My son bought tickets for my wife and me to see Tony Bennett. Listening to the 90 year old icon sing and watching him drift effortlessly across the stage that night made me think of the ice house.
Growing up in the 1950’s, I remember how these antiquated structures were on the verge of extinction, but still eking out a living, even if households no longer relied on a block of ice to keep their food from spoiling.
My great uncles owned an ice house on Telford Street in Newark, New Jersey. I remember people pulling up to the yard on a hot summer day on their way to a picnic or similar event, then retrieving an ice chest or tub from the trunk of their car. They would haul it up on the platform. A worker would retrieve a six foot high, rectangular piece of ice and, turning it on its side, chip off a quarter or so breaking it into chunks into the open containers.
A hot summer day usually found my cousins and me looking to snag ice cubes that missed their mark from a large machine next to the platform. It was the perfect way to cool off after a sand lot baseball game or a few rounds of Kick the Can.
As I look back on it now, this procession in and out of the ice house represented a significant transition taking place in our country from the stabilizing role the ice house had played in our lives to a future without it. The people I observed, while enjoying my melting ice cube, were struggling to find a place in this new order. The soundtrack of this struggle was provided by Tony Bennett. That’s what I heard that night as Tony exhorted us to go from rags to riches, pursue the good life we deserved and find love in the shadow of a smile.
All these years later, I know it didn’t go as smoothly or as optimistically as Tony’s music made it sound that night. But what struck me were his unifying themes of love and hope and how each generation is about rallying together to pick up the pieces and move on.
I can still hear their car tires rumbling on the uneven Belgian block parking lot and see their arms wrapped around the chunks piled high in their containers, the ice as solid as a past they thought would never change. Yet destined to disappear before the day ended.
Joe Cappello writes essays, short stories and plays about the workplace and families from his retirement home in Galisteo, New Mexico.