Sunday, September 13, 2015

A milkshake in time

“My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,” sings my daughter in the back of the car on our way home from fair.

“And their like, it's better than yours,” her father answers in kind.

“Damn right, it's better than yours,” I declare as and the pair of them launch back into circular rounds of the risque song and we slowly inch along with the rest of the fairgrounds-leaving traffic.

It's late, past bedtime, but even rubbing his eyes the boy joins in:

“Maaaaaah milkshake brings all the boys to the yard! Our shake was better than yours,” he adlibs.

Of course, we were being literal as well as a little self-congratulatory.

For three of the five days of the county fair, our 4-H club had been taking shifts at the milk bar; a small shed tucked away on a back street of the fairgrounds, farthest from the midway.

The line always snakes around the building as people wait patiently for their vanilla shakes and hot fudge sundaes, each one dished up by a kid who can get into the fair for free because of their age.

It's tradition.

Tt had been at least 30 years since I'd been inside the pink-painted building -- or scooped ice cream into slick stainless-steel cups setting them up to spin on the milkshake machine for that matter – and the terrible sound of the metal rotors grinding against the inside of the stainless mixing cup reminded me of the rust that had built up on my muscle memory.

And, truth be told, as we stood there waiting for instructions on that first shift, I had to admit the rest of it wasn't coming back to me. I'd forgotten almost everything about the milkshake process that I'd learned while I was a 4-Her and had volunteered with my own mother “assisting” at the very same booth,

“Don't worry,” said our fearless leader. “It will come back to you. All I need you to do is rinse out the milkshake cups and keep the counters clean … you think you can do that?”

I'm pretty sure the sigh of relief that came out of me at that moment blew some napkins out of a basket five feet away.

Dishwashing and counter cleaning are my life, at least they are some of the chores I'm not unhappy doing.

Turns out milkshake making and “root beer floating” could be my daughter's life, and customer service seems to come to her naturally.

“Twenty-seven,” she yells, holding up a Blueberry Cheesecake Double-dip with a little whipped-cream in a dish. “Special order. TWENTY-SEVEN,” she hollers louder when she gets no answer the first time.

She smiles as the customer steps up, and she hands over the treat, saying “This was my favorite one to make. Enjoy.”

As I witnessed her little moment, I was so proud. The kind of proud you're not supposed to be. The kind of proud that comes from ownership, from having made something yourself with your own two hands.

Wash, rinse, repeat. That is my job.

Support staff.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

And I am happy watching her work.

Traditions like these are important, too.

“This really is the best thing at the fair,” said an elderly gentleman as he waited for his coffee thick-shake with chocolate syrup. When she calls his number and hands him the milkshake he compliments the club and its service. “It's lucky they have you. You do a fine job.”

She stands a little taller and smiles. “We're all pretty lucky, especially you. We're almost out of coffee ice cream.”

Another fair tradition.   

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