Lydia Maria Child’s Thanksgiving poem begins like this: “Over the river, and through the wood/To Grandfather’s house we go.” But I recall singing, “Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go,” while en route to Bangor, Pennsylvania, home of my maternal grandparents. From my family’s Bronx point of origin, the first river we crossed was the then pretty grimy Hudson; the second and last, the muddy Delaware.
Before Interstate 80’s tentacles reached Teaneck, New Jersey— in close proximity of the George Washington Bridge and New York City—our Bangor adventures found us on Route 46 for a spell. While the trips took a whole lot longer on such meandering back roads, they were much more interesting—for kids anyway. We passed through many small towns, including Hackettstown, New Jersey with a hamburger joint called Leo’s on its main thoroughfare. Suffice it to say, my father didn’t have the fascination that his offspring had for mysterious fast-food establishments—i.e., the ones we spied only through a moving car’s windows in places that we had never set foot.
It should come as no surprise then that I vividly remember when my dad consented to stop at Leo’s for lunch. It was the summer of 1976—the United States Bicentennial year—a simpler and more civil time to exist. It was of an era before presidential tweets and daily Twitter outrage. We were on our way back to the Bronx when this memorable moment in history occurred. At long last, my younger brother and I sampled Leo’s burgers and French fries, which we knew for certain wouldn’t disappoint—and they didn’t.
Actually, we brought our take-out fare from Leo’s to nearby Budd Lake and briefly picnicked on the side of the road. My father had packed his preferred brew, Schaefer Beer, in a cooler bag, so he needed no liquid refreshment from Leo’s. On the other hand, my brother and I washed down our tasty repasts with A-Treat brand sodas: orange and birch beer, respectively. I was intrigued back then—as youth are wont to be—by enticing products unfamiliar to me, like A-Treat Beverages, whose hanging signs were ubiquitous outside of country grocery stores. We didn’t have A-Treat sodas on grocery store shelves in New York. A-Treat was a local outfit. So, naturally, the opportunity to sample them in such faraway places as Northwest New Jersey and East Central Pennsylvania was heavenly.
After ninety-seven years in operation, I learned, A-Treat shuttered its plant in Allentown Pennsylvania in early 2015. However, the collective voice of a thirsty and nostalgic people clamored for its return. I can fully appreciate why—to those served by this regional institution—life just couldn’t go on without A-Treat. I’m happy to report that an entrepreneur brought the soda line—with original recipes—back to life.
Forty-one years ago while sitting on the banks of Budd Lake with an A-Treat soda pop in hand, I couldn’t in my wildest imagination portend the future. Calling attention to the A-Treat soda cans, I recently posted a picture on Facebook from that historic day in 1976. And lo and behold, advertisements for A-Treat appeared in my Facebook feed shortly thereafter. Such is the insidious new world we now call home—but at least A-Treat is still in it.
(Photo one from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)