I have an admission to make: I’m a bottled root beer snob. Some may know all about fine wines, whiskey, or spirits, but not this author. Nope, instead I can go on at length on the flavor differences between St. Arnold’s and Sioux City, Texas Root Beer and Boylans, and on and on…
So why do I bring this up? Well, recently, I rediscovered a brand of root beer that is pure nostalgia. Root beer in general is the fast lane for remembering my childhood, it’s true, but this one is linked to a particularly happy memory, and I thought I’d share it with you. It’s a rarity for me to get personal on this blog, but today I’ll make an exception.
Story time! Let’s the set the Way-Back Machine, Mr. Peabody, to (you guessed it) the ‘80s!
Before my father went into business for himself, he worked at a place called “Hudico,” which was owned and operated by a stern, semi-legendary man named Jim Hudson. It was there that my father learned the basics of how to be a machinist. The building was little more than a hole in the wall in a rural town in Texas. During the summers it was explosively hot inside there. I’m not sure if Jim didn’t believe in air conditioning, or just didn’t want to pay for such a creature comfort. Maybe a bit of both.
I remember very clearly that my mother would take me up to Hudico to see my father on his breaks, as we lived close by. During those moments when my father, just 25-years-old at the time, was not furiously running a lathe, a press, or a mill, we would sit together in the corner near the old beat-up Coke machine (one of the few amenities Jim did allow). The metal monstrosity must’ve come from the ‘30s or earlier. It was the kind where you put your money in and pulled the bottle out lengthwise. Jim never stocked it with any order, so you put your money in and pulled out whatever was next.
On more than one occasion, as I sat with my father, the next mystery bottle in queue was a Triple XXX Root Beer. In those quiet moments we would split a drink, and in the Texas heat the ice-cold drink was crisp and vibrant. Often, when we reached the bottom third of the bottle, he would hand it off to me and say those words I had been waiting for: “You can have the rest of it.”
There are times he still says this to me, even as a grown man. It’s one of those catch-phrases that develops between people over time, the kind that instantly takes you back to the moment when it was first coined.
Doing the math, I would have been about four at the time, or just barely five, during those summer breaks with Dad. I sensed even back then that his labors in Jim’s machine shop were to help provide for the family. When I say that his work was paid for in his blood, sweat, and tears, I’m not being figurative, as anyone who’s actually worked in a machine shop before can tell you. But even in the midst of all of that, the harsh conditions, the back-breaking labor, the long hours, he would still take the time to sit down with me for a few minutes, and share a drink.
Time marched on. My father broke away from Hudico and started his own machine shop. After that, Triple XXX root beer fell off the map. I never saw it in stores, or anywhere outside of that one machine, but my memories of it still remained.
Fast forward to the present day.
Recently, I found a specialty candy store that carries all manner of obscure, imported, and even bizarre specialty colas. They have a whole refrigerator dedicated to nothing but bottled root beers of all kinds. On a whim, I scanned the shelves, looking for it.
And there it was, the old-fashioned red and yellow logo, staring me right in the face. I was perhaps more giddy at the find than a grown man probably should be. Understand, though, that this was the holy grail of root beers for me, the express train to one of my happier childhood memories.
When I cracked one open, the taste was as distinctive and delicious as I remembered. It wasn’t a DeLorean or a Tardis, but it was certainly the equivalent of a liquid time machine. I was there once again at Hudico, amongst the grime, the grease, and the open sense of optimism for the future.
So, for Christmas this year, I’ll be giving my father a few of these bad boys. (And if you’re reading this, Dad, just try to act surprised, okay?) More than that, I’ll share them with my sons. Perhaps when they’re adults, they can look back on those memories with the same fondness that I have for the ones I carry.
And on those days when we share one, it will do my heart good to hand it to them and finally say, “You can have the rest of it.”