My grandmother’s cafe held many delights for me and my sibs while we were growing up, and one of the best was the drinks cooler.
This was a long chest-like refrigerator about waist high with two compartments. One side held beer bottles and the other held a variety of pop bottles. And they were bottles, too, eight ounce glass bottles with a long neck and a metal cap that had to be wrenched off with the bottle opener attached to the side of the cooler. I doubt if they even make eight ounce pop bottles anymore, unless it’s for some special memorial collection. The sliding tops of the compartments were not see-through, like the refrigerated chests you see today at the local mini-mart. They worked rather like a roll-top desk, so you never knew what you were going to find until you opened them. It was sort of like a treasure chest.
As I said last week, Grandma’s cafe was a small affair, so she couldn’t afford to have all varieties of pop in stock at all times. Coca Cola was always available (or as the natives called it, “Co’Cola”). I don’t remember Pepsi when I was very small, but it began showing up in the cooler when I was in my early teens. She kept good supplies of Dad’s Root Beer (absolutely the best for making ice cream floats) 7Up, and Dr. Pepper - this was the South, after all.
The time-honored Bubba way to drink Dr. Pepper, of course, is to drop salted peanuts down the neck of the bottle and slurp ‘em down. Not that I ever did that.
She usually had a stock of Grape and Orange NeHi, and sometimes Grapette, which I prefered. Sometimes, Strawberry NeHi would show up, and even though I was never much of a fruit-flavored pop aficionado, I’d drink one just because it was different.
But the real treats for me were the rare appearances of Chocolate Soldier, YooHoo (basically the same thing), and my favorite, Cream Soda.
Coke was the thing, though, the basic fizzy nectar of the gods upon which all of us were raised. My parents always kept a stockpile. When I was young, my father brought in the little glass bottles by the wooden, compartmentalized case. By the time we had all left home, my mother was hauling home two-liter plastic bottles from WalMart. Every night of my youth, my father popped popcorn after dinner, and we would all adjourn to the den to watch “Father Knows Best”, much popcorn, and have a Coke.
The joy of soda pop is behind me now. I lost my taste for sweet drinks after I grew up, on top of the fact that my husband can’t tolerate carbonation.
But as bad for us as it may have been, I’ll always have fond memories of those bottle-cap soldiers all standing in a chilly row at the bottom of my grandmother’s cooler.