While living on George Air Force Base in Victorville CA between 1988 and 1992 I made some of the greatest friends I'd ever known. I had a chance to grow up in one place for nearly six years and the stability was something I very much needed. I didn't realize that until many years later looking back on that time in my life. It was a heart breaker when I had to leave it all behind to move to Utah, but the years in California were vital at that time.
My sixth grade year was the best year I ever had in school. I had many friends, which was actually a first for me. People liked me for who I was and my crazy, wacky energy drew people to me like flies to honey. My teacher would spend hours with me after class, helping me to study if there was ever a fear of me falling behind. My parents were proud of me finally. My brother and I were getting along again after several years of not. I had my first boyfriend, with whom I had my first kiss. I still have his old address memorized. I also had my first best friend.
Jodie was an interesting girl. We were "on again off again" friends and she had the wild attitude of a girl we all knew would end up getting into a lot of trouble. That dangerous side of her was exactly what drew people to her. She was a year ahead of me in school, but she lived just up the lane from me and we would often go for walks together. Back then, seventh graders were too "cool" to play with dolls and plastic ponies. Yet, she had dolls in her bedroom that I was fairly certain she would play with when nobody was looking.
She was English and I was obsessed with her accent, as were most of the boys her age in the neighborhood. Her mother, Julie, had married an American man stationed in England and the three children came over when he was restationed in California just up the street from us. Her older brothers, Jason and Justin, were rather tall, handsome young men the girls would swoon over due to their dashing looks and English charm. I was no exception. Secretly I harbored a crush on Justin for many, many years. I finally got a chance to act on in many years later, but that's another story I've never told to another living soul. Maybe someday it will grace the pages of my blog, but for now I'll skip over that one. This is the story of the Sioux City Sasparilla and will remain G-rated, not delve into the darker side of my "bad girl" days of being a teen run away.
When the family moved to Arizona due to Mike being restationed (Yes, everyone else had J names, but Mike was their step-dad, so he married into this) my family decided to help. We loaded up in a uhaul truck and my Dad drove one with Jodie and I in the seat beside him. Being the smallest, I was stuck in the middle with the gear shifter vibrating up against my knee cap. It was a long, long drive.
We stayed for a week or more when we got there. The new house was large and spacious, though the weather was far too hot to go outside anyway. The neighbors had a swimming pool that was rarely used by the elderly couple unless their grand kids were visiting, so Jodie and I made it a priority to meet these people as soon as possible.
Jodie had a "trundle bed" under her bed that pulled out like a drawer. It wasn't the most comfortable bed in the world, but it worked for me. It wasn't all THAT bad. She had a TV in her room, which in those days was unheard of. We had a grand time, she and I. It didn't take long to figure out where the nearest store was and we would take daily walks down to the grocers and never buy anything. One day we walked down there with nothing but pockets full of change to use a brand new "Coin Star" machine we saw advertised to turn the coins into paper money. It was an amazing invention!
One of the nights we were there, all of us bundled up into a couple of cars and drove to an old fort. Inside the massive wooden walls, we wandered from shop to shop while waiting our turn to get into a steak restaurant. No expense was to be spared. I had my very own Prime Rib that night, the first I believe I was ever allowed to order off of a menu. I was after all only 12 years old.
Mike asked me if I would like a Sarsaparilla. I had no idea what that was, so I said I would love one, pretending inteligence. When they brought it out, I couldn't pretend any longer. What was this brown bottle before me with a picture of a cowboy standing between swinging doors? Had he ordered me something I was too young to drink? Was this a real beer sitting in front of me? When I asked, he laughed a deep, gutoral laugh that made me blush.
"It's like Root Beer" he explained. "Try it, I think you'll like it." I took a tiny, timid sip, agreed that it was very much like Root Beer, and continued until the entire thing was gone. It was delicious! I wasn't allowed to have sodas very often as a kid. They had too much sugar in them for us kids my parents would say. As soon as I polished off the one, I asked if it was ok if I got another. Within minutes, a second Sarsaparilla was brough to the table. This one I poured into the chilled glass they brought out with it. I loved the little ice crystals that formed around the top of the soda inside the glass. The pieces of frozen soda made my mouth very cold and I loved every second of it.
It wasn't long after that trip that my mom's brother, also named Mike, came to visit us while picking up a load of stuff somewhere in California. When I told him about my story, he told me one of his own that to this day I think of each time I see a Sioux City Sarsaparilla.
"The mountains near by are called the Superstition Mountains. Do you remember seeing them?"
"Yes," I replied, remembering clearly that the wooden fort we had visited actually seemed to be nestled into the base of some rather oddly shaped mountains.
"The legend of the Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine comes from the Superstition Mountains, which is why the mountains got their name. Did you know that?"
"A gold mine?" I breathed.
"People say that a German man hid a lot of gold in the mountains. Some people say that the gold were bars to pay the Calvary that was stolen from a train. Other people say it was a cave that he found belonging to an indian tribe. People think they had used the cave for a sacred place of prayer and had some of their dead burried there, so the Apache Indians were angry about his intruding.
"The story goes that when he was dying in 1891, a woman by the name of Julia Thomas was taking care of him and he told her where he had hidden the gold. A lot of people claim they found the gold, but none were proven. People have been looking for the Lost Dutchman's Mine since 1892, only a year after it's said he told the woman where it was located.
"It's estimated that 8,000 people every year make some sort of effort to find the mine. I've done my own research and learned how to look for gold. A lot of people have gone out there and gotten lost, though. They end up either missing forever or someone finds them dead out in the middle of nowhere. People fall off the mountain, get lost and starve to death, and sometimes people can't figure out what killed them. They say the Apache's put a curse on the gold so that anyone who finds it will die a horrible death.
"The Dutchman was supposed to have a secret way of finding the cave. If you stand on one mountain peak and look through an opening in the rocks called 'The Eye of the Needle' you can see the exact location of where he hid the entrance to the cave. I look for it each time I go through Arizona, but I've never found it. Maybe someday I'll be rich, and you will be the only person who knows why..."
A few years later my Uncle Mike taught me how to go gold panning, but no, he's not rich quite yet. I hold out hope.