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Asheville ice cream man says the sweetest things bring back bittersweet memories

Joe Crain's full-time job in hotel maintenance pays the bills, but his seasonal gig feeds a need for a joy. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

An Asheville ice cream man says spring is a breath of fresh air considering what he's been through in recent years.

Joe Crain's full-time job in hotel maintenance pays the bills, but his seasonal gig feeds a need for a joy.

"Making everybody happy," he told News 13. "Making the ice cream man happy, too!"

Joe can't eat much of what he sells because he has diabetes.

"Sometimes it bothers you because I'd like to have ice cream just like everyone else does," he said.

Peering out of his truck is a way of living vicariously through his customers.

This time of year, there are sure-fire signs of a game changer.

"I think everyone's ready for spring," said Casey Anderson at Carrier Park recently. "Just incredible weather. It's a beautiful day."

It's the long-awaited change of pace him and his girls have been waiting for.

"We can actually come out and not freeze to death and see them play," Anderson said, ready to enjoy a softball tournament.

The player we didn't count on never picked up a bat. Even so, the crowd turns to Crain for a home run.

"Oh hey!" one woman said, dancing a jig to the familiar ice cream truck music.

"Even the littlest one knows what the ice cream truck sounds like," Anderson said.

"I think of ice cream!" his little girl Emmie said.

"You folks have a good one. Enjoy your ball game!" Crain said.

"C'mon folks if you want some ice cream!" he beckons to others.

Even the sweetest things, inspire bittersweet emotions.

"Even if you're sick and stuff, you can still get out here and see how other people are and enjoy other people in their life," Joe said.

Eight years ago, Joe faced a chilling reality when he lost his wife.

"I was diagnosed six weeks afterwards, having diabetes. I had a heart attack after she died," he said.

It seemed like everything snowballed.

"I got a stint in my heart, high blood pressure and sugar diabetes, but I'm still here," Crain said proudly. "God's got me here for a reason, and the kids make me happy."

His voice trembled as he became emotional just talking about why he works. Sometimes a diversion can be a real treat. After his wife died, Joe found solace selling something that makes people smile.

"I know she's in a better place, but this is my therapy," he said.

After what customers have given him, an occasional freebie is the least he can do.

"There you go young lady!" he said to a woman struggling to find cash. "That'll keep you good and cold. You have a good day, OK!"

You can hear the change of seasons a mile away.

"Did it hit the spot?" Casey asked Emmie.

A softball question if there ever was one.

"I love it!" she replied. "Mmm, delicious."

The setting explains why Joe has extra spring in his step.

"Make everybody happy," he stressed. "The kids are the most important thing because they're the ones who put a smile on your face."

That sums up the therapeutic value of ice cream.

"As long as it stays warm weather like this, we're good," Joe said.

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