Monday, December 7, 2009
Making Food Memories
In case anyone is keeping track, we made it back. It turned out to be a 3500 mile trip, through thirteen states, but when we landed back in our driveway on Monday night everyone was still fever free, scar free and for the most part still talking to each other. Within the hour we had the rental van cleared out and returned to its rightful owners and we were back to real life. I’m counting on the memories to linger for many weeks , months, and hopefully years to come.
Of course we had a great time at the family reunion part in Missouri. It was the perfect kind of reunion for me…just my four siblings, their spouses and kids, and my dad/stepmom. No elderly relatives who you’ve never met and will never see again. No crazy long lost uncles who got out of prison just in time for the festivities. Not even a lot of planning. We all just drove from our far away states and met up in our hometown. My dad had reserved a block of rooms in a great hotel that had wonderful lounges and meeting areas. No muss, no fuss. Just check in and sit back in a lounge chair.
Our kids spent three days mixing and mingling with cousins they see one at a time in person and mostly know through refrigerator pictures. They played board games, built with Legos and Lincoln Logs, and swam until their fingers puckered. Through it all they made their own, individual memories of these people we call family. The smiling faces on our fridge now have personalities attached to them.
The reunion was a blast, and didn’t last nearly long enough. But there was no denying the reality of the six days we spent in the car so we could be a part of the party. Three long days out, three longer days back, as we swung through North Carolina to check out colleges. You would think we would have been ready to kill each other by the time we pulled into our driveway. But a few simple things kept negative feelings at bay and bonded us together in a surprising way. One of those things, in a word, was food.
Because our kids have lived in several different states, from the west to the east, they have formed deep loyalties to certain restaurants and fast food places. It became a fun game to hunt them out along the way and take in as many as we could before the road led back to New York. There were several spots that we are haunted by since we see their commercials on TV but can find no local branches. Sonic and CiCis pizza were on the top of that list. There is a CiCis in my hometown and one afternoon we had lunch there, trying a slice of every kind of pizza at least once. Then we caught up with Sonic somewhere in the Smoky Mountains on the way home. Our waiter was even wearing roller skates. It was too perfect.
Some places were special to my kids because they were places we visited often when we used to live in Missouri. Central Dairy and Mugs Up were on that list. As one of the major milk producers for mid Missouri, the Central Dairy company is mostly about supplying the region with milk and milk products. But years ago they also opened an old fashioned store front and began serving huge scoops of the freshest ice cream you can imagine, for prices you wouldn’t believe. There was no doubt we had to visit that special place with the red and white striped awning. And in the next town over you can find an old fashioned root beer stand. The kind where you pull up under the metal overhang and when the waitress brings out your root beer in a frosty mug, she clips the tray to your rolled down car window. Unfortunately our visit to Mugs Up was nixed. My brother informed me that it’s a seasonal place. I guess some people had trouble enjoying a cold mug of root beer with their car window rolled down, in the middle of winter. Maybe next time…
Two more important spots we hit were Fazolis (fast food Italian with melt in your mouth breadsticks that are delivered to your table for as long as you can continue to eat them) and White Castle. We found Fazolis in Indianapolis, then appropriately ate at the White Castle that sits in the shadow of the St. Louis Arch. We ordered the case of mini burgers and quickly discovered they were not as ‘mini’ as we’d remembered and our stomachs were not as strong as we had assumed. Even with extra burgers that were thrown away, we had some laughs, took some fun pictures and made a white castle of our own with empty boxes and cups before we hit the road again.
There is no need to point out the stops at every Krispy Kreme we saw, whether the ‘hot donuts now’ light was on or not. Some things are just assumed. Don’t worry, we did plenty of running around, swimming, caving, and exploring.
It wasn’t all about food.
But a family’s gotta eat. And what better way than seeking out places that hold old memories and help create new ones?