Sunday, November 13, 2011

Remembering "Family Circus", and a Favorite Spot in Scottsdale (Sunday Journal 3)

Last week, cartoonist Bil Keane (with one "l"), creator of the gentle, circle-shaped comic "Family Circus", passed away. He was 89.

Keane wanted each panel to bring a smile of recognition to typical suburban homes with parents, kids, dogs, and the occasional bemused grandparent.  The cartoon began in 1960, and eventually was syndicated in over 1500 newspapers.  Compilation cartoon books of the "Family Circus" sold millions.

Although I was not a "Family Circus" fanatic, I certainly enjoyed the cartoon in the daily newspaper. What saddened me most about Keane's passing was a personal connection I had to the comic strip.  It is a very remote connection to be sure, but it brings back fond recollections of the time when I lived in Scottsdale, Arizona.

You see, there is a well-known and beloved ice cream parlor in Old Town Scottsdale called The Sugar Bowl, with its memorable pink-and white decor straight from the 1950's when it opened.   Bil Keane, who lived in nearby Paradise Valley, set his comic strip in Scottsdale, and often used the Sugar Bowl as the setting.  The parlor reciprocated by printing Keane's cartoons in its menu, and featuring Family Circus memorabilia all over the shop. 

You can still see them there.

It was a favorite spot of mine on those sweltering summer days, when I was adjusting to the loneliness and excitement of being away from Chicago, the seismic fears of coming out, the preparations for a new job, and school at ASU, all tempered by generous servings of pasta and laughs from my grandparents, who lived nearby and provided me an almost daily life raft.

My grandmother would pass away eight months after my arrival.

I spent more time with Sam, my grandfather, after Lucy was gone.  After the mourning of the loss subsided, we enjoyed each other's company, and teased each other like college guys.

Sometimes he would come with me for a sundae at the Sugar Bowl.  Occasionally my cousin Tim would visit on business, and the three of us would go for lunch.  Sam marvelled at our gusto with food, especially ice cream.

I loved the Dusty Road: chocolate ice cream, chocolate sauce, and a sprinkling of malt powder, covered with whipped cream.  I still enjoy it to this day.

I am printing some of the cartoons found on the Sugar Bowl Web Site.  I hope those who find this post will enjoy them as much as I do; maybe some readers have been to the Sugar Bowl too. 

Most of all, it gives me a chance to revisit Scottsdale, one of my life's touchstones, a place to which I will return often, perhaps as my life's final home base.

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