It was the root beer, on tap, that had me as wide-eyed and eager as an eight year old girl at a backyard graduation party recently. With a grin on his face and a foamy cup in his hand, my Tom endeared himself anew as he handed me the best fresh drawn root beer I’ve had in decades.
I closed my eyes, smelled the distinct essence of licorice, and slowly drank in my childhood.
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago mid-century, we didn’t have extra money for many vacations. Dinah Shore’s blowing of a kiss after singing “see the USA in your Chevrolet” was usually our only entrée to cross-country family adventures.
Our own backyard was our summertime retreat, especially on weekends when relatives and friends would come by for conversation and laughter, circling the driveway in dance as the record player sat in the open window of the kitchen, blaring the songs of the Old Country . . .
. . . and food. Always food. Pastries and cookies, coffeecakes and bowls laden with fruit of the season. Sometimes, there would be bricks of ice cream from Walgreens; squares of New York Cherry or Neapolitan, lined up like boats on a sea of plates, the spoons for oars.
The best treat of all would come home in gallon jugs from a screened in porch attached to a service garage on Maywood’s 5th Avenue. Strutzels root beer stand made the most heavenly root beer there ever was. My anticipation would begin when Ma pulled out the huge glass containers from under the kitchen sink. More often than not, we children would climb into our own Chevy, Penny and Dottie and Teddy and sometimes Louie, and ride along with Daddy to that orange screened in porch of root beer renown.
There was always a line at Strutzels; high school kids gathering on date night, a baseball team after the game, folks from the neighborhood. One could buy a glass of foamy root beer for five cents. There was also a schooner for just a bit more. A few tables were set up inside and out, but it was mostly lingering on the sidewalk along the street. Our jugs would be filled and I’d watch the foam rise to the top, licking my lips, wishing for hurry.
Off we would go, the glass jars with their handles safely positioned in PenDot’s interior; homeward bound as dusk thought of settling in.
Out came the ice cream scoop, the napkins, the spoons, the straws and the glasses. Slowly the scoop, dipped in water first, would carve out a mound of ice cream and be placed in a glass. Slowly the root beer would flow and then fizz and then foam as the ice cream floated about in the best volcanic eruption of summer. Layers of ice cream and foam and root beer. Layers of summertime all in a glass.
Brown cow, black cow, root beer float; whatever you call it, I call it heaven on a hot summer’s eve.
Image of Elsie, the Borden mascot, from texasarchive.org.