Remember when ice came from Mom Nature? By Bob Karolevitz The ice-maker in our refrigerator wasn't working too well, so I grumbled my husbandly grumble.
"What are you complaining about?" Phyllis said. "Back in the old days they didn't have ice at all unless they carved it out of the river."
It got me to thinking about how we now take for granted such simple things as a cube of ice. Today a home without a refrigerator is about as rare as a wiffletree salesman, and even so-called middle-aged folks don't remember the annual ice harvests on lakes and streams.
I shudder to think that I'm old enough to recall the pre-refrigerator era of ice boxes, ice men and the horse-drawn delivery wagons of my youth. That was when ice had to come directly from Dame Nature, and seemingly with fiendish glee she made the harvesting as tough as possible.
I did a little research on the subject, and I'm glad I never had to participate in the chilling chore of those not-so-good-old-days.
For many farmers, harvesting the yearly ice supply was as much a part of the cold weather work schedule as insulating the stock tank with horse manure and buzzing the winter wood supply. It was a sweat-and-freeze operation, with one-man hand saws and long hook-tipped pike poles.
Horses played an important role in the process, too. They were fitted with special calk shoes so they wouldn't slip when they pulled a scrapper or an ice plow. The latter was used to make a preliminary cut not quite halfway through the ice which, when ideal, was at least a foot or more thick.
The work was pretty much the same for small farm crews or the commercial cutters, and it had to be done in gosh-awful weather so the blocks wouldn't melt before they were hauled to sidehill caves or insulated ice houses. There they were packed in straw or sawdust to preserve them for summertime use.
I shiver to think of the men getting ice water in their galoshes or wearing wet gloves to freeze their fingers. And sometimes they slipped and fell into the frigid drink and had to be rescued before they disappeared under the ice. When they were saved, their long wool underwear froze up before they could get to the nearest bonfire or cook stove.
River ice was not always 100 percent pure, although it was usually crystal clear. There wasn't too much concern about pesticides or other pollution then, but every so often there'd be a cottonwood leaf or frozen frog in a cake of ice meant for the kitchen.
When we were kids, running after the big wagon as the ice man made his door-to-door deliveries was more fun than rolling hoops or watching the train come in. He'd chip off slivers of ice for us to suck on. Boy, were we easily pleased!
That was more than six decades ago, of course. Ice is now made commercially or by ice-makers in the family refrigerator.
Gone are those zinc-lined ice boxes, the delivery man with the leather protector on his shoulder, the ice tongs and those welcome wagons we used to chase after.
It's nice to talk about those wonderful days of yore, but I've got to admit it's better not to find a frozen minnow in your iced tea.