Monday, July 24, 2017

Finding love in the back of a car

I don't look forward to summers the way I used to. Not since August 2013.

That's when Cousin John delivered this case of Manhattan Special to me. He'd packed it in the trunk of his car before he and Cousin Susie, his wife of 40-plus years, left their home on Long Island and made their annual summer drive to Maine. John always made a point of bringing something meaningful along on his visits and knew that, to me, a major stash of Manhattan Special surely qualified as that.

The sweet espresso soda has been one of my favorite indulgences since I was five and swiped my first little glass bottle of the stuff from my parents' candy store in Brooklyn. It tastes exactly the same today as it did then. And is still manufactured in Brooklyn, just as it's been since 1895. By the same family no less.

But they don't sell Manhattan Special in Maine. Worse, nobody here has even heard of the stuff, let alone tasted it. In the winter of 2012, I went so far as to prepare (and report on right here) a homemade batch of the soft drink. This desperate attempt did not go unnoticed by my cousin, as the case of real Manhattan Special arrived shortly afterward.

John's delivery in the summer of 2013 was much more than a thoughtful gift from an appreciative (and, let's face it, lobster-loving) houseguest: It was an extraordinary kindness, rooted in history, tradition and, most important of all, love.

Which didn't surprise me in the slightest.

John and I are as close as any cousins I know, and have been since I was in my late teens and he in his latter twenties. Of the many things I regret about moving away from my home and family in New York, 20-odd years ago now, a close proximity to this particular family member ranks high. For many years anticipating John's and Susie's weeklong summer visits went a good ways toward making the harsh Maine winters seem a little more bearable.

But he hasn't been back since. And I fear he won't again.

My cousin hasn't been well. He goes in and out of hospitals and doctors offices and testing facilities the way most of us run errands to the grocery store or the ATM. He's even taken up with mystics and healers hoping that they might have the answers that traditional medicine does not.

Even when John is feeling well he isn't feeling well enough to break the chains of his afflictions. The idea of traveling, to Maine or anyplace else where his known healthcare providers are not within immediate reach, has become, to his mind, just another risk that requires prudent avoidance.

And so we've learned to talk more on the phone and grab a quick lunch or dinner when I'm in New York. We reminisce about how we have missed our summer tradition, and John assures me that the next year will be different, and I tell him that that would be just sweller than swell, hoping that each next year will be different from the last one but not hoping so much as to be too disappointed when it isn't.

Driving my own case of soda from New York to Maine just doesn't cut it.

And it will never, ever feel as good.


jerseypaulie said...

What a nice story, and I hope John sees better health days ahead. Manhattan Special is great stuff, but when my folks moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey in the 1950's it wasn't around. Luckily, our home soda delivery guy did have the heavy blue bottles of seltzer, as well as U-Bet chocolate syrup, so at least we had the makings for authentic egg creams. Needless to say, there is neither eggs, nor cream in an egg cream.

Anonymous said...

Love your food posts, but I especially love the friends and family stories. As I've gotten older, I have daily urges to track down old friends. I make sure our family gets together more often -- no more seeing each other only for funerals and weddings.