By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Judging by the throngs of people surging into airports and tourist spots, summer vacation is alive and well once again. The country is finally unfurling from its Covid cocoon as families spread their wings.
As much as we all yearn for the perfect summer trip, it’s often the unexpected adventures and mishaps that lodge in our memories.
Almost every summer of my childhood, my parents took me and my older brother, Greg, to the Hope Watermelon Festival in the southwest corner of Arkansas. In addition to refrigerated tractor trailers used to serve slices of sweet, crisp watermelon, the festival featured all kinds of food and craft booths.
Once we were old enough, our parents let me and Greg wander around the festival grounds on our own. They’d give us each a ten-dollar bill, tell us to spend it wisely and then meet them back at our wood-paneled station wagon at the appointed time. Then they’d walk away and try to recover from the four-hour car ride they’d just endured with two kids.
One summer, after Greg and I were released to do our own exploring, we came across a booth selling what looked like Fla-Vor-Ice Freezer Pops – those long plastic tubes of flavored ice that seem like popsicles, minus the stick. The colorful tubes fanned out across the table, creating a rainbow buffet of summer refreshment.
Perhaps the person behind the booth had a hunch that we each had a ten-dollar bill burning a hole in our pockets because he offered us a “special deal.” For twenty dollars, he’d sell us an entire case of what he called “Jolly Pops.” That case contained 300 tubes of sugary goodness. When you’re a kid and someone offers you 300 of anything you really like, it sounds like a lifetime supply.
My brother pulled me aside to have a business conference. Being the older, allegedly wiser brother, he strongly recommended we combine our money and buy the 300 Jolly Pops. We’d get to eat them all summer, he said. We’d get to share some with our friends, he said. It was an incredible deal and were so lucky to find it, he said.
With wide eyes and taste buds that could hardly wait to taste our treasure, I agreed to the plan and handed over my ten dollars. Then the man at the booth handed each of us a cardboard box containing the Jolly Pops, and we happily hauled the heavy load back to our station wagon.
Having spent all our money early in the day, we decided to sit on the boxes and wait for our parents to come back and see the results of our magnificent deal. The boxes were too heavy to carry around, and there was no way we were leaving them unattended.
When my parents met us at the car, we showed off our giant boxes full of Jolly Pops. Our mother peered inside at the tubes of liquid and didn’t seem nearly as thrilled as we were to be taking 300 of them home. But we were sure we’d struck summer gold, and we could hardly wait to freeze and eat them.
Fast forward one week later: We’d loaded the 300 Jolly Pops into the deep freezer the minute we got home. When we started eating them that week, we realized three important things: First, Jolly Pops did not taste at all like our beloved Fla-Vor-Ice Freezer Pops. They tasted like a distant cousin who hadn’t bathed in a while.
Second, the only Jolly Pops we liked were the red ones, which we then ate during the first two weeks until they were gone. The purple ones tasted like grape cough syrup. The green ones tasted like nothing at all. And I’m pretty sure the yellow ones were toxic because they smelled like frozen Pine-sol.
Last but certainly not least, we learned that we didn’t want to eat 300 Jolly Pops. So, we didn’t. More than a decade later when that ancient deep freezer finally quit working, my mother cleaned it out and discovered at least 70 yellow Jolly Pops left for dead under bags of frozen peas. “What a deal,” she said.
But even though our deal didn’t work out like we thought it would, I smile every time I see a freezer pop in the summer. And I think about two kids hauling around those heavy boxes – grinning like we’d just cleaned out a goldmine.
So, here’s to the imperfect, unexpected adventures you may have this summer. Hope you have a jolly good time.