Grandpa was born in June. Maybe that’s why my memories of him seem to take place in summer. We probably often visited him at his birthday, or around Father’s Day. Grandpa was a writer and a storyteller. His loud, boisterous jokes and stories populated every family gathering.
Grandma and Grandpa’s little house on Poplar St. in West Bend, Wisconsin, didn’t have air conditioning. It would get hot, and my brother and I would retreat to the cool basement to play with the metal barn and plastic animals they kept in the closet.
“Kids! Time for a Black Cow!” he’d yell. We’d scramble up the stairs because we knew what that meant: A Black Cow was Grandpa’s signature drink: Root Beer from the bottle poured over vanilla ice cream.
I’d had Root Beer Floats before, and I suspect that Grandpa’s Black Cows had the exact same ingredients, but his Black Cows always tasted better. The root beer seemed darker and richer, the vanilla ice cream seemed creamier.
The thing is, Grandpa’s Black Cows were tiny. What I wanted was a huge frosted mug overflowing with frothy foam; what I got was a tiny juice glass. Just a dollop of ice cream went in each glass and Grandpa would dole out the root beer so as not to spill a drop. And there were no seconds.
They were too small. At least, to my kid brain, they were much, much too small. But I wasn’t going to argue with Grandpa. He would hand the thimble-sized Black Cow to each of us, and then say, “Now, don’t drink it all at once, or you’ll get a tummy ache.”
Was he being ironic? I could never tell.
I’m pretty sure the first time I had Grandpa’s tiny Black Cow, I drank it all in one gulp. (And no, I didn’t get a tummy ache.) But as I got older and wiser, I learned to sip it slowly. You know, put the tiny glass down between sips. Watch the cold drops of condensation run down the side of the tiny glass. Make it last.
I don’t know why Grandpa’s Black Cows were so small. I never asked him. Was it because he lived through the Depression? Was it because he was thin as a bean pole and never ate big portions of anything?
Grandpa’s been gone for quite a few years, but each year on his birthday, my siblings and I get an email from my Mom: “Today is Grandpa’s birthday. Did you celebrate with a Black Cow?”
This year on the 108th anniversary of his birth, I got the smallest glass out of my cabinet. I put just a dollop of ice cream, and poured the root beer carefully, listening to the wonderful fizzing sound as it hit the ice cream in the glass. I sat down and drank it. Slowly.
I think I get it now. Savor the sweet things, no matter how tiny. Drink them in without distractions. Consuming too much sweetness all at once causes a proverbial tummy ache.
Cheers to you, Grandpa.