August 7, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III

One of the givens in growing up in the semi-rural county of Rockland, New York, in my 1950s years was that we were surrounded by diversity. It had always been that way, since the Dutch days and before that those of the various, mostly intinerant Native-American tribes.
A major 1600s landowners was a free black man. There were early settlements of Irish, Jewish Orthodox and Latino. Since the county is so close to the port of New York, a mix of peoples was inevitable.
So, as a young fellow, it never seemed strange that an old man with a yarmulke sitting in Tiny’s Diner in Spring Valley would ask for a “glass tea,” a Lower East Side expression.
Nor would my brother and I, then living in nearby Tallman, even question why the limping fellow who ran the Sunoco station on Route 59 would be called “Mr. One-a-Minoot,” pronounced that way in his Italian dialect.
This nice man sold 10-cent Dixie Cup ice cream, the ones with Hollywood movie star pictures on the inside covers. They were half-vanilla, half-chocolate, or strawberry/vanilla, and you devoured the treat with a spoon that you licked down to the bare wood.
“Mr. One-a-Minoot” was always busy, handling the gas pumps, working in the small garage and selling ice cream to first- and second-graders like my brother and me. But he was never rushed, never grouchy. He didn’t talk to us, but he was kind, simply saying, “one-a-minoot,” so that he could get us the Dixie Cups.
The given that was diversity in my place and time extended to ethnicity. I do not recall anyone in school saying he or she was “Italian,” or “Irish” or “Puerto Rican” or whatever. We were all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, of course, in joint celebration, but since there was so much diversity, since it was common from birth, we just did not single out people as this or that. Guess it was just a simpler time.

“Mr. One-a-Minoot” remains a favorite character from my childhood, not because he was of Italian descent but because he was a nice man who sold us a Dixie Cup treat, asking us to wait a second so he could get the ice cream.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com