There were many who couldn't afford to buy manufactured ice or an ice box in which to put it. In our neighborhood, though, most took for granted the ice man parking in the alley behind our houses and bringing in the back door a big block of ice. For a couple of years after my mother divorced and married again, I had the experience of living without either ice box or ice. It was truly grim with no means to preserve food from one meal to the next. The leftovers from lunch were merely left on the table and covered with a cloth. By the time for the next meal, there would literally be flies in the food, and we were needy enough to skim them out and eat the food anyway. Nothing could have shown me more graphically the importance of ice.
Geyser Ice Company, about 1920
photo from Waco Tribune
Before those nightmare years, though, the nearby ice house had been the source of happy occasions. My father was home and had a job. It wasn't a very lucrative one, I suppose; at least we didn't have money to run to the store for ice cream. However, my father knew the routine at the ice house and that at regular intervals it was necessary to shovel industrial snow onto the loading platform. I never did understand why it needed to be done to keep the machines working. All that mattered was that my father knew when he could take a bucket and collect the snow. He would buy a bottle of Welch's Grape Juice and pour it over the snow, thereby creating a snow cone for each child. Of course, we never dreamed we would have a concoction which would delight children for the next generations.
I don't know how often he did this, perhaps once a month or so, but in memory it seems as though it happened often in the summer. I cannot imagine that the children today who go from an air-conditioned home to a snow cone facility can know the delight we had. When the house was so hot we were panting, we could truly appreciate the moments of sucking that icy cold drink. As I write, I can experience it again, the moment when we watch Papa walk to the ice house with the bucket swinging, the short interval before he is back with a full bucket, the pouring of Welch's Grape Juice (never any other kind), and then the joy of feeling for a short while cool from the tongue on down.
When I was nine, about 1932, my father left Waco to try to find work. He never returned. Life changed in many ways.
There isn't a connection, but later we got our first refrigerator. For the longest time, it was still called an "ice box." The availability of ready ice made food preservation commonplace and assured cold drinks anytime of day or night. Ice for the freezer made ice cream a usual rather than a rare treat.
I hope that, by writing this reminiscence, you can get a feel for the importance of our "ice house." The Waco Reddy Company is still in business at the old ice house location, but today it dispenses ice to the boxes at the supermarket and other places. Certainly there is no way of fostering such memories as I have recounted.
(Many thanks to Julia for her interesting, personal glimpse into an important aspect of "the good ol' days" in Depression Era Waco.)