I was seven when President Kennedy was promoting the goal of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade. My dream of touching space was expanded rather than deflated by the Oberlin public controversy. I believed in the President's words of a hopeful future of exploration. I played with that future in the fiery heat of the summer sun - privileged to be surrounded by the safety of the modest tract homes of my Fremont California neighbourhood.
From the end of my block came the sound of an ice cream truck calling kids to claim their prize for the day. I can see them running away from their front doors, one hand reaching toward the future prize, the other clutching coins like a baton passed from their mother in an Olympic race toward the quickly forming line at the rear of the beckoning truck.
I can feel the same pit in my stomach from the experience of that day.
My parents both worked. My mother wasn't home to put the treasured coins in my palm and to press a 'good luck' kiss to my forehead like many of the neighbors. Oberlin women were being liberated. From what I didn't understand, although I had heard it was from their 'horrible' illegitimate children like me.
The sales flurry had finished for the moment so the truck moved past our yard and further down the block. Unable to resist participation, I found myself within reading distance of the colorful images and prices on the side and back of the musical box.
Another wave of rich kids bolted from their homes to a line-up for frozen rockets and raspberry push-ups. After a short deliberation and inevitable retraction each contestant would receive their treasure, step aside to carefully peel the paper top away for a taste of the space age - with a sweet grin of achievement to their fellow travelers.
Everyone stood frozen - eyes wide open and mouths clamped shut.
A tiny boy, so caught up in the excitement of the ice cream fiesta, had ran up, butt naked, parting the crowd like Moses on the Nile river. His high pitched 'Me! Me! Me!' synchronized with his skyward leaps toward the stainless steel counter. With his arms stretched heavenward, this three year old had frozen everyone - including the ice cream man.
The chilling echo of the ice cream tune from the surrounding houses filled what seemed an eternity of shock. Our gaze was broken when the little ice cream boy was presented his prize for the 'best marketing'. Within moments his chin was full of white cream and his slow shuffle had moved him a few yards back toward his home. The frenzy started all over. Kids formed a tidy line, put out their order with confidence and retreated a few feet to grin with accomplishment.
The line shortened one-by-one. The ice cream man glanced at me, turned away to sit in his seat, and drove away with my dreams.
What did I learn that blazing hot day?
My conclusions were not tempered by a father's wisdom. My hopes were not resurrected by a compassionate mother. I learned that you either had to be one of the lucky one's or a completely shameless zealot. Anything between the two - right were I stood - came with an open mouth and a pit in the stomach - a pit I can feel as I re-live that lesson.
Eccentricity started early in my life. It started with an ice cream truck and an empty hand. I had felt the pit of want without the means to acquire. The hunger began that afternoon.
I've set eight world records for IT production. I've birthed more websites than any other human. I still tear-up replaying this childhood recording. At times, it, and a dozen like it, play in the background too quiet to notice. The experience shaped my drive, my ambition and my perseverance.
The victory did not go to the naked little ice cream boy, even though he still lives in me. The victory goes to self awareness and better choices. I can't erase the recording of that day but I have learned to reinterpret and revalue the experience. Self awareness brings opportunity to reconsider naive and youthful conclusions. My son David has chosen a career path that gives him abundant face-time with my grandson Ruben and granddaughter June.
I hope my self-awareness helped my son chose a better path than my parents had. I hope his choice was not a pendulum swing away from my self-inflicted wound and modest time with him as a child. I hope this story will open a deeper dialogue with him and you. Thanks again to the enthusiasm of the butt naked little ice cream boy!
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