by Susan J. Decuir
Growing up in the 1950s, most families ate at home. My mom cooked simple meals. Lots of mashed potatoes, vegetables, meatloaf, pork chops, chicken, and pot roast. And to my chagrin, sometimes liver and onions. Ugh. Mom always said to clean our plates because there were children around the world who didn’t have enough to eat every day. She made a valid point, so I choked it down.
Sometimes, on special occasions, Dad took his family of five to Luby’s or Wyatt’s Cafeteria in north Dallas where we lived. The food was similar to what we ate at home. Not that I wasn’t thankful, but I was hoping for something new and different.
I wasn’t a fussy eater, I just…well, I guess you could say I had gotten use to Mom’s limited recipes and longed for something new. Sometimes I was invited to eat at a friend’s house and it was a real treat when their mom cooked something I never had before.
Mom always kept a tight budget, even tighter when widowed in 1960 with three teenagers. Special treats like soft drinks were rare. Mom didn’t keep them in the house like we do today. I used my babysitting money for any extras, as my brothers did with their earnings.
I was a Junior at Thomas Jefferson High School in north Dallas in 1963 when my boyfriend (privileged to borrow his dad’s car) took me to Keller’s Drive-In on Harry Hines Boulevard for an after-school snack before taking me home. The original Keller’s Drive-In opened in Dallas on Northwest Highway in 1950, three years before our family moved to Dallas from Rochester, New York. I had never eaten at a drive-in restaurant before and didn’t know what to expect.
When my boyfriend pulled the car beneath the canopy in front of Keller’s Drive-In and parked between two cars, separated by an eye-level menu display, it seemed strange seeing people eating in their cars like at a drive-in movie theater, only with no movie to watch.
I knew I shouldn’t spoil my appetite for Mom’s dinner, but when my boyfriend suggested I try their delicious fried onion rings, something I never heard of, I decided to give them a try, along with an ice-cold Dr. Pepper. Since he was buying.
Within minutes, a cute teenage girl approached us and attached a tray to the driver’s side window. I learned she was called a “carhop,” a waitress who brings fast food to people in their cars. My boyfriend gave the carhop our order. I don’t remember what he ordered, because, with my first bite of the tasty, crunchy, greasy fried onion ring, I got lost in the divine moment. When my boyfriend suggested I dip the onion ring in ketchup, my taste buds opened up to a whole new world of possibilities. Our afterschool trips to Keller’s Drive-In became a once in a while treat, fondly remembered.
I love fried onion rings to this day. Just ask my husband, Ron. He surprised me with an order from Whataburger a few weeks ago. I prefer Sonics, but even they couldn’t compare to my memories of Keller’s Drive-In onion rings. Perhaps Ron and I need to take a drive to Keller’s Drive-In soon. Or if anyone knows who makes better onion rings, please let me know.
And, thank you God for our food.