by David L. Norris
Going To The Icebox was first published in the Arvin Tiller; Arvin, California’s local paper and at the same time, in the Lamont Reporter, Same for Lamont.
Today’s generations believe that the term “icebox” is interchangeable with the name “refrigerator”, after all, most refrigerators have ice makers in them, where you can get ice for your drinks or to put on your kid’s bruises. My generation was on the edge of knowing the true difference between an icebox and a refrigerator.
When my mom and I first moved to Arvin, we lived in a small apartment on the North edge of Herbert Brown’s Transient Camp, just south of Mrs. Bishop’s pasture. There was a line of salt tamaracks just north of the row of apartments where we kids played tag and hide-n-seek. They were our playground and jungle gym.
None of the apartments had refrigerators; all were equipped with true iceboxes. The “iceman” came around several times per week in a small pick-up truck to deliver ice to each apartment. Next to each doorjamb was a nail with no head, on which was placed a square metal tag that had a hole drilled in each corner. Each corner was painted a different color and had a weight marked in it.
The ‘iceman” would see the color which was pinned up on the nail and he would know whether you needed 10, 20, 30 or 40 pounds of ice. The iceman would park in front of a group of the apartments; chip the ice with his ice pick. Then with tongs gripping the ice, he would sling it onto a leather pad strapped on his shoulder and carry it into the house, placing it into a box, which was atop the insulated box where you kept your cold food.
This top box was covered with burlap bags that were used to wick the cold water down the surfaces of the burlap. The burlap also slowed the ice’s melting. A drip pan was under the cold box to collect the ice water. This pan had to be drained at least once per day. As the iceman was splitting the large blocks of ice, we kids would gather around the back of his truck to watch the giant ice blocks first crack and then fall apart as he accurately picked a line of holes into the surface with his ice pick.
He would always have chips and slivers fall aside. He would hand them to us as a treat. Occasionally, he would allow me to ride on the tailgate of his truck as he progressed through the camp delivering ice to the various apartments. As he finished he would “accidentally” knock off a large sliver of ice for me, before sending me back home to my mother.
Walking back home down the dirt driveway from one side of the camp to the other on a hot Arvin summer day, barefoot, of course, I would lick, suck and bite off pieces of the ice which was by now freezing my hands, the best present a boy could have ever received as a treat. This was a simpler time of life, where something as simple as frozen water could be thought of as a present.
My mother, Blanche Lillian Norris, was well thought of in Arvin. She was one of the first to get an electric refrigerator when an extra one arrived at the Fox TV and Appliances Store. This made life much simpler, but I was proud to be part of the last generation to know what an Ice Box really was and to really understand the meaning of the “Ice Man” and “Redheaded Step Child” jokes.