Thirty-seven years ago my family moved back from Japan to the States, to a town eighty miles away from my maternal grandparents, and a tradition was born. Because halfway between my grandparents’ house and the one in which I grew up, in Brewster, New York, stands The Red Rooster, a hamburger and ice cream spot where we have been stopping regularly since 1972.
The Red Rooster is a small white place with a red and white striped façade, its steep roof topped by a giant sculpture of a soft serve vanilla ice cream cone. These days it has acquired some retro appeal; Jane and Michael Stern have reviewed it, and hip New Yorkers make pilgrimages for the Rooster’s fresh burgers and real milk shakes. But when I was a kid, before Route 22 was dotted with MacDonalds and Burger Kings, the Rooster was just a typical burger shack, the only place to stop for miles. There are two or three small tables inside, but they’re always taken up with people perched waiting for their orders; everyone eats at the picnic tables outside, or, in rougher weather, their cars. Friday afternoons would find my dad (my mom would join us later, after work) driving my brother Larry and me from our house in Westchester to my grandparents for the weekend. The Rooster was the halfway point, so we would stop to stretch our legs, use the bathroom and then, if the timing was right, buy hamburgers and root beer floats.
Now, the Rooster marks the halfway point between JFK Airport and the house my parents built for their retirement, a little north of where my grandparents lived. And so just as when I was little, a trip to Grandma and Granddad’s house involves, for my kids, a stop for ice cream. We have to leave home early to make our flight, so Tony and I scoop the kids up out of bed while they’re sleeping, and somehow the chance to eat ice cream in pj’s after 11 hours of travel makes it all the sweeter. They should be eating a proper meal, but sometimes nostalgia and sentiment are stronger than nutritional values.