One last taste of childhood summers,
courtesy of a closed local soda company
Photography by Grace Dickerson
When I was in grade school, my Dad’s after-work errands often included a stop at “the distributor.” Just down the road from the state liquor store, it was the only place to buy beer in our sleepy Pocono Mountains town. A pretty standard arrangement here in Pennsylvania, but it baffled the out-of-state tourists in a hurry to find booze to fuel their woodsy vacations.
Tall, lanky, and in perpetual motion, Dad would pull the maroon station wagon into the parking lot and dash into the store for his regular order: a case of Gibbons beer for himself, and a case of A-Treat soda for me and my brothers.
With a cheery “Righto” to the store clerk, he’d load the boxes into the trunk and zoom down the hilly roads to our house, windows rolled down, a trail of cigar smoke in his wake.
He’d burst through the front door, often singing or whistling, set the soda on the kitchen table and cast his jacket and tie aside, a gaggle of us kids flocking to him. His arrival marked the one moment of routine on those otherwise routine-less summer days.
Even back in the 1980s, the A-Treat stood out as old-fashioned and special—quart-size glass bottles filled with a rainbow of candy-colored fizzy liquids.
“Orange!” “Root beer!” “Black cherry!” my brothers would call out, begging my Dad to open their favorite first.
I loved all of the flavors, with the exception of cream soda. And when I inevitably got a stomachache after too many refills, it was totally worth it.
I hadn’t thought much about A-Treat until last January, when I heard that the Allentown, Pa.,-based company abruptly closed its doors after almost a century in business. Owner Tom Garvey cited financial troubles due to an overall decline in soda consumption. It was a family business: Garvey’s uncles Joseph and John Egizio started the company in a garage in 1918.
Over the years, A-Treat churned out more than 25 different flavors— many of them based on original recipes—including classics like birch beer (a cousin of root beer) and more experimental brews, like the neon-hued “Big Blue” raspberry.
Distribution was limited to eastern and central Pennsylvania, and A-Treat became an iconic brand in the Lehigh Valley, where its shuttering was met with a public outcry.
“Let’s Keep A-Treat Sodas Flowin” and “Save A-Treat Soda” Facebook pages got tens of thousands of likes combined. Local news outlets offered regular updates on investors interested in resuscitating the company.
I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen a bottle of A-Treat—I moved away after high school and rarely drink soda as an adult—but the news still stung. It brought me back to my parents’ sunny kitchen, when my Dad was his old self, reveling in the happy chaos.
During the winter, if we ran out of room in the refrigerator, my parents would put the A-Treat bottles outside on the deck. Occasionally, one would freeze and burst.
“I remember sneaking back there and scooping the slushy soda out of a broken bottle and eating it like a Slurpee,” says my brother Gerry. (It’s unclear whether this took place before or after he jumped off the 12-foot deck into the snow. Yes, it’s a miracle that Gerry survived the ’80s.)
Plastic two-liters eventually replaced the glass, but A-Treat remained a staple at our parties. With seven kids in my family, plus grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, we always had a birthday, First Communion or graduation to celebrate.
When it dawned on me that my own two daughters had never tried A-Treat, I wanted to call my Dad and tell him to stock up before stores sold out. But I haven’t talked to him on the phone in years.
In 2010, at age 61, he was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (later reclassified as Alzheimer’s Disease). My mom sold their house in the Poconos, and we moved my Dad into a nursing home just after his 65th birthday.
Now he shuffles around, eyes focused on the ground. He never says more than a few words at a time. Sometimes he tears up, and it kills me that I have no idea why.
I can’t say for sure if my Dad knows who I am, although I like to think he does. What I do know is that he really enjoys two things: seeing his grandchildren, and the desserts that we bring for him on every visit.
My Dad was never interested in the soda, sundaes or handfuls of candy he showered on us back then. But over the last few years, he has developed a wicked sweet tooth—a common side effect of his disease. Before our next trip to the nursing home, I ordered a six-pack of A-Treat birch beer on eBay. When my Dad spotted the red logo on the cans, he immediately grabbed for one.
A small group of us gathered in the sunny dining room, and I made a round of ice cream floats. My Dad was unusually alert, and he quickly sucked his down, grinning, and motioned for a second helping. “We want more too,” cried the kids, as they danced around the table.
On that day—some 30 years after those summer evenings in my parents’ kitchen—it was my daughters who ended up with stomachaches from drinking too much A-Treat.
A-Treat sodas are no longer available in stores, but you can readily find cases for sale on Ebay.com—at least for now.