Boomers Grew Along With Mister Softee

Many businesses got their start during the Baby Boom years to capitalize on selling their products to the increasing number of children. One summer-related business that can fall into that category is Mister Softee.

Mister Softee is the now-ubiquitous soft ice cream served up in your neighborhood by familiar white and blue trucks. It was begun by two brothers, William and James Conway, in Philadelphia in 1958. Within a couple of years, its franchises spread across the country. The company was a pioneer in constructing its own trucks, which it dubbed “an ice cream shop on wheels.”

In 1960, the company adopted the jingle that is so closely tied to its brand; the jingle plays as the trucks roll down the street, calling boys and girls like a Pied Piper of summer treats. Depending on your point of view, then as now, that jingle could be one of the most annoying songs ever broadcast in public, or it’s a catchy jingle that to this day evokes a taste of Boomer Age summer. Written in 1960 by Lester Morton Waas, an advertising jingle writer, he based it on The Whistler and His Dog, by Arthur Pryor (1913). Many boomers recall the music streaming out of the rooftop speaker on the Mister Softee truck, but do not realize the song has lyrics. The lyrics were often sung by children in TV commercials that the company ran during the 1960s. Still operating today and Conway family-owned, you can download the sheet music for the jingle — which includes the lyrics — from mistersoftee.com. If you can’t get enough of that particular memory, they offer a ringtone download as well.

Mister Boomer recalls the trucks crawling down the street in his suburb. Kids would run out of their yards and houses, yelling, “Wait, wait!” until the driver took notice and stopped the truck, all that while playing that earworm of a jingle. Yes, Mister B falls into the group that finds the sound of that jingle akin to nails on a chalkboard.

When Mister B and his family succumbed to the siren of the soft-serve, he always got the same thing: a cone of chocolate. Sometimes his brother would choose a milkshake, and his mother might have a sundae, but generally speaking, it was cones for the Mister B family. Like Dairy Queen’s soft-serve, Mister B didn’t think it tasted much like ice cream, but it was cold and chocolatey, which was pretty good on a hot summer day. Mister B recalls that cones were ten cents, with sundaes and milkshakes being a nickel more.

His neighborhood seemed to be the perfect demographic for ice cream trucks, as Mister Softee, Good Humor and a local ice cream vendor all vied for business, sometimes hitting the same streets within hours of each other on the same day. Unlike Mister Softee, though, the Good Humor truck and local vendor rang bells as they inched down the street. In both cases, a series of bells mounted at the top of the truck’s windshield were tied to a rope that the driver pulled to make them ring.

The kids in the neighborhood became connoisseurs of the frozen confections, knowing that Mister Softee had soft-serve, Good Humor had Toasted Almond, Strawberry Eclair and Chocolate Malt bars, and the local guy had push-ups and frozen pops. As long as your mom had a few coins, the clanging of bells or playing of the jingle were the summer sounds of the suburbs.

Did Mister Softee’s route include your street, boomers? Can you sing the lyrics to the Mister Softee song?

Boomers Endured Heat Waves

As Martha & the Vandellas so succinctly put it in 1963, we’re having a heat wave. It’s been unbelievably hot in a good portion of the country this week. In Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, like many others, there has been yet another heat wave.

In earlier posts, Mister Boomer has mentioned how we boomers used to keep cool before air conditioning. There was another hot-weather family tradition of sorts in the Mister Boomer household that occurred around this time of the summer, that probably will resonate with many boomers. That is, once the temperature started rising for a few days in a row, Mister B’s mother would declare, “It’s too hot to cook.” And that was that. She had the first and last word on the subject, so the stove was off-limits. She couldn’t stand the heat, so she was staying out of the kitchen.

That was the cue for Mister Boomer and his brother to bring up the grill from the basement — where it was kept in its original cardboard box — for a rare midweek cookout. The grill was a round pan that sat on a tripod of metal legs that slid into metal sleeves welded to the bottom. Once assembled in the yard, the boys would make a pyramid of charcoal briquettes and Mister B would douse them with lighter fluid. Brother Boomer, being the elder, was the one to yield the matches. In this case, he flicked wooden kitchen matches into the briquettes. After a satisfying woosh and burst of flames, the boys’ job was complete and they could turn over the cooking duties to their father.

These “too hot to cook” cookouts meant that dinner was going to consist of whatever was on hand in the refrigerator, and that usually meant hamburgers and hot dogs. Most boomer households bought ground beef on a regular basis, and kept a package of hot dogs for the kids, too. Mister Boomer’s sister preferred her hot dogs like she ate her bologna — plain and charred, no bun, bread or condiments. Mister Boomer and his brother generally opted for hamburgers. In their yard, a hamburger on a grill was not gussied up with additional ingredients; there was rarely even a slice of cheese melted on top. Rather, the burger was lifted from the grill to a waiting bun — which was usually pulled straight from the package and not toasted on the grill — after which, mustard or ketchup was added by the recipient. Brother boomer liked mustard, but Mister B was a ketchup man. Occasionally he would retrieve the jar of pickle relish from the refrigerator door and add a teaspoon of the stuff to his burger.

There were no vegetables invited to the party, not even lettuce and tomato for the burgers; it would be a decade before Mister B’s family got that fancy. Instead, a handful of potato chips rounded out the dinner on their paper plates. After all, if it was too hot to cook, Mister B’s mom sure as hell wasn’t going to be washing dishes, either.

In the spirit of Mister B’s mom and her “it’s too hot to cook” declarations, Mister B presents this smattering of classic Mister Boomer posts about how we beat the heat:

Keeping Our Collective Cool
In an age when not many boomer households had air conditioning, people had their ways of keeping cool.

Boomers’ Cars Breezed Along … Without Air Conditioning
Mister B recalls the era of car air conditioning known as “460”; that was, four windows down at 60 miles per hour.

Boomers Grabbed a Cold One
Long before boomers were old enough to use “grab a cold one” to mean a beer, they drank a series of cold beverages that helped shape their attack on the heat.

How did you keep cool, boomers? Did your boomer youth training help you keep cool during this recent round of heat waves?