Monday, June 23, 2003

Radel: 'The Ice Cream Lady' a treat

Cliff Radel's Summer Tour

You can hear her truck coming from blocks away. A recording of "Turkey in the Straw" gobbles from its mobile speakers.

"That song is how all the kids know me," says Vickie Shelton. She's in her third summer of driving an ice cream truck up and down the streets of Norwood.

"It's officially summer when we're out of school, standing under this tree and waiting for the ice cream truck," says Tammy Clarkston.

She stands by the curb with her daughter, 8-year-old Jessica, and her friend, 10-year-old Bryanna Marshall. The girls clutch their money and look eagerly down the street.

The music is a magnet, pulling kids from porches and pools, and turning Shelton into a truck-bound Pied Piper.

"Little kids have come running naked to meet me," Shelton says.

But they're bound to be followed by a parent in hot pursuit waving a towel in one hand and a dollar in the other.

Chase Braden, 4, enjoys a "Mike Bar" he got from "the Ice Cream Lady."
(Tony Jones photo)
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Shelton drives one of 42 trucks in the fleet belonging to Lockland-based Captain Tom's Ice Cream. A mother of four and a grandmother of nine, Shelton is as sweet as the treats she sells.

As she pulls to the curb along the Norwood streets where she grew up and still lives, she serves young, round faces in shades of black, white, brown and yellow. They have last names like Smith and Sawyer and Garcia and Chen.

She calls them Honey, Sweetie and Dear. They call her Miss Vickie or the Ice Cream Lady.

"You have to like kids to do this job," she says.

"They're so cute. So innocent. So excited. But they can try you when they have trouble making up their minds."

She has a name for those kind of customers. They're called boys.

Girls know exactly what they want when they step up to Miss Vickie's window.

Boys hem and haw, baffled by her extensive menu.

Besides 10 kinds of candy, three types of chips and two varieties each of soda pop and pickles, she sells 43 icy treats. The frigid stuff runs from fudge bars - preferred by big kids, aka adults - to Bomb Pops.

Kids go for the bombs. They're a blend of flavored, tinted ice. They leave a rainbow of colors on the tongue, increasing the humor content in sticking out your tongue at some icky girl.

Ralph Dean took time out from making a delivery to savor a fudge bar. Standing by the ice cream truck melted away the years. About 45 of them.

He remembered growing up "in Monfort Heights where we had a doughnut truck come down the street in the morning and Mister Softee ice cream truck roll down in the afternoon."

Miss Vickie doesn't sell soft-serve ice cream. But she's a soft touch.

When a little kid runs short on pennies or "their parents don't have too much," she hands out something frozen. On the house. And, out of her pocket.

"That makes their little faces just light up," she says.

Miss Vickie makes lots of faces smile. She waves to everyone, whether or not they're buying. In that sense, she's like a railroad engineer. Waving is part of the job.

Stopping before turning on Melrose Avenue, she pauses to wave to a pack of eight giggling kids.

They call her by name. Then, they dash down the street, making sure to stay ahead of her truck.

Four-year-old Chase Braden is first in line. He gets a green Monster Mike bar. His 8-year-old brother, Devin, goes for a Tongue Splasher, another multicolored concoction.

"I love this stuff," Devin says. "I love summer."

His cousin, 12-year-old Jaclyn Bokros, struggles to keep this band of wiggle worms in line. As she waits her turn, she describes summer on Melrose Avenue.

"No school," she says. "No homework. Go swimming. Sleep late. Have fun."

Wait for the ice cream truck.

What a life.

5 facts about Norwood

• Population: 21,675.

• Origin of name: Local lore often credits Sarah Bolles, wife of a real estate developer, with naming Norwood in 1869. The name came from either the title of a novel by Henry Ward Beecher or a corruption of the words "north woods."

• House of Cards: Norwood-based U.S. Playing Card Co. produces the hot-selling Iraqi Most Wanted deck with Saddam Hussein as the ace of spades.

• Famous Norwoodians: Entrepreneur Carl Lindner; actress Vera-Ellen (White Christmas star); actor George Chakiris (Oscar winner - Best Supporting Actor - for West Side Story); NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Joseph W. Ralston.

• Top-five sellers (in order) from Miss Vickie Shelton's ice cream truck: Fudge Bar; Bomb Pop Jr.; Cotton Candy Bomb Pop; Sour Apple Snow Cone; Strawberry Shortcake ice cream bar.

How do you know it's 'officially' summer in your neighborhood?

Summer's here.

Time to hit the road and tour Greater Cincinnati's neighborhoods. I'm looking for signs of how people tell when it's summertime where they live.

Suggestions are welcome.

Every Monday, a different neighborhood will be selected and a different slice of summer featured..

What I'm looking for is the heart of summer, the flavor that defines your neighborhood when the heat's on, the kids are out of school and everyone's mind is on vacation.

That defining character could be the street's green thumb sharing the bounty of her garden with neighbors.

It could be two Reds fans sitting on a porch listening to Marty and Joe on the radio.

Serious subjects are also welcome. Communities' problems don't take the summer off.

Then again, summer in your neighborhood could be defined by something as simple as standing at the curb and waiting for the ice cream truck.

Send suggestions to Cliff Radel's Summer Tour, The Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax: 513-768-8340; e-mail Please include name, neighborhood, description of summer scene and daytime phone.


Cliff Radel, a Cincinnati native, writes about the people, places and traditions defining Greater Cincinnati. E-mail

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