Monday, July 19, 2010

Lord, it's hot...

High summer means high temperatures. It means finding any way possible to cool off. Of course nowadays for most that means coming in from outside and into a nice air conditioned house. It might mean heading to the fridge for a cold drink of water or maybe a beer if you like one, or two. Some of us might head for the iced tea pitcher, and if you're from the south, the really, really southern south, it's going to be sweet... 1 cup of sugar or more per gallon. Yep, sweet tea. If it ain't -sweet- tea, it ain't good tea. Southern creed and words to live by. (For all you Northern visitors who want to be bonifide southerners while you're here).

As a kid we didn't have air conditioning. The closest thing we could come to for having a cold breeze blowing in your face was to open the refrigerator and stand there with your face planted in there for a few minutes. If you were super hot, you opened the freezer and stood there until your face hurt. That stood to get you through a couple more hours outside in the heat. Mama wasn't appreciative of our inventiveness for cooling off. I can hear her yelling at me or Jo to "Shut that refrigerator door right now if you don't want a switchin'!" The door was shut. Instantly. Until she went back outside or into another room. I'd steal another gasp of icy air and hit the back door, ready to face the onslaught of heat and humidity.

I bought an Orange Nehi the other day. I walked into the EZ mart, went to the glass doors at the back of the store and chose my drink from the shelf after debating between that, and the grape Nehi. I carried it to the front, and paid the cashier 1.49 for it. I have to say that Orange and Grape Nehi taste the same that they always did. Most things do not but those soda drinks haven't changed. They taste the same as they did back when I was a kid, living on Dewey Hill and the pallet plant across Front Street had a soda machine that we used to fund readily whenever we could.  Glass bottles. Twelve cent for the soda. It was work to get those drinks, let me tell you! Allowance was .25 cent a week. That was enough for two sodas. If we collected bottles and turned them in to Piggly Wiggly we could get 2 cent a bottle. Our neighborhood NEVER had empty soda bottles laying around. It was a chore to collect them and hot work but oh the reward.

Now we weren't supposed to have those drinks. Not because we weren't allowed to have sodas but that pallet plant had a gate in front and it was chained and that meant NO VISITORS - after hours.  The gates didn't quite close however and there was enough wiggle room for smallish kids to wriggle through, and wriggle we did. A dime and two pennies went into the machine and then we could open the door and pull one bottle out by the neck. Each machine had an opener under the coin slot and you had to be careful where you stepped there to open it because some of the tops fell out instead of into the collection cup and landed with the points up. Many of us hobbled around with a ring of tiny punctures on the soles of our feet because you just didn't give a dang about such caution when there was a cold soda to be had. Besides, there was a cure to the pain. Those bottles were icy cold - literally- sometimes. Occasionally there would be a plug of ice right at the neck of the bottle. Getting one of those was akin to finding the buried treasure of soda-dom. It was better than gold. That drink was extra cold and extra good. If we had any patience we'd rub the frosty bottle over our sweaty faces. If we had a bottle cap insignia on the sole of our foot, rubbing the cold bottle over that was an instant cure... and a good swallow of cold, sugar sweet, soda pop cured anything else that ailed you.

After we had our drinks it was time for a good game of hide and seek among the pallets. I shudder today to think of the danger but back then it was adventure. The scent of pine was like an invisble lure, pulling us to the piles of stacked pallets. 10, 15, 20 high... rows and rows and rows of them, and carpeting the cement floors where they were stacked in the open sheds was a fine layer of saw dust. We climbed and scrambled over the pallets like miniature mountain climbers. Splinters were a common threat to grasping fingers seeking the next pallet on the climb to the top. Grubby fingers tugged out what we could, and what we couldn't, a pair of tweezers took care of once we got home, but never did it cut short the game of who would be the first to reach the top of the tower, and survey the kingdom of sawdust some 10-12 feet down. They wobbled, those pallets, and I can think of how seriously I might have been hurt if I'd fallen from the top, now. Then, of course, I was invincible.

Once, several of us were playing when we heard a truck door, and the chain rattling. We were scrambling all over the stacks and I peered over the edge of the pile I was climbing on. The man drove through the open gate and then he got out. He looked at the piles of pallets and frowned. Then he started calling for us to come down, to get out of there... to come down right now and to get off of the property because it was private and we could get hurt. No one moved. To this day I don't know if someone told him kids were playing in there or if he came back to get something and saw one of us, or what. We waited and it seemed like it was forever before he went into the office and then came out and left. We left too. The next day a huge new gate was installed and it did close all the way, tightly, and ruined our games of hide and seek. We occasionally did go across the street during the day and bought sodas from them and they were alright with that. Now and then one of the men would come out and buy us a drink before we could get our money into the machine.

Nothing tasted better than those cold Grape Nehi drinks, and nothing sounded more refreshing than to hear the glass bottles clinking down into place when one was removed, ready for the next thirsty traveler from across the street.

I remember those days and working where I do, in a lumber yard, I can walk through our warehouse and smell the scent of pine boards, see the empty pallets that we've stacked up that freight came on, and taste those Nehi drinks... and I can go back to summer in 1963 for just a few minutes. It's a trip back in time, a trip to carefree happiness and bliss for a mere 12 cent, a rusty loose chain and fence,  and the risk of a splinter or two. Weighing the cost against the reward, it was a small price to pay.