In Other Words / Summer nights with dad
It’s summer. A heat wave envelops us in a lethargic trance.
My dad and I are visiting his mother in a town where women sit 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 100 degrees.
For me, this was a magical time when life stood still and people moved slowly. Even the birds took a breather, settling themselves on telephone wires, too tired to spread their wings and fly.
On other 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 to Market Street for Sal’s Italian ices.
Downtown was different from the upper Main Street I knew with its fancy shops, movie theaters and restaurants. Market Street, by comparison, 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 went 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 made 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 15, 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 at Mickey, 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 beneath 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 summer approaches, I recall Sal’s garage and my awakening to matters of the heart.
Even now, all these years later, I still find myself thinking about 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, while he and Sal caught up with the latest news of the moment.
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 adulthood. Those were the summers when I believed that nothing bad could happen to me as long as I kept my hand gripped tightly in my dad’s, as we walked along into my yet unknown future waiting to be explored.
Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views monthly in the Westport News. She can be reached via email at email@example.com or at judithmarks-white.com.