Long gone are the days when you could walk into a general store, open the top on the drink box, and recognize each brand of soft drink by its bottle cap.
I remember the red diamond on the RC top, the red, white and blue of Pepsi Cola; the silver and red Doctor Pepper, with its distinctive 10, 2, and 4; and the orange, purple, yellow and peach color of Nehi.
Many of the brand names have remained the same over the years, like Coca Cola, 7UP, NuGrape, Orange Crush and Sprite. Others, like Delish, Upper 10, Kick and Double Cola have faded into history. Even a Nehi is hard to find anymore.
Back in the day, we referred to anything of the soft drink variety as a “cold drink” or “Co’Cola.” I don’t mean like you would say a cold drink (like a cold drink of water). “Cold drink” was pronounced as if it were one word with two syllables as in “colddrink” with the accent on the word “cold.” If you grew up in that era, you know what I mean. A common statement was, “Let’s stop at the store and get a ‘cold drink.’ ”
Inside those old drink boxes stood 10 ounces of ice cold refreshment. And the cost was all of 5 cents. That’s right, a nickel. You felt like you were walking in high cotton if you stepped into a country store with a dime in your pocket. That dime would purchase a cold drink and a candy bar. And it was a big candy bar.
One of my favorites, a Three Musketeers bar, was as big as a plug of Bull of the Woods chewing tobacco. Of course, you could spend your other nickel on a pack of peanuts. I liked to pour my peanuts into my cold drink.
You could never get the whole pack of peanuts in the bottle until you drank it down a ways.
The salt from the peanuts tended to flatten the carbonation, but it gave the beverage a unique flavor. I always tried to suck out two or three peanuts with each swig. But try as I might, there were always a few peanuts that got stuck in the bottom of the bottle. I’ve almost knocked out a tooth trying to jar those last few peanuts out.
Sometimes the soft drink companies would have special promotions and hide prizes under the cork in the bottle caps. I’ve cut a many a cork out from under a bottle cap looking for any sign of ink. If you found an “RC” emblem, you got a free RC.
One year a company printed monetary amounts under the bottle caps. The amounts usually ranged from 5 cents to 50 cents. One day I peeled out a cork and there it was … $1. I could hardly believe my eyes! A DOLLAR! That would buy 20 cold drinks. Looking back, it is almost hard to believe.
In the summer of my 17th year, I had the good fortune of securing employment with ASCS. Back then, we referred to the job as “measuring tobacco.” Actually, there was more to it than that. Job responsibility also entailed inspection of land use of “diverted acres.” It was my first experience at making serious money.
My work took me all over Smith County which meant I was continuously passing country stores. On one especially hot, summer day I wore out the country stores. I would measure a farm and stop by a store, measure a farm and stop by a store. I can’t recall how many stops I made, but I would enjoy on or two cold drinks at every stop.
Over the course of that long, hot day I think I drank a dozen. You might say it was the first time in my life when my purchasing power exceeded my good judgement.
Those old country stores hold a lot of memories. Among them are pot bellied stoves, pasteboard boxes filled with sawdust for the men to spit in; creaky, oiled floors, lots of friendly, familiar faces, ceiling fans, cold drinks and candy bars.
Over five decades have passed since those days. In those 50 years I’ve owned some nice cars, seen some exotic places and stayed in luxury hotels. But I can’t think of many things that I have enjoyed more than a cold drink and a candy bar when they could be had for a nickel apiece.
One thing can be said about simple pleasures. You always get more than your money’s worth.
Jack McCall is a motivational humorist, Southern storyteller and author. A native Middle Tennessean, he is recognized on the national stage as a “Certified Speaking Professional.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2020 by Jack McCall.