The summer months of our boomer youth were a magical time, but in the years before air conditioning became the norm, it was a challenge to keep cool when you weren’t at a beach, pool or running through the sprinklers. The main cooling method for most boomers involved cold drinks.
There’s something about a cold drink, with ice cubes crackling and condensation forming on the glass, each sip transforming your internal temperature, tickling your tongue and soothing your parched throat. Mister Boomer surmises that most boomers experienced the kind of cold drinks he did; soda pop wasn’t consumed in the house on a regular basis, but rather, a pitcher of water with ice was kept in the fridge. Mister B’s mother loved iced tea, so there was often a pitcher of that, also. Mister B and his siblings, would, on occassion, make a pitcher of Flavor Aid, as it was the cheaper alternative to Kool-Aid. And then there was always the option of taking a long, cool drink from the garden hose.
Yet Mister Boomer’s fondest memories of grabbing a cold one are outside the home, like riding bikes over to the local A&W, chugging a Coke at the corner gas station, or dipping into an ice-filled galvanized bucket for a can of soda pop at his father’s company picnics.
When one kid on his block got sporting equipment, others followed suit so play could begin. Though all of the neighborhood boys had baseball gloves, bats and balls, none of them had tennis rackets. A neighbor pal of Mister B’s received a racket as a birthday gift from his parents. Knowing that their suburb was hardly a tennis community, they bought two rackets, so their son could find a friend to play with. In this case, the friend was Mister B.
One advantage to living in a community that wasn’t into tennis was that the city courts were always available. The disadvantages, of course, were that not much effort was put into constructing or maintaining them. Consequently, the nets were permanent, drooping metal fence structures, and the concrete was often cracked, with small patches of weeds reaching up through to the summer sun. About a mile from Mister B’s house was the premier city park, where the courts were in better condition. These courts had another advantage in that the A&W Root Beer stand was a straight shot down the road, about another mile.
After some spirited play, the boys were sufficiently heated and parched. Play over, they would pedal their bikes to the A&W. Leaning their bikes against a pole, they took places on stools at an outdoor counter. From their seated positions, they could observe a waitress as she retrieved tall, ice cold, frosty glass mugs from the refrigerated case below the counter. Holding two at a time by the mug handles, she filled them at the root beer spigot, giving each one a foamy head that tantalizingly peaked over the edge of the mug. Mister B thought it was a thing of beauty, and as such, he didn’t dive headlong into the frothy coldness. First he clasped the glass with both hand to feel the chill. As the summer sun beat down, he’d remove his cap and place his now-cold hands across his forehead and neck. Cap returned and face refreshed, he savored every cool second as he sipped the sweet, ice cold root beer. He couldn’t help but wonder, did summer ever get any better than that?
For many of Mister B’s neighborhood friends, the best cold one was served up at the corner Sinclair gas station. Was it summer in the 1950s and ’60s without grabbing an ice cold Coca-Cola? As Mister B has written before, his neighborhood played together as a group, including differing ages and occasionally mixing boys and girls. At the top of the list for summer days was a seemingly endless game of baseball. When the sun heated things up to an unbearable level, though, it was time to grab a cold one, and there was only one place that would do. The Sinclair station kept the Coke machine outside in the summer. This vending marvel was a superstar in the eyes of neighborhood, as it held the iciest Cokes around. For a mere ten cents, you could push the handle on the front of the machine and and that famously-shaped green glass bottle would drop into the bin below. Once in hand, a kid would slip the cap of the bottle under the bottle opener and, with a slight downward motion, hear the satisfying sphh-h-h-t-t-t as carbonated gas exited from the liquid. Then for many of the neighborhood kids, it was all about chugging. Coke introduced the 6.5 ounce bottle in the 1950s, so it was relatively easy for growing boys to raise the bottle to the sky and drain it in one continuous, refreshing swallow. Mister B, however, always with an eye on frugality and value, preferred to let the summery coldness slide down in waves rather than in one shot. It would take him three or more swigs to finish the bottle. Fully refreshed, the boys deposited the empty glass bottles into the slots of the wooden cases alongside the machine.
Each summer the company that Mister Boomer’s father worked for held a picnic at a state park. Potato sack races notwithstanding, what Mister B, then in his pre-teen years, remembers most is the large galvanized metal tubs, filled to brim with ice cubes and cans of soda pop. On one particular outing, Mister B headed to the refreshment area and found a tub where the ice was half-melted. Soda pop cans had drifted to the bottom, but knowing this melted state produced supremely cold beverages, he plunged his arm into the freezing water, entering up to his elbow in order to grab a Dad’s Root Beer. Resurfacing with his chilly treasure, he realized that he was wearing his Timex watch on the hand that he dunked. Temporarily, the soda pop would have to wait as he feverishly tried to dry off the watch. It was not waterproof, and now was not running. Upset with his oversight, he tried to enjoy the cold one he had so sacrificed for, but a little of the pleasure had been diminished. Later that day he was able to get the watch to run again, but it was never quite the same. He hasn’t dipped a hand into a bucket filled with ice since.
Years before grabbing a cold one could ever refer to beer, boomers cooled off with lemonade, ice tea, powdered drink mixes, water and, on occasion, soda pop. Just thinking about it reminds Mister B of hot summer days. What did “grab a cold one” mean to your boomer formative years?