Opinion: America’s love affair with ice

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As I pulled the bag of ice from the grocery store freezer the other day, I got to thinking about America’s love affair with ice. After all, every drink in this country that isn’t steaming is sloshed over the rocks, chilled in a cooler or spewed into a paper cone and doused with syrup.

One of the most familiar sounds in any house today is the clunk-clunk-clunk of ice dropping into a glass from the dispenser in the refrigerator door. It wasn’t always this easy.

Once we had ice cube trays. I wonder how many mechanical engineers have actually devoted their careers to extracting ice cubes from trays; creating everything from plastic trays you twisted to those with mechanical levers. None of them worked of course, and we wound up banging the trays against the sink and picking up ice cubes from the floor.

When I was a kid we held our ice cube trays under hot water, then scooped the ice cubes out of the sink.

Ours was the only house in the neighborhood that had a refrigerator. Everybody else had iceboxes. No one has those any more, and only folks of a certain age remember what they were.

When I was a kid I worked on a milk truck, running bottles of milk to the doorstep and bringing back the empties. We also delivered ice.

Ice customers hung placards in the window. The numbers 25, 50, 75 and 100 were printed on the four corners, and the number that was upright told us how big an ice chunk they wanted. Most folks needed 25 or 50 pound pieces.

We did have one customer that took 75 pounds. But they had a large house and a large family and, presumably, used a lot of ice.

Sometimes we lugged the ice into the house and quietly slipped it into the icebox. More often, however, the lady of the house had newspapers spread out on the kitchen table and the ice was carefully wrapped in a thick coating of newsprint before being deposited in the icebox. Wrapping made the ice last longer.

Back at the dairy, one of my jobs was chipping 300-pound blocks of ice into 25- and 50-pound pieces with an ice pick.

In another town we used to sneak into the ice house on hot summer days and chip pieces of ice from giant chunks stored in the sawdust. Sometimes we climbed under the tarp of the horse-drawn ice wagon to steal a cool treat. In the winter, folks cut ice from the lake with long saws.

While Americans have worked hard for their ice, the Europeans for some reason never bothered. Ice, they figure, takes up too much room in the glass.

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