John Boston | Starbucks & the $5 Prune Juice Latte …

John Boston
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My father is still with me, bringing a fond shaking of the head and a smile. Dad was one tough son of a gun. At 5, he lost his father and was forced to work with my grandmother, three sisters and an older brother to keep the farm afloat. Then came the Great Depression, World War II and, much worse, decades of surviving my dear and mentally challenged, always furious mother. 

Dad had such a sweet, smiling boyish face, all the way into his dotage. He’d laugh, recalling how other soldiers carped about how awful Army food was in the trenches of Europe. Compared to literally eating crow and cabbage soup growing up, to Dad, C-Rations was a 2-pound steak with sauteed mushrooms. 

Dad’s final years, he lived with me and I so enjoyed the guy’s company. But once, I made a terrible mistake. In a rush, I took him inside Starbucks to buy my life’s blood, a simple cup of coffee. In his 80s, Dad could still spot a German sniper in a tall tree 3 miles away. I knew — I just knew —  he’d look up at the menu, see the prices, do a quadruple old guy take, then, comment loudly about them. 

Which made Dad the only sane person in the room. 

“FOUR DOLLARS? For a cup of coffee?” Dad held onto my shirt and whispered loudly in outrage. “Son. Come back to the ranch. I’ll MAKE you a cup of coffee and only charge you a dime!” 

I didn’t want to be the cause of Dad hitting an early grave so I didn’t share that in the 21st century, you were expected to tip a buck to a smiling-out-of-context barista.  

Making it five bucks for one cup of coffee. 

That’s 62.5 cents per ounce. 

I could not afford the quart. 

Dad’s offer was sweet but not a great deal. First, it was my coffee. Second, Dad was a horrible cook and could ruin water. I’d end up spraying a thick mist of the vile black laxative all over the kitchen walls like Dick van Dyke in a TV sitcom from the Triassic Period because Dad would add a healthy dollop of black strap molasses and prune juice because Dad felt I wasn’t getting enough fiber, and, from staring deeply into my eyes, could diagnose I was constipated, a feeling, curiously, many Signal subscribers complain of. 

I’m not saying this in the cliched Southern fashion of, “Bless their hearts …” But Bless Dad’s Heart. While he was always thinking the best for me, oft twisted were his actions. 

When I was a little kid, my folks were separated off and on. When I lived with Dad, I’m guessing he wanted me to have those well-balanced meals that he never had as a child. When I was 7, breakfast — BREAKFAST, mind you — consisted of kale, broccoli, prune juice (warm), freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (warm), soft-boiled eggs and water (warm, with vinegar and lemon). No child should be so regular. There were days when it took me hours to walk to school. I was spoon-fed Brewer’s yeast cakes the consistency of wet drywall. One second-grade day, I sat down to lunch at school, opened my paper sack and there it sat — a burnt liver sandwich, with jelly, on raisin bread toast. I daintily held up the counterfeit hoagie and weakly asked my fellow lunch table munchkins, “Trade?” 

Surprise. No takers. 

It was at our Sunday night dinner, a traumatic Dad-Son celebration, when that dratted serving spoon with the unholy blob of Brewer’s yeast slowly moved toward me. I could take no more. On the bright and polite side, I did not yell, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!?!?!?!?!?!” at my Dad. However, I did climb from the bowels of human dignity, rose and shouted something like “YOU SHALL NOT CRUCIFY MANKIND UPON A CROSS OF GOLD!!” and stormed off. From that point in my life, I took responsibility for my caloric intake. I started cooking, stealing, borrowing or fighting feral dogs for my food.  

Yet, decades later, I was still hiding what I ate from my father. Only in the most turbulent of situations would I ever dare locomote through a drive-through to buy soda pop or cup of joe with Dad in the truck. I’m in my 60s and still cowering for his epicurean approval. He was the dominant alpha male of radiating That Look, that I Know What You’re Doing Stare parents have been using for thousands of years to bore through the skulls of their helpless offspring. 

The Dad Look. In the passenger seat of a fast-food emporium, he’d lean forward a few inches. Silent, he’d stare off toward clouds with that damning I Know What You’re Doing But I’m Not Going To Look Directly At You Guilt Stare. The drive-through clerk would ask, “Would you like any dessert today?” and I’m trying to figure out a way to scribble on a napkin and slip it to her: “HELP! I’M 64. I’VE BEEN KIDNAPPED!!” 

It just doesn’t matter. If you’ve captured 14 Iraqi tanks, single-handedly, or, pulled several thousand screaming children from burning orphanages, or, have taped up daily and worn a helmet to survive a bad marriage, none of that compares to your parent sighing heavily, and, in that silence, masterfully conveying: “Why Can’t You Just Once Do That One Tiny Little Thing That Makes Me Happy?” 

Worse? That 8-ounce, $3 Dr. Pepper Mostly Ice just doesn’t sit well on your ulcer or with your aging parent next to you, exuding, “All The Things I Did To Sacrifice For You And You Pull This Fiscal Boner With This Numbskull Magic Beans Purchase Of Sugar Water At $19 An Ounce And, Worse, It’s More Like $26.95 An Ounce Because, You Monkey Bucket, It’s ALL ICE!!!” I’d wait a couple miles, inhale a big slug of the Dr. Pepper, then expel a thankful “AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!” Dad and I would laugh our heads off. Why? Because, deep down, that’s what dads and sons are all about. 

John Boston is a local writer.

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