Root Beer

Of the thousands of things I’ve tasted over my life, root beer holds the distinction of producing the strongest memories for me. Most, if not all of the memories are from the first six or so years of my life.

When I was very small we spent a lot of time at my Aunt Pat and Uncle Don’s tiny house on Stewart Avenue on the east side of Elgin. When we were there, I was allowed to have a glass of root beer. The root beer was always served to me in an aluminum tumbler. Most of the families I knew had a set like this — each glass was a different color aluminum and the rim flared out a little — I can still remember the feeling on my bottom lip. I think the aluminum must have made the root beer taste slightly different.

My Aunt and Uncle smoked. A lot. Their walls, ceilings, furniture and appliances were always covered in a not-so-thin film of tobacco. I imagine that also made the root beer taste different.

Another of my root beer memories is of going to the A&W or the Dog-n-Suds. These were drive-in restaurants where you’d drive up to a space and a waitress would come to your car. She’d take your order (all I ever remember ordering was root beer) and bring it back on a tray that attached to the side of your car by hanging on the partially rolled up window. My mom and dad always got big mugs of root beer and I always got a small one. We’d drink our root beers, maybe talk a little, then Dad would call the waitress over and she’d take the tray away. The root beer at the drive-ins tasted fresh and crisp and smooth and cold. The mugs had thick rims and I remember the feeling of those too.

I don’t remember when I stopped liking root beer — but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with the filth of my Aunt’s house. After Uncle Don died she quit taking care of her house and possibly smoked more — at least smoked more in the house since she didn’t go out much. I must have associated root beer with Aunt Pat’s house and lost my taste for it. The thought of drinking it could bring on a gag reflex.

In the 7th grade my science teacher, Mr. Schwarzkopf,  had the class make our own root beer. I don’t know if the finished product tasted like real root beer because I couldn’t bring myself to try it.

In the past few years my kids have been ordering root beers at restaurants and I’d taste theirs to see if I still hated it. It turned out I didn’t hate the taste at all — in fact I liked it and even liked the memories it brought.

This afternoon I poured myself a glass of root beer — this time in a glass tumbler — and enjoyed it so much I had another and thought about the house on Stewart Avenue and the drive-in restaurants with the busy waitresses. And even Mr. Schwarzkopf — but only in passing since I didn’t actually drink the root beer we made in class.

10 thoughts on “Root Beer

  1. Eww! (That’s in response to Bridgett’s comment.)

    I do, however, have fond memories of A&W and eating onion rings in the car.


  2. Bridget, thanks for reminding me of Root Beer popsicles. I do remember eating those, but I don’t remember liking them. I also remember barrel candy — huge chunks of root beer flavored candy shaped like barrels.

    Helen — they had A&W restaurants in Canada?


  3. Oh yes, and still have them… (but I don’t believe they offer car service anymore, which really was a good part of the attraction of going there).


  4. Dona,

    What a nice piece of writing. I’m glad you came back to root beer. When I’m in Chicago I like to visit the corner of Milwaukee and Devon (Superdawg)for my root beer (and Chi-dog fix). That place circles me back to my youth.

    Thanks for checking in last month. No, I haven’t been blogging and feel guilty that I let my song project stall out. But I’ve been focused on writing off-line and just finished my first novel. So see I’m not a total slacker.

    Also what about root beer barrel candies? I think Brachs makes them.

    Otter’s last blog post..Chicago (184/365)


  5. There was an A&W in Middlebury when I first moved up here. I visited it with my friends when I was visiting Vermont to check out the state. Car service. Great root beer, great fries…


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