By Heather Aveson | Political lessons come in all flavors. For Congressman Ed Markey, his first taste of civic engagement came right here in Lexington behind the wheel of a neighborhood ice cream truck. Paraphrasing the folk song of the same era, “If he had a bell he’d ring it in the morning, he’d ring it in the evening, all over this town.”
Summer 1965 found Ed Markey, a graduate of Malden Catholic High School, looking forward to entering Boston College in the fall. With tuition bills to pay he found his way to the driver’s seat of a Hood Ice Cream truck. Markey remembers his truck the way others think of their first GTO. “It was a sparkling white truck, The Colonial Maid.” It took a substantial investment for a young man, he was responsible for the $12 a day rent, buying his own ice cream and paying for insurance.
Markey quickly made the investment pay off. As “Eddie the Ice Cream Man” he traveled the streets of town announcing his approach with the iconic tinkle of his truck’s bell. He got to know the kids and parents along his route and built a loyal following.
Then it happened. Just as the British tried to silence the colonists in 1775, a long forgotten town statute threatened to silence Markey’s bell. “I’d been doing business street by street. One day the Lexington Police stopped me and escorted me and my truck to the station.” Eddie the Ice Cream Man was in violation of a 1798 town ordinance which Markey can still recall word for word. “The sale of any victuals by any hawker or vendor by means of ringing a bell within the confines of Lexington is prohibited.”
An ice cream truck without its bell? Why, you may as well take the apple out of apple pie. “It would be very difficult to sell ice cream without my bell,” says Markey. Silenced, he hit the streets one more time. Like Paul Revere he spread the warning to the parents and children along his route “the ice cream truck isn’t coming! the ice cream truck isn’t coming.”
“Parents and children were upset. Lincoln Cole was the Chairman of The Board of Selectmen at that time, and at their next meeting a couple of dozen kids and parents showed up and filled the back of the room.”
With such a ringing endorsement from the citizenry, the selectmen agreed to change the law and created an exception. Eddie the Ice Cream man and his Colonial Maid were back in business ringing the bell freely and delivering frozen treats to the citizens of Lexington.
Ed Markey spent four summers on the Colonial Maid and his earnings paid his way through Boston College. With a daughter entering her senior year at BC this fall, I wondered aloud if an ice cream truck route might be the answer to this year’s tuition question. Congressman Markey dashed my dreams acknowledging it would be just about impossible to make that happen today.
Although he didn’t see it then, those days on the truck and in a steamy summer selectmen’s meeting room, would set a tone for his life “connecting with his constituency and fighting for their rights. Beginning with something as simple as ice cream, Ed Markey has always been a champion of the people. And, some of those who fought the first good fight with him still reach out to him. “When I march in the Patriot’s Day Parade I have former ice cream customers, now adults with their own kids, who run out into the street and say, “Eddie the Ice Cream Man do you remember me? And you know, a lot of times I do”
When he talks about those days, you can almost hear Congressman Markey return to Eddie the Ice Cream Man. You can feel the warm summer days, hear the bell ringing, and see the idealistic young statesman when he responds to a question about his favorite ice cream treat from the old days. “That’s tough because you really become a connoisseur of ice cream. It depends on the time of day. In the middle of a 95-degree day there’s nothing more refreshing than a orange juice stick. But you can’t really beat a Strawberry Shortcake or Chocolate Eclair either.”
The ice cream truck may be long gone, but the lessons learned by an idealistic young entrepreneur paved the way for a long and distinguished career in the United States Congress. And, how appropriate is it that included in the many communities Congressman Ed Markey represents, is the Town of Lexington.