ALAN: The other day I was reading a novel which used the phrase “Good Humor Man”. I have no idea what that means and the context wasn’t helpful. So can you unravel the puzzle for me?
JANE: Good Humor was an ice cream brand. They had trucks that went around selling ice cream and other frozen treats. As I recall, they had a specific song they played, but maybe it was array of songs or bells?? Anyhow, definitely one of the sounds of summer when I was a kid was the slightly tinny, tinkly sound of the Good Humor truck.
Our neighborhood was rather isolated, so it wasn’t as if the truck came through daily or even weekly. Instead, it was rather like Gandalf arriving in Hobbiton, unpredictable and wonderful – especially if we had pocket money or could pry some out of Mom on short notice, which was not a certain thing by any means.
I remember hearing the music, running for Mom, begging loose change, running back, fearful the traveling treats would have moved on. Then the debate as to what to get…
ALAN: Ah! I remember those – but we just called them Ice Cream Vans (how dull of us). Generally the music they played was Greensleeves, though I do recall hearing other tunes as well. It was always a thrill when one came up our street. If I went out to buy an ice cream, I had to make sure to buy one for my dog as well. He loved ice cream and he would sulk if he didn’t get his share.
We did have some brand-specific vans – they were always called Mr Whippy Vans, because that’s what they sold. I never much liked Mr Whippy. In my view it wasn’t proper ice cream. It was very runny and the Mr Whippy man just put a cornet under a tap, turned the tap on, and ice cream flowed into the cornet.
Proper ice cream isn’t supposed to be runny…
JANE: Wow! You just opened up a whole bunch of things…
It sounds as if what Mr Whippy sold was what we call “soft serve” ice cream. This was very different from what the Good Humor Man offered. His special treats were the solid, creamy ice cream, but molded into bars (rather than scooped out of a tub). The bar was often coated in chocolate or a soft, crumbly, cake-like coating.
One of the great things about the Good Humor Man was that he had ice cream treats no one else did, such as Chocolate Eclair and Strawberry Shortcake. These were marvelous and wonderful, multilayered things. They were also the most expensive.
Later, I believe, they developed some that had an actual bit of solid chocolate in the middle. I recall these fondly, although I don’t think I’ve had one since I was sixteen or seventeen.
ALAN: Gosh, it all sounds very luxurious (and a bit exotic). We didn’t have anything like that.
JANE: You mention “Mr. Whippy” putting his ice cream in a “cornet.” I think that’s what we call a “cone.” But the Good Humor man didn’t do anything like that. You’d go up to the truck, review the delicacies depicted on the brightly-colored, illustrated menu (a good idea, since smaller kids can’t read), and then make your selection. He would then reach into the appropriate freeze and check if he still had any. Suspense! Would he? Would you need to make a new selection?
ALAN: Our orders were all individually made, though there wasn’t a huge range of choice. A favourite was a “99” which was a scoop of ice cream (or maybe two if you were feeling rich) in a cornet with a Cadbury Chocolate Flake stuck it.
I checked Good Humor on-line and discovered to my delight that the founder of the company apparently originated the idea of frozen treats on a stick. You can read more about it here.
ALAN: We call the frozen things on sticks ice lollies. Our vans did have some of them in the freezer. They weren’t at all luxurious though – just frozen fruit juice on a stick. They did eventually get a bit more elaborate. I vividly remember when mivvis first appeared – a mivvi had an ice cream centre with a fruit ice outer coating. They were available in orange, strawberry and raspberry flavours. My favorite was raspberry.
JANE: Ah… Again we have a culture twist here. Frozen juice (or frozen sugar water with flavoring) on a stick is a popsicle.
Your “mivvis” sound close to what we’d call a “creamsicle.” Orange is most common, with raspberry next. I think there was also strawberry but, as these were never my favorites, I don’t recall.
Time for your SF quiz! Which author coined a term for bodies preserved by freezing (with the intention of later being animated) that played off the word “popsicle”? You get a bonus if you also give his term.
ALAN: Ah! I know this – Larry Niven’s “corpsicles”. The joke never worked very well on our side of the pond since we don’t have popsicles…
JANE: I’m trying to make up a term for frozen corpse that plays off “ice lolly” and I just can’t do it…
I didn’t read the whole article on Good Humor, so I don’t know if the Good Humor Man still makes his rounds.
I certainly don’t see Good Humor trucks here in New Mexico, so I don’t know if Good Humor has stopped sponsoring such trucks. The practice does seem to have continued, but the trucks seem to be more “gypsy” operations. And, of course, now that I have more than enough pocket money, running to get an ice cream treat doesn’t have the same allure. I very well could have missed some.
ALAN: Certainly they’ve long disappeared from our streets. During the (short) English summer, they were one of the highlights of my life. The vans had the advertising slogan “Stop Me and Buy One” painted on them (though I don’t recall ever seeing anybody flag a van down) and that slogan became so much a part of the language that “Buy Me and Stop One” was often to be found as a graffito on condom vending machines.
JANE: Oh… That’s perfect! I shall restrain myself from making off-color jokes.
Still, this discussion has made me rather nostalgic. I do recall at one time seeing Good Humor treats in the grocery freezer cases. Maybe I’ll check… But do I want to risk contaminating the memory?
ALAN: No you don’t – fond memories are precious things.
The ice cream vans of my childhood may have started to disappear, but I’ve noticed that something else has taken over that particular ecological niche. Shall we investigate that next time?
JANE: Absolutely… I wonder what you have in mind?