When I was a child living on South Ferry in Tacoma during the 1950s we played war with real military gear. I had a metal canteen that fit into a felt-lined container which clipped onto a belt. I remember the canteen because one summer day I was wearing it and drank warm Kool-Aid root beer. Of course no soldier would have Kool-Aid or even root beer in a canteen, but I was just a kid. What did I know . . . well, I knew it didn’t taste good. But then neither did root beer flavored Fizzies.
My parents moved from southwest Missouri to Tacoma after the war. A treat would have been a root beer float. It’s possible we had a bottle from our neighbors, who brewed their own, but I don’t really recall drinking their root beer. My best friends at the time were David and Kathleen Biddison. He was four years older than I me, and she was two years older. Together we roamed the wetlands, thickets and copses of the hillsides facing Nalley Valley and Center Street below. I remember them talking about root beer blowing the caps off their bottles. I can’t remember them drinking, however. I’m guessing the root beer was for their father, Chet who was an old cowboy.
In the fifties there were fruit trees and bushes in yards and empty lots all over the place, which must have been like colonial America. Native Americans had their own fermented drinks from both corn and berries. They probably used the berries of the sassafras bush to make a drink with a little kick. The American colonists used the root of the sassafras bush or the bark of the sassafras tree to make a mild beer . . . root beer. This would have been called a small beer, which had nothing to do with its size, but rather its alcohol content.
We moved from South Ferry to Lakewood and then a year later to Ponders Corner. As a young teenager I was a “relief” paperboy. I delivered to homes between Highway 99 and I-5 as well as the motels between Ponders and Bridgeport Way. Sometimes I would ride into McChord Field for a nickle coke, but usually I would end my delivery at the Madigan Motel, which had an open chest of ice and cold water filled with bottles of soda pop. Although I liked Hires and Dad’s root beer, I was partial to Twang. It had a image of a young kid with a bow and arrow. I didn’t know it of course, but Twang was bottled in Tacoma from 1947 to 1958 by Cammarano Brothers. Later as a Rotarian I knew Bob Cammarano.
As a senior at Clover Park High School and the summer after graduation, my buddies and I would play tackle football on the practice field at Clover Park. We wore no protective gear of course. I remember once we actually played on Thompson Field (got in trouble of course). I was tackled by a friend and came down hard and broke his collar bone. I loved football. There was a short burst of activity and then you stopped and planned the next play. I like games where I can rest. After football we would all drive to the A&W on Bridgeport. Most of us would order a quart and maybe share some fries as we talked and laughed about the game. Isn’t that what sports are for?
Last week, while shopping at the Dollar Tree, I found a small box of A&W singles (pouches of powder). It’s non-carbonated, but for a buck I had six packages to flavor six large glasses or bottles of water. It was better than the 1950s Kool-Aid and Root Beer Fizzies. I bought the last box. I would buy these again for a buck. For three or four dollars I probably wouldn’t. They were tasty, but I can get other flavored drinks for a dollar and don’t have to mix them myself. I did like them, however . . . especially mixed with Diet Pepsi or Diet Coke.
Tonight I’ll be having dinner with friends. Peg and I will bring food to share. The carrier we’ll use is an old wooden Dad’s Root Beer box. My mom’s twin sister. Virgina gave it to us at a family dinner at her place before Peg and I were even thinking of getting married. Another aunt was visiting from the old country (Missouri) and she saw us teasing each other and remarked to my mom, “He’s gonna marry that girl.” The box came home. The case is a cherished possession. When anyone new sees it, they ask about it. We turn down all offers. It’s a piece of history and a connection to family, my mom, my aunt and my cousins. It’s a treasure. It reminds me of sitting and drinking root beer floats with my mom, dad, sisters and Peg under a dark green fiberglass awning on a warm summer evening. It reminds me of being a child. It reminds me of love . . . but mostly it reminds me that I need to buy some more root beer.