Some things live in the brain’s file drawer forever and a day. In a time when I lose words and enjoy a failed recall more often than I like to admit, the file drawer in the folds of my gray matter pops open with the snick of a rusty lock and spills data on the floor of my mind. So. Hard root beer.
I purchased some hard root beer last week and cracked a bottle today. Ohhh yeah. Really hard. Yeasty. 5.5 per cent alcohol per 12 fluid ounces. Yes! The trigger! Without expecting it, here comes Mrs. Buckwalter.
The file drawer is stuffed with my childhood. Mrs. Buckwalter lives in there. Her home was right across the street from mine. I was allowed to cross the street as long as I stayed within my block. I loved being with that woman. When my brother wanted time with his boy friends I sought out the warm friendliness of my neighbor.
Like Mrs. Wrigley’s taffy pulls, Mrs. Buckwalter had a specialty. She made root beer. And she taught me while I made it with her. Making the brew was easy, and so was the bottling. But it needed to age, so we’d haul the full, corked bottles to her attic, where in the summer it was boiling hot. By late August, we could hear them blowing their corks as the yeast grew in the sugar, the pressure releasing their seals. I figure we lost at least a quarter of our production, but that still left many, many bottles. I thought all root beer tasted like our brew, so years later, IBC, Dad’s Old Fashioned and other supermarket selections were a surprise, their sugary sweetness good, but not my idea of real root beer.
I’m sitting here now with an icy brown bottle of Damn Good Root Beer, rock hard and very yeasty. I’m recalling Buckwalter Brew and the warm August night air, crickets singing in the field behind my home. rocking chairs, six of them in a row, all squeaked in time together as kids off the street congregated on the porch. Swilling root beer in brown bottles, we planned the next day’s pleasures in the alfalfa field. Five boys put up with me, the only girl. I merely tagged along wherever they chose to go. They were relieved that I didn’t bring my doll with me. They had no idea I didn’t have a doll. Or want one.
Time with my bro and his friends was my alternate pleasure after roller skating. Running the fields with them beat playing pretend school with my pretend students. It couldn’t compare. Why they put up with me I will never know. But I’ll always be grateful. Nothing to prove. No competition. Just good company.
I had a creative mind. All my playmates without skin were the students in my pretend school. They all had names, different levels of intelligence, favorite subjects, and personalities. They never came along when I was out with the boys. And they longed for a little Buckwalter Brew.
What triggers your favorite memories? I’m drawn to onions. Mama could hardly make a meal without them. But yeasty root beer conjures Mrs. Buckwalter. Every time.