When a Tumbler Isn’t a Tumbler

Summer, 1961 or so, row house Baltimore, back yard with sprinkler (no one had a pool, or even a blow-up pool). You jumped over a sprinkler and you liked it, damn it. The big treat? Kool-aid in one of these tumblers, with ice. The condensation on the outside would drip onto your hot skin (overly burned–because your parents don’t understand that one day you’ll have little suspicious spots taken off your body because no one used sunscreen). And they liked the sunburn, damn it.

Along with thoughts of these tumblers–the old men. Black men, weathered like tired tree bark, from too much hard work, too much sun, too little money. They seemed like they were about 200 years old to me, but who knows? They would come in their horse-drawn carts, each singing a different song to go with their wares–“straaaaawberries, fresh ripe straaaaawberries.” If I was lucky, I’d be the one to get the quarter to go out and get a pint. Cause the men always let you pat the horse. Poor old horses. One day I got to take a bucket to the horse so he could have a drink it was so hot out. Mom came running out after me, all flushed. “Oh, God,” she said, pushing a tumbler of iced tea into my hand, “I’m giving the horse water and look at the poor old man.” With a rather old-fashioned tip of his hat that would somehow make me uncomfortable if I saw it today, the man downed the tea and asked for more. I ran like the wind and got him more, and still it wasn’t enough. After a third tumbler, he wiped his brow and hoisted me onto his horse. That’s the last time I was on a horse.

I got the tumbler back and put it in the sink. I’m sure we used them many, many times after that day, but I don’t remember doing so. All I know is that I saw these on the Internet in a vintage “store,” and couldn’t bring myself to buy them. They make me cry. Cause Mom is dying, the old man is long gone (and of course so is the horse), that street in Baltimore is in blight, and I just don’t have the heart.

Is there anything like that for you?


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