The Flowering Vine: Only The Strong Survive

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ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE

Oh, you’ve got to be a man, you’ve got to take a stand

Only the strong survive, only the strong survive

Well, you’ve got to be strong, you’d better hold on

Only the strong survive

Only the strong survive, only the strong survive

Well, you’ve got to be a man (yeah), you’ve got to take a stand (yeah)

Only the strong survive, only the strong survive

Only the strong survive, only the strong survive

Only the strong survive, only the strong survive

(JERRY BUTLER, the ICEMAN)

Summers were the worse!

Those hot, sweltering, sweating days, increased the demand for ice ten-fold! When the demand for ice increased ten-fold, Granddaddy Leroy’s workload increased ten-fold

In the 1940’s and 50’s, Granddaddy managed the “ice plant” in Eufaula, Alabama. In those days, folks stored their ice in “iceboxes”; not refrigerators–those new-fangled contraptions were only available to the rich, but the average middle-class family could probably afford the less expensive “icebox”.

As for the poor, well they generally dug a hole out in the yard; then lined the hole with sawdust; then placed the block of ice in the hole; then insulated it with more sawdust; then covered the hole until they were ready for some ice. Then, when they were ready for ice, they’d simply go out to the “ice hole”, armed with an ice pick, hatchet, or an ax, and “chip a piece off the old block”.

When that sizzling, searing, summer heat hit, people craved the cool, cold, comfort of ice. They wanted whatever storage mechanism they had on hand, to be chocked full of ICE! Hence, the “ICEMAN”.

Curiously, no “White” men worked in the ice plant. Granddaddy was the closest thing to a White man there, so I guess that qualified him to be the manager. But being “manager” did not mean his workload was any less than anyone else’s; as a matter of fact, he may have been the “hardest working man” in the ice plant. Granddaddy worked, and worked, his fingers to the bone—all 8 of them—trying to keep those ice-making machines humming.

That truck? Wow man, that truck was something to behold! I think I might have a picture of one here somewhere. Kids would see that truck coming and stop whatever they were doing to chase that truck. No, it didn’t have a cute jingle ringing out; playing a “Pied Piper-ish” tune to entice them to follow. Ha! No colorful markings to E.N.T.I.C.E, but it had chips of I.C.E.I.N.I.T. There was no ICE CREAM MAN, but there was an ICEMAN, and that was good enough on those hot, hot, summer days.

The “Truck” went around every morning. Part of Granddaddy’s job, as manager, was to hire and pay men to drive the truck around the city to sell 5, 10 and 25 cent blocks of ice. The men would carry the ice into the homes with a set of ice tongs which would hook onto each side of the ice, making it easier for the “Icemen” to handle. Leroy Jr., also known as Uncle Leroy, even worked with Granddaddy from time-to-time.

Folks would put an “ice card” in a front window of the house which would indicate what size block of ice was needed. The card had four large numbers, usually “15”, “25” and “35”, with “50” on the reverse side. By taking note of these cards, the “Iceman” could tell, at a glance, how much ice was needed to fill the ice box chamber.  If a housewife wanted 25 pounds she would place the card in the window with the 25-pound number up, and the 35-pound number upside down.

For the younger siblings, having a Dad who was the manager of the ice plant had its perks. The plant was located by the railroad, alongside which they walked each day, to and from school. They would stop by the plant after school on hot days, and gather up ice chips in their hands and eat them on the way home. Who needed ice cream?

The ICEMEN who made the ice deliveries, wore capes. They were made of rubber, to protect them from the cold and wet, as they hoisted the ice blocks to their backs with the tongs and carried them into customers’ kitchens. The cape gave them the look of cape-wearing SUPERHEROES. But, Granddaddy’s children and grandchildren didn’t need to see him in a cape to know that he was a SUPERHERO; watching him fight the oppression that all Blacks faced in those days just to provide for his family, was good enough.

But alas, like all SUPERHEROS, he had his hamartia. For Superman, it was Kryptonite. For Granddaddy, it was the ammonia that was used in the ice-making process; that and the constant cold conditions, which together, caused irreversible damage to his lungs. However, despite the effects of his KRYPTONITE, he survived to a ripe old age. He SURVIVED because he was STRONG, and ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE.

“You can’t be too careful about work. It’s the most dangerous habit known to medical science.”

Eugene O’Neill, The Iceman Cometh

Love ya Granddaddy Leroy

27 thoughts on “The Flowering Vine: Only The Strong Survive

  1. Once again, Ron’s got me in class taking notes! Can’t say that I remember the Iceman coming around growing up, but thanks to this post, I know about them now!

    Thanks for the edutainment!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had heard about the iceman from my grandmother. A very interesting story, Ron. I liked learning about how they did simple things like get ice in the past. History should be treasured. Another fine effort!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. a great piece G and Ron ❤ I love these old stories, told so well it's almost as if I'm standing there watching that truck come down the street, feel the coolness of the ice and wondering how can I make some cream out of that sucker ❤

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I know, got a lot of catching up to do today, have a few of yours to read and still have to listen to the audio one…haven’t forgotten you my sweet 🙂 I will not be green eggs and spam, sam I am 🙂

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        1. LOL!!! It’s what we do! We them Wonder Twins only we cousins! LOL!!
          Girl, don’t worry, we done confused erybody!
          But for future reference it will show as posted by Lady G or Ronbrownx right below the post’s title.
          Either way, we appreciate the support.

          Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow Ron, enjoyed this so much… you really put us, your readers, in there, back then! Stirred up memories…

    I remember when I was very little – 3, 4 years old – we had an icebox, and the iceman used to come and schlep that huge block of ice up the fire escape, with those big black tongs. I think he was a French-Canadian guy. This is in Montreal, Quebec, y’know. You could hear him coming from a distance, with his horse-drawn carriage, up the alley in back, he’d be yelling at the top of his voice, “AIEEEEEECE! AIEEEEEEECE!” Then my mom would hustle to open the back door off the kitchen for him. We were up on the 2nd floor of an apartment building then.

    The area we lived in has been home to so many successive waves of immigrants, due to the (comparatively) low rents. We were the Jews, then later the Greeks moved in, and the Italians, and Portuguese. All mixed in with a sprinkling of French Quebecers. Pretty colourful neighbourhood. Mind you, speaking of colour, I don’t remember any black or brown faces. I know that for the most part they lived further south, and further west. No segregation or anything, things just seemed to shake out that way.

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  5. Keeping active is often what keeps a man alive. This is a great tribute to your grandfather and what he endured to provide for his family. But a shame he suffered from the conditions.

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  6. Ice not ice cream! LOL!!! But in those days ice was probably waaaaaay more valuable than ice cream in terms of day-to-day living. I loved your notation that the iceman did NOT have a jingle! LOL!
    Very interesting tidbit about how most folks kept ice (digging holes and lining them…). Very ingenious!
    I loved it cuz!

    Liked by 1 person

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