The buzzing of cicadas, the hot, sticky air and the sound of the Jolly Joe the ice cream man’s bell clanging in the distance. These are the ways in which Cheryl McNulty remembers her childhood summers in the Norwood neighborhood of Warwick.
McNulty, now a resident of Rumford, said she distinctly remembers sitting on the curb in 1966 waiting for Jolly Joe the ice cream man to stop nearby. She was about 6 years old. These vivid memories led McNulty to write a story about Jolly Joe for a creative writing class about eight or nine years ago.
But the story and memories of Jolly Joe still cling to her today, and McNulty hopes to connect with others who remember the smiling man in the ice cream truck.
“Whatever happened to him?” asked McNulty. “I’ve tried to find him.”
McNulty started a blog that features her story on Jolly Joe, and readers have been commenting about their memories of the ice cream man, too. People remembered how wonderful he was with children, and how he impacted the lives of so many. They also remember his “magic belt” that stored all of his coins. Back then, ice cream only cost a few nickels or dimes.
“I have fond memories of him,” said McNulty. “The way he made you feel.”
McNulty said Jolly Joe would come out of his truck to greet the neighborhood children, and soon he knew everyone by name.
“You couldn’t wait to see him,” said McNulty, who remembers the hot, long summers as a child of the 1960s, when everyone played outside. Jolly Joe was always an eagerly awaited reprieve to the doldrums of those endless afternoons.
“When you heard the bell, you got so excited,” she said. “You just couldn’t wait.”
McNulty said she always ordered the same thing: a frozen treat called Buried Treasure Ice Cream. The frosty delights were either raspberry or orange sherbet on a stick – special sticks shaped like animals, clowns or other characters. But the shape was concealed inside the sherbet.
“You had to eat the ice cream to find out what the treasure was,” said Cheryl nostalgically. “I don’t know why we thought it was so cool, but we did!”
Those Buried Treasure Ice Creams and Jolly Joe’s friendly presence were a staple of McNulty’s childhood, until Jolly Joe’s truck ceased to make its normal neighborhood rounds.
“One day, he never came back again,” she said.
Now McNulty hopes to find out what happened to Jolly Joe, and also to see if his family is interested in reading her story.
“Yes, he was a simple ice cream man, but he made a difference,” she said. McNulty hopes to make a difference with her story, too. Eventually she hopes to publish the book for children, and include her own original illustrations.
McNulty also plans to release a story about growing up near Confreda Farms, and how the neighborhood kids took advantage of the changing seasons to make the farmland their playground.
Sharing her story on her blog has been a fun experience for McNulty, who enjoys the feedback she gets from readers. Sadly, one reader posted what they believe to be Jolly Joe’s obituary from 2008. The obituary was for Salvatore Mattera, who owned and operated Jolly Joe’s Ice Cream. He was a U.S. Army veteran of World War II, and died at the RI Veterans Home at the age of 85. Though it seems to match, McNulty isn’t convinced it’s the same Jolly Joe, and is hopeful that someone, somewhere has more information on the ice cream man that made her childhood summers so memorable.
To read the story of Jolly Joe, visit www.cherylmcnulty.wordpress.com/2010/11/22/jolly-joe-the-ice-cream-man, or visit www.WarwickOnline.com, where we’ll share the story, too. If you have any information on Jolly Joe, email Cheryl at firstname.lastname@example.org.