Ice, Ice, Mama

September 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

I am celebrating my year of turning 60 by telling the summer heat to go to Hell. The train rides home on 95+ degree days are a distant memory from years past. This year, it’s ”riding home alive at 105, but crossing River Styx at 106.” Thank God, we haven’t hit 106 this year. I have no desire to further bait fate. A man’s got to know his limits, as Dirty Harry would say.

But then, on my trek home, I have the luxury of nearly a quart of ice water to drink and splash anywhere I want, mostly on my head and down my back. About 30 minutes before I leave for the day, I walk down the hall to the break room, open either of two freezer doors, plop half-a-dozen ice cubes into my thermos bottle, top it off with ice water, and I’m ready to roll. Eezy-peezy. Not to mention the fact that I’ve got a five-gallon jug of ice-cold Sparklets water waiting for me to tap once I get home.

Ice and ice water: such cheap and simple luxuries that so many of us take for granted. But ‘twas not always so, not so terribly long ago. So, jump in the “Way Back” machine with me and let’s go back 125 years in Austin history, for the following story, the latter half of which nearly always reduces me to tears when I read it and then provokes rage against those “first roomers” among us who, judging from by their words and actions, would gladly bring back the “good old days” of this story — in the name of personal rights and freedom – at the expense of the “second roomers.”

August 9, 1888

Two Rooms.

In Oriental Luxury and Grim Suffering Poverty.

The First Room.

A Statesman reporter last night visited the “den.” He seated himself in a luxurious chair, and, propping his feet in a window, from which the heavy, costly draperies had been drawn, he enjoyed the delightful south breeze while he silently watched the merry little stars as they winked and blinked forth above the sleeping city, for the hour was late.

The elegant apartment was delightfully cool and pleasant, and, in the sheen of a brilliant lamp, the only other occupant besides the reporter was taking his ease on a costly robe spread over an elegant lounge. He was the proprietor, and the rich perfume of his cigar, wine of opium and otto of roses soaked, filled the room. Everything surrounding him betokened oriental luxuriousness. A heavy carpet covered the floor, myriads of pictures artistically arranged bedecked the walls, massive curtains with heavy trappings ornamented and concealed the windows when not thrown back, beautiful wine sets of costly cut glass were suspiciously close to a curiously carved side board, where in was stored the finest liquors in all the city. A great salver contained crushed ice, and the sprigs of mint suggested fragrant julips. All was elegant, cozy, satisfied and contented. Here life was all joy and contentment.

The Second Room.

‘Twas an hour after leaving the first room. The reporter was seated in a small hot, dimly lighted room by the bedside of a little child suffering and dying with malarial fever. No carpet covered the floor, no pictures ornamented the walls and no comforts were visible. There were no draperies, no anything but grim poverty, suffering and death.

What a contrast, mused the reporter as he thought of the elegant surroundings he had just left. The sick child, restless, moved uneasily on her scantily furnished and hard bed and feebly asked for her mother.

“The doctor says she cannot live until morning,” said the grief stricken mother. The reporter could see that as he gazed on the pinched face of the little sufferer.

“Mama, I’m so thirsty, some ice please,” feebly lisped the sick child.

 “Oh, my darling, we have none,” and the mother’s frame quivered with grief, and tears streamed from her eyes. “We are too poor to buy ice,” she explained to the reporter.

 “A neighbor sent us a small piece this morning and ever since my baby girl has craved it,” and the poor mother gave way to violent grief.

The reporter thought of the ice and cooling beverages he had seen a short time before. The child moved again and dissolution was very near. The mother, worn out and weary with watching, bent low over her dying child. Its poor little arms clasped her neck.

 “Don’t cry, Mamma. It’s no matter, for it’s getting cooler. I see the shady groves and hear the cooling waters, and oh! Mamma, I see such a good man and so many beautiful children. They call and I must go,” and the child passed away for ever.

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