When Sooby and I set out on the three-hour drive from my house to hers, we always look forward to stopping at a Dairy Queen about two-thirds of the way there. She looks forward to the chocolate ice cream cone, but it is the look on the face of the girl behind the counter that I live for.
This is because Sooby always marches right up, looks the girl in the eye, and demands to know, "Is the queen here?"
She is serious. Somehow, she has it in her head that, because this is "Dairy Queen," a queen must certainly inhabit the place. You must remember that, in the world of a four-year-old, there are queens and princesses everywhere. So if a place is called "Dairy Queen," well, that is a no-brainer.
We have never encountered the same girl twice, so each visit is a new opportunity for me to enjoy this wonderful treat: the blank look, the knitted eyebrows, the shrug of the shoulders, the helpless glance in my direction. This is my cue to step in.
"Well," I say, "we know that this is Dairy Queen and that a queen lives here. Is she back there at the moment, or is she busy doing something else right now?"
Slowly, the light bulb goes on, and the counter girl says something like, "Uh, she's not here right now."
Last time we made the trip, I added a little holiday-related dialogue to our script. "I'll bet she is out delivering Christmas presents, isn't she?"
"Uh, yeah," the girl said. Then she suddenly brightened and added, "There are a lot of Christmas parties that need ice cream cakes right now." I could have kissed her for caring enough to humor a little girl's fantasy. However, I managed to restrain myself and ordered two chocolate cones instead.
As Sooby and I execute the licking and lapping required to demolish two ice cream cones in fairly short order, we lament the fact that, once again, we have experienced incredibly bad luck and missed our elusive monarch. But we always leave on a hopeful note. "Maybe the queen will be here next time," we say as we go out, and we usually get confirmation of this and a big smile from behind the counter.
We get back in the van and prepare to negotiate our final hour of driving. I know that one of these days Sooby will realize that "Dairy Queen" is just a business name and she will no longer expect to find a queen there. I will find that a little bit sad.
But then again, maybe Sooby will walk in and once again ask for the queen. Then, when she is sure I am occupied with counting out money or reading the menu, she will give the counter girl a knowing wink and whisper to her, "Work with me. My googie thinks a queen lives here."