When I was a kid, whenever I got a quarter I’d ride my bike the mile to the little town grocery store and I’d buy a bottle of the best – Frostie root beer, first produced in 1939, the signature beverage of the company that owned the Dog ‘n Suds hot dog and rootbeer drive-in restaurants. I’d buy a bottle from the fridge at Alpine Market, and I’d head across the street to the City Park to drink it at the top of the swingset – me and my pals would climb the bars of the swingset and sit up there with our root beers. And when we were finished, we’d cross the street again and trade our empties for a dime, enough to buy ten Swedish fish, or ten now and laters. And then we’d head home. Frostie Root Beer was the sweetest thing in my young life. I thought about it when I wasn’t drinking it. I thought about it during school, I thought about it while I did my chores. And I thought about it during swimming lessons. My mom would drive my brother and me down to the pool at the junior high school on Saturdays, and we’d learn to float, and crawl, and backstroke across the width of the pool, and when each lesson was over, we’d hang around and splash awhile – sometimes jump off the lower diving board. That pool had a high dive too, and we’d watch older kids climb that long ladder and stand way up there above us, and then we’d watch them leap into the air, the board clattering behind them, and then we’d endure that long, impossibly long silence as the kid fell and fell and fell, and then the splash. It was terrifying and glorious, and in our little minds, we wanted and wanted and wanted to jump off that board, and also we were never, ever, ever going to jump off that board.
But one day at the pool after swimming lessons, the Frostie root beer thoughts in my head interrupted only by the heart-stopping splash of the bigger kids plummeting from the high dive, I got desperately, bravely thirsty. And I asked my mom – I said “Mom, if I jump off the high dive, will you buy me a Frostie root beer?”
There was a deafening silence while my mom mulled it over. It took her about half a second. “Sure,” she said, and shrugged her shoulders.
And so it was that I stood at the edge of the high dive, looking down, with a Frostie Root beer on the line. Now, you remember when you were there, don’t you? You remember the line of kids behind you, stacking up as you looked down at the water, far below you? You remember your heart in your throat, your legs like rubber. And you remember the point of no return, as your weight shifts for good, and you’re in the air, wondering for a split second if you can scramble back to the board, but knowing you can’t, and you’re in the air, and your stomach is up in your lungs, and then the splash, and then you’re underwater, further under than you’ve ever been, propelled there by the distance you’ve fallen, and you claw your way back up to the surface of the pool, and you take an enormous breath and you’re amazed you’re still there.
And I know you know how this goes too, how after it’s all over, all you want to do is – well, let’s put it this way. I must have jumped off the high dive fifty more times that morning. Even though my mom only bought me one Frostie Root Beer.