It Tastes Like Puke to Me
Some of my more sour childhood memories seem to have sweetened with time. Among those were the very earliest I have of being sick. Like all large families, we learned to share and share alike.
I think we took this “large family culture” to the extreme when we got the stomach flu. We seemed to pass it around like the mashed potatoes and gravy at Sunday dinner.
Mom would set up sick bay in the girl’s bedroom, downstairs where it was convenient to her “makeshift nurse’s station” and the one bathroom in the house. My clear memories of those bouts with stomach flu included the associated stomach cramps and diarrhea, which were treated with Paragoric. This stuff was among the nastiest stuff my 6 year old taste buds had ever experienced.
Our family doctor had also prescribed that Mom give us Pepsi to sip. This was intended to help settle our stomachs. I am sure I had had a few soda pops at other times as well. But never a cola like Coke or Pepsi. My early youth soda pop memory had Shasta pop like orange or grape flavor as the choices. Our very conservative family values didn’t have room for the caffeinated pops that we were told could be addictive. So literally the only time I tasted one of those colas was when my Mom was following the doctor’s orders to give us some for our sick stomachs.
Of course, in the height of stomach flu, after sipping on the Pepsi for awhile, I’d get that burning deep down in my stomach, followed by the watery mouth. As soon as I realized what was happening, the heave spasms would start and it would all come up. I think that the Pepsi tasted about the same coming back up as it did going down. That is really the only time in my life that I intentionally drank colas. So even now I associate the taste of them with having stomach flu and puking my guts out.
In my ‘formative years’ of around 8, I discovered my life long love of a soda pop flavor. In 1967 I attended the Haroldsen Family reunion. This was a Saturday afternoon gathering for all of Christian and Anna Haroldsen’s posterity. Although they had both been gone for decades, I believe that all nine of their children were present. My Grandpa, George Haroldsen, was the oldest of the nine children. Of course I saw more aunts, uncles, and cousins than I could shake a stick at. Even with games for the children, visits for the adults and a very nice program including my dad’s cousin, LJ Cook playing a mean accordion (I couldn’t understand why a Cook was at a Haroldsen reunion), the long buffet tables of food were the highlight of our get-together.
The absolute best part of that reunion for me was the discovery of the brew happening on the end of the long buffet table. I watched as the sugar was splattered with some sort of dark potion. The next thing that got my attention was all of the steam or smoke or whatever it was that was pouring out of that barrel. I stepped in close and put my hand out to try to touch the mysterious cloud as it slipped over the edge and drifted toward the ground as it disappeared. I could hear the full rumble of the brew boiling inside the barrel. When I could finally get a cup of the brew, I fell in love with the best tasting pop ever. That day the brew master kept it coming. And I kept coming back for more. From that time on, I kept my eye open for anything that said Root Beer on the label.
This was also the time that I had joined the Cub Scouts. We were out at the local lake for one of our summer time pack meetings when they passed around the bottles of soda pop to go along with the hotdogs. My den leader asked me, “What kind do you want?” “Do you have Root Beer?” I was handed the chilled bottle with the name “Frostie Root Beer” in bright red and white letters. This was years before Wendy’s Restaurants came along and named their chocolate ice cream treat “a Frosty”. I think this was the first time I got to drink a whole bottle of pop by myself. (Of course I’m not counting that family reunion when I drank 10 gallons of the dry-ice root beer, one paper cup at a time.)
My next favorite Root Beer experience was the occasional stops our family made at the A&W stand. The contrast of sitting in the over squished rambler station wagon on a hot summer day, watching the car hop fasten the tray to our half open window, and then Mom or Dad handing back the frosted mug, filled to the brim of my favorite treat was dramatic to my senses. It was so cold that the edges of the inch thick mug would stick to my lips as I took my first swig.
Those happy memories hooked me on my favorite drink more than the cola’s caffeine would have. It is no wonder to me that all through my teenaged soda pop guzzling days, I chose whatever kind of root beer was offered over any other kind of soda pop. My Grandpa Tillack made a mean bottled Root Beer using yeast. And I learned how to do that dry-ice brew I first discovered at the 1967 Haroldsen reunion. I’ve never even tasted some of the other varieties of soda pop offered. I don’t know what Dr. Pepper or Mountain Dew or any of that new stuff they call soda pop today even tastes like.
Occasionally, when ordering a Root Beer with my meal, they mistakenly serve me a Coke or Pepsi. I’ll take a sip and immediately think of my childhood days with stomach flu. Yup, it tastes like puke to me. So if they don’t have a Root Beer to offer, I’ll just settle for a cold glass of water like my Beautiful Wife does.