Out of the Blue

Message in a Bottle

Especially on a hot summer afternoon

By Deborah Salomon

The heat of July, always a scorcher, means gallons of cold stuff to wash down the potato salad. And, because in these parts nothing goes down easier than Retro-Ade, let me dig around in the cooler for some thick glass bottles filled with . . .

I spent every hot, dusty summer of my childhood at my grandparents’ house, in Greensboro, which my mother thought was preferable to hot, muggy summers in Manhattan. No residential AC in the 1940s, but you could sit the afternoon in a frigid movie theater, since movies ran continuously and kiddie fare was a dime. The other good thing about Greensboro was soda. My mother forbad it at home, a punishment for not liking milk, unless mixed with Jell-O pudding or Campbell’s Tomato Soup. For a special treat, a few times a year I was allowed a fountain Coke over shaved ice at the drugstore, only because she loved them. But my sweet Nanny Teachey knew that little girls need a cold bottle of fizzy to make long, hot afternoons bearable. That bottle came from the mom-and-pop grocery on the corner which, like the gas station up the block, had a massive cooler with a bottle opener attached. I see them in antique shops now, and weep.

Nanny would grab her shopping bag, wink at me and say, “Come keep me company while I walk up to the store.” I never got why she needed an item or two every day.

Once there, she slipped me a nickel and let me choose from glorious Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola, Grapette, Nesbitt’s Orange, Royal Crown. The bottles were much smaller and scratched from re-use. A plain white paper straw touched the bottom with plenty of sipping room up top. Grapette was my favorite, deep purple, in a clear glass bottle. Who knows if it contained even a drop of fruit juice? I was in heaven. To make it last I slipped the cold bottle under my shirt on the walk home, then hid it beside my bed.

Nesbitt’s Orange was my second favorite because the bottle was bigger, except even with a straw, the orange artificial color left me with a tell-tale neon tongue. Then, the ultimate: Nanny froze Pepsi in an aluminum ice tray. I’d chop the cubes into slush and eat with an iced tea spoon.

Calories and high fructose corn syrup weren’t factors, just blistering July heat and a cold soda.

About once a week Nanny and I returned bottles for the deposit, usually when my mother had gone uptown to the beauty parlor, or else she might wonder how so many had accumulated; during our visits the only soda allowed at the table was Canada Dry Ginger Ale, which Granddaddy put in his iced tea instead of lemon. Nanny carried the heavy bag but I inserted the empties in a metal rack beside the cooler, producing a clink I haven’t heard for 70 years.

Well, guess what? Grapette changed hands, went underground but survived and is now part of Walmart Sam’s Club beverage line, in a 2-liter plastic container. No thanks. I only want a little, sucked with a straw from a scratched bottle — so cold it made my head ache, so clandestine that the chill produced a wicked thrill.

I don’t drink soda anymore except for the occasional Fresca. Too many chemicals. Besides, my apartment is air conditioned and “purified” water’s all the rage. As for those sickly sweet caffeine-laced fondly remembered concoctions, they wouldn’t be much good at washing down brown rice and sautéed kale.

To everything, a season. You can’t go home again and other platitudes. I don’t want to, because memory glorifies and reality disappoints. But when thirst overtakes me on a July afternoon . . . PS

Deborah Salomon is a staff writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

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