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  • Writer's pictureJeff South

The Arches

My grandson is less than a month old and has already been to McDonald's. Kids today are so spoiled. Do you know how old I was when made my first visit to the Golden Arches? Ten. I was ten years old. Practically a teenager.

My hometown, Poplar Bluff, MO, finally got McDonald's in the late 70s. We had all heard of McDonald's, of course. We had seen the commercials, knew the jingles. Hardly a kid I knew couldn't recite "two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun." Some kids would visit St. Louis or Cape Girardeau and come back talking about actually eating at McDonald's. These tales of visits to the promised land regaled me.

My dad was a notorious hermit. He preferred eating at home over going out for dinner. While Mom was an amazing cook, I still longed to eat at restaurants. I think Mom did, too, truth be told. Many times we would pass an eatery while out shopping and she would gently inform me it was "too expensive." Trips to Newberry's or Woolworth's were torture. While other kids longed to buy toys, my desire was to sit at the lunch counter and have a root beer and eat a burger.

"Too expensive," Mom would remind. I responded with a sigh of resignation, not wishing to press the issue.

Sometimes, though, Mom would surprise with a stop at A&W or some local joint for a special treat. Now, she was always great about buying me a cold bottle of pop and a candy bar at the grocery store, but actual eating out was rare. So, imagine my surprise when she pulled into the McDonald's parking lot while on our way home from my basketball practice. My heart leaped. We were uptown.

The inside bustled with customers lining up at the counter. Employees moved about with urgency filling orders. A bin of hamburgers and cheeseburgers greeted me and I knew I was home at last.

"I want a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, fries, and a chocolate shake." My voice was firm and confident, but respectful.

"Oh, no," Mom countered. "That's too much. Let's just get a regular cheeseburger."

I offered my trademark sigh of resignation, again careful not to press the issue. We were at McDonald's. That's what was important. I savored that meal as if it were my last last before walking The Green Mile. I now had my own McDonald's story to tell. I was experienced.

As the years passed and I grew up, Mom ponied up more and more for meals out. It was always a nice time with her. Our high school had an off campus lunch option that I relished. Many lunch periods were spent at Pizza Hut, Wendy's, Hardee's, Dairy Queen. And McDonald's. When I became an adult, one of the great joys of my life was taking her out to eat. I especially enjoyed taking her to places that served onion rings. Mom loved onion rings.

I'm still a sucker for a burger, though my tastes now prefer the local fare. Here in Tulsa we are blessed with some great hamburger joints. I took Mom to a couple when she visited. And, every once in a while, I still eat at McDonald's. I still think about that first trip over 40 years ago.

And I look to the first time I can enjoy a burger with August.

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