Dan Pashman is back on the phone lines this week on The Sporkful. Instead of cycling through callers like he has in past episodes, Dan sticks with just one caller, Lilly.
See, Lilly enjoys root beer floats. She eats and/or drinks (we need a word for consuming semi-solid food matter, but I’ll go with “dreats” until something better sticks) them a lot. She consumes them often enough that she has a well-oiled dreating process. Lily is all about the ratios. Even when feasting on several servings across multiple glasses, she painstakingly keeps the ratio of soda to ice cream constant. Honestly, just based on her passion and creativity, if anyone could make a career out of making root beer floats, she seems to be the gal.
However, Lily has a much sweeter reason for her seemingly excessive root beer float consumption: it’s a fun bonding activity with her dad. They eat them when she visits him in Michigan, splitting a whole bottle of root beer and, presumably, a whole tub of ice cream too. According to Lily, “He can house an entire thing of ice cream…and I love root beer.” It’s a perfect match.
Their tradition went into overdrive last year after Lilly’s dad developed colon cancer. He struggles with certain foods, especially when undergoing chemotherapy. Lilly’s dad Chris actually steps away from his doctor’s appointment at the hospital to join Lilly’s talk with Dan. He talks about root beer floats with as much fervor as Lilly, though his method involves packing what sounds like over a pint of ice cream into a single glass.
There is one common element in their otherwise divergent root beer float philosophies: lots of paper towels.
There’s a clear and bittersweet undertone while listening to Lily and her dad mention—but mostly gloss over—his cancer treatment and difficulties. (I have never heard anyone use the words “colostomy bag” so casually, but Lily just says them as if she’s talking about her dad putting on shoes.) Lilly even chides her dad’s seemingly random dietary preferences, saying, “It seems unlikely to me that he can’t eat carrots.” But it’s this lighthearted spirit that was so incredibly compelling. This family’s response to such a terrible thing continues to astound me.
What stuck out while listening to Lilly and Chris talk about root beer floats—and lingered long after this episode ended—was how palpable their love for each other is. This love manifests itself every time they share these sugary, fat-laden, liquid desserts amidst mountains of napkins.
Dan asks Chris, what a root beer float means to him at this point in his life. “It makes me happy,” he replies. And it clearly makes his daughter happy too. In this moment, it feels like that’s all that matters. And maybe it is.
In perhaps the only fitting way possible to conclude this episode, Pashman introduces root beer floats to his two girls (both under the age of 6) and the results are expectedly adorable. (Children mispronouncing words well above their age level is always good for a laugh and a smile.) Now excuse me while I go call my Mom and we talk about my next visit home. I think we’ll have a root beer float. Or maybe 5. I’ll be thankful for every one.
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