Monthly Archives: February 2009

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.

And two cats in the yard (house, actually)

We have two cats, Joe and Halloween. They were litter mates, born at what we called “the kitty farm” outside Elgin, Illinois. The farm was (and still is) Dean’s brother’s farm and used to be crawling with cats, many of whom were polydactyl. There are no cats left there now, thanks to a busy road and coyotes. Joe and Halloween may be the lone surviving cats from the kitty farm.

Clare was 6 and Andrew was 4 the year we decided to let Clare pick out a cat from the farm. Carol, Dean’s brother’s wife, pointed out a black and white cat that she said was really friendly, which was unusual since these cats didn’t interact with people very often. She was right about the black and white one — it was friendly and liked to be held. There was also a black cat in the same litter that caught my eye. I had a black cat as a teenager and young adult and loved her. I pointed out the black one to Clare and she ran and picked it up. It, too, was friendly — and curious — and polydactyl.

A note about the polydactyl cats on the farm — a cat with one extra toe is unique and cute. A cat with two and three extra toes is kind of freakish. Some of these cats seemed to have trouble walking with all their extra digits. Inbreeding at play.

At some point we decided to let both kids pick out a kitten to take home (the more the merrier?). Andrew chose the black and white one (a male) and Clare chose the black one (a female). We had one cat at home already, a 13 year old calico that only liked me. When we brought the kittens into the house, we tried everything the books said to introduce the kittens to the older cat. I suppose it worked, but she let them know who was the boss cat of our house.

While Velcro (the older cat) was alive — even when she was ailing, she was the alpha cat — there was no mistake. Both kittens stayed away from her, after their first few slaps.


After Velcro died it was not clear who was alpha cat for a while, but it seemed to be Halloween. Then the tables turned, for some reason, and Joe seemed more dominant. Halloween showed her grief of losing her dominance by licking the fur off her belly and legs. That’s the way things were for many years. Joe ate first while Halloween waited for him to finish. Joe got the comfy chairs and slept on my pillow. He’d groom Halloween if he felt like it, but he’d also bite off the whiskers that grew above her eyes. (the vet thought it was one of the kids cutting her whiskers off, but we once saw Joe doing it).

This past month, however, there has been a power shift. Halloween has been the one to sleep on my pillow, hissing at Joe if he got too near. Joe now sleeps at my feet — where Halloween used to sleep. Halloween eats first and has been found sleeping in the places Joe used to sleep. Halloween’s fur has grown in on her belly — I never see her licking and licking and licking herself like she used to.

I think that Halloween has become the alpha cat in the house. About time!

The Dog in the Manger

I never really liked Aesop. His fables left me feeling guilty. But I read them anyway and noted the morals at the end of each tale.

So, I’ve been sitting on a book that I knew, deep down, I was not going to read in time for book group. I bought it for myself before Christmas and Dean gave me a copy for Christmas. I sold a copy to the woman who is hosting the book group. I was going to return it anyway. Who needs two copies of the same book?

Then I found out that Catherine was 157 on the waiting list at the library. 157? This must be a good book. I’m on page twenty-something. I’ve brought it to wrestling matches and it remained unread in my bag. I’ve picked it up at night and it lost to whatever was on TV.

So I called Catherine tonight and offered it to her. She stopped by and now I have none.

Kind of funny — I had two copies — suggested we read it for book group and now don’t have a copy and am not going to have read it.

In a way I am upset and wonder if I’ll run out and buy it tomorrow. In another way, I’m relieved. Just another thing I don’t have to do.