Trucks fill a baby boomer’s memories

BoomerCafé contributor Erin O’Brien is moving. After many years in Redondo Beach, California, she is off to Rhode Island. And of all things, her move has made her think with great nostalgia … about trucks. Maybe you’ll remember some of them too.

I heard it again the other day: a sound more hypnotic than the song of the Sirens as they lulled the captains’ ships into the rocky shores, a sound even more lovely than wedding church bells tolling. The faint music caused us all to stop in our tracks, mid-sentence, punctuating one of those perfect summer days of childhood.

The ice cream truck!


Barefooted, the neighborhood kids with our fistfuls of coins swarmed the little white truck as it slowed to a stop. I think that was my favorite truck.

And there was another truck: I knew he visited every day, but this truck was a ghost in the early morning hours. The metal basket my mom left on the front porch the night before with empty bottles was filled again: a half-gallon clear glass bottle of milk and a quart-sized one in brown.


My neighbor friend Linda’s dad was a milkman, and when she invited me to go with him on his rounds it sounded like fun, until she said we’d start out at 4:00 in the morning. But the milk truck was my other favorite truck, the one I never saw.

If you grew up in the Los Angeles suburbs, you may have had yet another favorite truck: the Helm’s truck. “Toot-toot!” It stopped in front of our house because my mom always remembered to put out the blue Helms sign in the kitchen window.

It wasn’t quite as exciting as the ice cream truck, but when the tall man in his white uniform opened the back of his truck, the aroma of fresh loaves of bread wafted from the wooden drawers inside. If we were lucky, my mom would buy us each a giant sugar cookie from the Helmsman. Painted a light yellow hue, I think that was the prettiest truck.

Erin O’Brien.

Erin O’Brien.

But I must not neglect the shiniest truck of all. It did not carry ice cream, or milk, or bread. Yet Mom always told me to wave to the driver, and I still do. The firefighters seem to grow younger and handsomer every year!

As a young teacher I accompanied my class to the fire department on a field trip. We admired the fire engine, tried on the heavy uniform and hats, and watched a firefighter slide down the pole. But maybe some children were most transfixed when our guide opened the refrigerator, filled to capacity with cans of soda. There was an audible gasp in unison. But it couldn’t compare to the looks of awe by the female teachers and chaperones, caught on film, when we realized handsome firefighters from the local stations had convened for a meeting on the day of our visit.

And of course, there’s also Brown. I always recognize the sound of this truck, and although it is not a pretty yellow or a shiny red, and does not deliver ice cream or milk or bread, sometimes good things do come in surprising packages. Whenever I see the brown careening omnibus, the UPS truck, traveling down my street, I am a child again, waiting for the ice cream truck. “Please stop in front of my house!”

Another truck pulled away from our house the other day. A big one. In fact, it took a branch of the magnolia tree with it.

The moving truck.

The moving truck.

I’d said goodbye to each room, and thanked my house for sheltering us and holding our family and friends. I shared farewell hugs with our neighbors and our gardener, and said goodbye to our mailman. Then I picked one last rose from our garden.

When the moving van pulled away, containing my mother’s wedding dress, my old wooden toy high chair, and my photo albums, I thought out loud, “There goes my house…”

My husband put his arm around me as we stood in front of our empty house, and the long truck disappeared around the curve. “No,” he said, “Home is where you and I and the cats are.”

Maybe that’s my favorite truck. It holds my memories.


The sun sets at Redondo Beach, California, where Erin has lived much of her life.


  1. Wonderful trucks here. Food trucks. All kinds. Taco trucks. TexMex trucks. Leila’s Luau truck. Korean food truck (Cupbop). Cupcake truck (HeidiCakes). Rockin’ Gourmet Grilled Cheese Truck. Waffle Wagon. Wingin’ It.
    Gotta stop, I’m getting hungry!

    1. Such great memories…
      My mom was reminiscing the other day about the Helm’s truck, and anticipating the delivery of breads.
      Good luck in RI… Your new home!

    2. Do you remember, “Don’t cook tonight; call Chicken Delight”?

      Your town sounds like a regular smorgasbord on wheels!

      1. Sounds familiar! I do remember the neighborhood ice cream truck, and the Fuller Brush Man stopping maybe once or twice a month back in PA. Food Trucks here in Utah started with taco/Mexican food specialty trucks stopping at workplaces to serve lunch, and grew quickly from that concept.

  2. We bonded the first time we met over two cats named Pinky, at Christmas. That was 20 yrs ago. Seems like yesterday. Many good memories of neighborly life. I’ll miss our Kaffe Klatch outings and chats. I still look to the right as I pass the fork in the road to see if you are home….. The house has already changed, but your aura still seems to linger. Miss you neighbor!

  3. Wonderful post.
    I grew up in NYC and I remember the truck that sharpened knives and scissors. Oh, and the truck that delivered coal to the only apartment building on our block. We had an oil furnace, as did most houses, but I remember dashing for a piece of coal. They cleaned up pretty well though. No big pieces of coal. Don’t know why I wanted one.
    The ending brought tears to my eyes. I am really going to miss you.
    Is it possible for you to keep posting about your transition to Rhode Island?

  4. Hi Erin: Thanks for sharing! I remember running for that ice cream truck, too — and debating between getting a Big Stick or Fudge Pop?!

    I also remember seeing Mayflower trucks. We had a Mayflower can in our pantry cabinet that had cinnamon in it. I’d see the big trucks (i.e. moving trucks) and think, “They must sell a lot of cinnamon!”

    Happy Trails — Enjoy Rhode Island!

  5. I would absolutely adore a delivery from the Helsm Truck. Fresh, warm bread, brought to my door…yes, please!

    Don’t count your memories by the box load. They’d never fit.

    I’m looking forward to the truck that will take me to your new house in Rhode Island. Such a great adventure awaits. XOXO

  6. Nice post Erin. I remember we had a milkman and when he came, our dog barked well before he arrived. Apparently he was not treated well by a previous milkman. And in first grade, when I walked to the country school, I saw a horse and wagon (truck predecessor) with blocks of ice. Some people still had “ice boxes”.

  7. Hey Erin, wow what a trip down memory lane! I love all your short stories. Good luck in Rhode Island and keep on writing.

  8. I happened upon your post, and funny how the other day I was remembering the milk left on the back porch, the Bond Bread Man (I lived in PA), and the smell of that bread and the donuts to die for, and the Good Humor Truck on hot summer nights, such a great look back at the old days, that paved the way for the new things on trucks now. I loved that one comment that said don’t count your memories by the box load. They’d never fit. I’m going to keep that one handy. . .

  9. Hi Erin, We used to get Adohr farms delivering our milk too and we never saw them either! Matt would go crazy to have milk delivered and sit on the front porch until someone put it in the fridge…he hates to leave anything out of the fridge for even a few minutes and those bottles were probably out there for a few hours before anyone got them! Best wishes in Rhode Island! How exciting and what a huge change!

  10. Dear Erin, I have read your South Bay stories on this website over the years, with nostalgia and many chuckles and even some “aha” moments when you reminded me of places and things I hadn’t thought about for years. I was sad when I read this post, until I remembered that these stories and essays will be with you wherever you go. I hope that you remember us “west coast folks” from time to time and continue to write about your childhood here. But also, I look forward to hearing about your experiences in a new town. Keep writing, and give us a taste of Rhode Island!

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *