray drip of pool water pucker the glossy pages.  There was a picture of a young girl sitting on the edge of the gently arcing diving board with her slim legs dangling below.  She looked like she was just my age.

After returning from Aunt Jean’s I would try to discretely hop back into our pool and hope my father would forget that I had bolted earlier in the afternoon.   Often our backyard had filled up with another wave of people, so perhaps he had forgotten, but my betrayal lingered.

Our swimming pool was Dad’s greatest splurge.  After all, despite his implicit competition with Uncle Bill, he was a modest man who hated ostentation.  I think he reasoned that the pool was not immediately visible from the driveway, and besides the pool was for the enjoyment of others, an effective  bait to bring people together.  His only true source of self-indulgence was his passion for antique cars; he even owned a few when we were kids.  Based on old family movies, an antique Ford with a rumble seat was the perfect winter vehicle to pull toboggans filled with neighborhood kids around our circular driveway.  After our family outgrew tobogganing he sold his antique car.  Dad felt that it was just too showy to joy ride around town where people would gawk at him in his open-air car, or ask him to toot his horn, in his mind a sign of an exhibitionist.  Instead he turned to collecting very realistic cast iron models ordered from specialty catalogs.  The cars overflowed the shelves in his bedroom, family room and office; there were probably several hundred of them.  After he died, my four brothers and I randomly split up the cars so that we would each have a representative sample.

Only later when I sorted them out at home did I realize I had acquired an anatomically correct Good Humor ice cream truck, including tiny latches on the freezer compartments and little bells on the windshield. ​


This car puzzled me since an ice cream truck was not really an antique and Dad would never have driven one anyway.  Then I remembered standing next to him on our driveway looking across the way to the Reed’s house.  It was a warm summer evening; freshly mown grass scented the air.  The Reed’s had a nubbly gravel driveway which made a homey crunching noise as cars drove in.  We looked up as we heard the crunch followed by the tell-tale bells of a Good Humor truck.

Of all the cars in Dad’s collection, the Good Humor truck was probably the only one I had any direct connection to – I had no knowledge of the classic Dusenbergs, Reos, Packards and Bentleys that so excited him.  Don Dumont was the name of the local Good Humor man.  I don’t know what he did all winter, but every summer he would reappear wearing a cap that said he was running for president in addition to dispensing ice cream.  In our household, Good Humor bars were considered the height of indulgence.  We might have a swimming pool, but in Dad’s odd rationalization a Good Humor man who made house calls, well that was ostentatious, pure and simple.  A single Good Humor bar would only be acceptable if you stumbled upon the truck at the beach or park, but house calls to stockpile a freezer-full, absolutely not.  Someone might see the Good Humor truck in our driveway, and then what would people think, that we were too good for store-bought ice cream?  My father and I stood quietly at the edge of our lawn as Mrs. Reed took boxes and boxes into her basement.

I really wanted to say something to him then, to try to apologize or explain about going to Aunt Jean’s pool.  Sure, Aunt Jean’s was all about the stunning pool, but I wanted to tell him that our backyard was all about the people in the pool, drawn there by my parents’ generosity and charisma.  I also wanted to tell him that I didn’t care about Good Humors; store-bought ice cream was just fine with me.  Besides the Reeds always got the inferior flavors of strawberry shortcake or toasted almond rather then the chocolate fudge cake I preferred.  Mrs. Reed waved as the Good Humor man drove out the driveway and turned left.  Don Dumont knew better than to take a right turn into our driveway. 

The missing words in the following poem are anagrams (i.e. share the same letters like spot, post, stop) and the number of asterisks indicates the number of letters.  Your job is to solve the missing words based on the above rules and the context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers.

No matter how hard I tried

A chance to swim in Aunt Jean’s pool could not be ******.

****** when the Reeds came by with the coveted invitation

We all hopped out of Dad’s pool without a moment’s hesitation.

As we left, I remember Dad’s look of surprise and dismay

And * ***** up filled with remorse and betrayal to this very day.









Answers:  denied, indeed, I ended

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