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In Other Words / Summer nights with Dad: The iceman cometh

Published 7:09 am, Thursday, June 12, 2014
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It's June. A heat wave envelops us in a lethargic trance. My dad and I are visiting his mother in a town where women sat on front porches fanning themselves with handkerchiefs, while men in short-sleeved shirts exit their cars, removing ties and exchanging pleasantries with friends.

I am on the brink of adolescence when everything seems overheated and sultry. Inside my grandmother's house, where the scent of wisteria makes me heady, grandma wipes her face with a damp dishtowel, and removes a tray of cookies from the oven. She is oblivious to the fact that the kitchen temperature feels like a hundred degrees.

For me, this was a magical time when life stood still and people moved slowly. Even the birds took a breather, landing on telephone wires, too tired to spread their wings and fly. On such evenings, I sat on my front lawn waiting for my father's car to turn the corner, signaling his arrival home from the office. After dinner, we would go downtown for Sal's Italian ices.

Downtown was different from the upper Main Street I knew with its shops, movie theaters and restaurants. Sal's was fraught with intrigue, and, by my parents' standards, was dangerous, foreboding, and, for me, all the more exciting.

On these early summer evenings, leaving my protected little world and holding tightly to my father's hand, we ventured forth to Capuano's Pool Hall. There, toothless men with tattoos punctuating their withered arms, sat outside on orange crates, checking out the women as they sauntered by in their summer dresses. When a pretty girl appeared, the men raised their beer bottles in salute, providing wolf whistles to seal the deal.

But the real reason we ventured there was not only to get a glimpse of life on the edge, but to visit Sal Capuano, the Ice Man, who owned the garage next door to his brother, Lonnie Capuano's Funeral Parlor, where an array of caskets adorned the glass front window.

In the back of Sal's garage was an auto body shop where dad serviced his car. In the front stood large solid blocks of ice hissing frozen steam into the air. Next to it sat a large tub filled with chopped ice, to which Sal added pounds of lemon and sugar, creating his legendary "shalali." On hot summer evenings before I left for camp, dad and I made nightly journeys to fortify our cravings.

Part of the thrill was not only in the eating, but watching Sal scoop chunks of lemon ice into the pleated, paper cups. While dad stood around shooting the breeze with Sal and his cronies, I sat on a wooden barrel reading Archie comics and swallowing down the remaining sugary liquid, so sweet it make my teeth squeak.

One evening in early June, on one of our nightly excursions, Sal's son, Mickey, home from the army for several months, was rotating tires in the back of the garage. I was fifteen, and Mickey, the `older man' was my adolescent heartthrob. His dark, greasy hair framed his face, and dressed in a white T-shirt and blue jeans, he looked like an Italian movie star. While Sal regaled dad with stories, I stared, hardly able to catch my breath. When it was time to go, Mickey, pausing for a mere moment to notice me, winked, and rolled himself underneath a large Cadillac, fading out of sight.

I remember my knees buckling; my cheeks glowing, as I stood there, my fingers sticky from lemon ices, watching Mickey disappear from view with only his denim-covered legs protruding from the car. From then on it wasn't only lemon ices that lured me to Sal's. I had a new mission: to catch a glimpse of Mickey Capuano.

Late August, when I was back from the secluded Adirondacks, it was time to get ready for school. Mickey had returned to the army, and somehow Sal's ices didn't hold the same allure once the crispness of September rolled around. But each year as June approaches, I recall Sal's garage and my awakening to matters of the heart.

Father's Day is here, and I crave Sal's ices. Instead, I buy myself a pint of lemon sorbet, trying to replicate the old memories, but it's never the same. What does remain are those sweltering summer evenings, Mickey prostrated under the car, and my dad pretending not to notice his daughter's budding flight into adulthood.

I have never forgotten those evenings on Market Street where life was steamy, tough and intoxicating, as I stood, young and restless, on the rim of adolescence, believing that nothing bad could happen to me as long as I kept my hand gripped tightly to my dad's, as we walked along into my less-protected future.

Judith Marks-White is a Westport writer, and her "In Other Words" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at: joodth@snet.net or at www.judithmarks-white.com