Yakima was a sleepy town in the 60s, and much different from the stretch of northern California coastline where I grew up. Cold in the winter and hot in the summer, that’s what I remember about Yakima from when I was a kid. We had family there, so every couple of years we drove a couple of days to get there.
My grandparents lived in a little house well-situated for a kid like me, because less than a stone’s throw from their front porch was an A&W Root Beer stand. This wasn’t like one of those fast food restaurants you see nowadays. This was a place where you walked up to the counter under an awning, ordered your hamburger and root beer and sat down to eat at a picnic table outside. Or at your grandmother’s house if she was practically next door.
I drank a lot of root beer when I was at Grandma’s house.
I was 6 or so when my grandfather died, and my grandmother moved in with my aunt and her family. That was in a different part of town, so going for visits didn’t include as much root beer drinking.
Grandma remarried a few years later and moved out of her daughter’s house. Her new home was back on the same street as the root beer stand, but a lot more than a stone’s throw away. Ten blocks was way too far for a kid like me to walk on my own.
I must have been 12 when our summer visit coincided with my Dad’s cousin, Jack, being in town visiting family too. Cousin Jack was a bit older than Dad, and he’d never lost the Wyoming western drawl that characterized the older members of a family that traced itself to Sheridan in the late 19th Century. Jack always looked and sounded like he just rode off the range from a cattle drive.
I must have looked and sounded like I was bored silly sitting there outside my grandmother’s back door, because Cousin Jack walked over to me and said these wonderful words.
“Tim, d’yew lack root bahr?”
Root bahr. I knew what he meant. “Yes.”
“Hawp in thuh truck.”
So I did. Cousin Jack’s pickup truck had seen the other side of a split rail fence, that’s for sure. He started it up, let the clutch out as he eased it into first gear, and drove down the road. The further he drove away from Grandma’s house, the closer we got to that oasis of froth.
And soon we pulled up at A&W.
Cousin Jack asked the woman at the counter for a gallon of root bahr, and she turned to pull the handle on the tap to fill a glass jug with the heavenly nectar.
Back in the truck we went and drove to Grandma’s. Once there Jack said, “Hep yuh sef, Tim,” so I did.
“Do you want a glass, Cousin Jack?”
“No thanks, Tim, I cain’t drink thet stuff.”
Two things about that: first, my 12-year-old self couldn’t believe there was anyone on the planet who didn’t drink root beer; second, I suddenly realized that Cousin Jack had bought a gallon of root beer just for me.
I was almost speechless, but managed to come up with “Thanks, Cousin Jack.”
The Words I Didn’t Even Know I Wanted To Hear
Back then I didn’t have the word for what Cousin Jack did for me, but I do now. His act was extravagant. Jack bought something he didn’t need and couldn’t use, and he did it for me. And he bought more root beer than I’d ever had, all to myself.
His actions remind me of Jesus.
I have a Savior who paid for something he didn’t need. He paid for the forgiveness of sins he didn’t commit. In his extravagant grace, he offered his own body, his own blood, his very life, to set me free. The debt he paid was one I owed, not him, and it was a debt I could never hope to repay, not in a million years, not in eternity.
Jesus paid that price for me and then he said these wonderful words, words I didn’t even know I wanted to hear.
“Tim, you are mine. Forever mine.”
Forever his. And now I drink from a fountain that flows from within me, one that leaves me never thirsty again but always wanting to drink more of my Savior.