A drink by any other name

No matter what you choose to call it, soda, soda pop, pop, tonic or soft drink, almost all of us have had that fizzy drink at one time or another. It’s moniker typically depends upon where you live. In New England, many of us refer to it as soda, but some of us still call it tonic. I can remember calling it tonic as a kid. But back then, (hair) tonic was also something a guy would rub into his hair to give it that Rock of Gibraltar look. Fortunately, it wasn’t that easy to confuse the two. Our friends down south called the drink pop. Andy often allowed Opie to get himself a bottle of pop at Wally’s Garage on the old Andy Griffith Show. Radar O’Reilly preferred Grape Nehi, but that goes way back. Today we can even draft our own concoction with the various home soda making options available.

Back in the day, aluminum cans hadn’t fully evolved, and we’d all buy our soda in glass bottles, long before anyone saw the need to recycle. It was just common sense. Use a bottle, wash it, and use it again. Granted, there were bottle deposits.

On a hot summer day, we could quench our thirst by dropping a dime into vending machines that relied pretty much on gravity to dispense their product. The caps were not twist offs, so a bottle opener was built into the machine itself, collecting each cap removed. Oh, to own a few of those relics now. Many are worth thousands!

Long time residents of Nashua may remember the former Lucky Strike Bottling Company, a soda bottler on East Hollis Street. There you could buy cases of soda in flavors like cola, root beer, orange, ginger ale or cream soda (my favorite) packed in what are now considered very retro wooden containers, for much less than you’d pay for national brands. Once consumed, one could simply return the empties and start all over again. Come party time or on holidays, it was a busy place.

Diet soda? Not really. And this was long before any concern of soda being a health hazard. Today, evidence points to even diet soda as such. I can remember a brand named Jic-Jac, which gave you 16 ounces of product for the same price as the national brand’s 12 ounces (then 10 cents). For kids with limited cash, it was quite popular.

Of course, a soda could also be had at any one of the fountain services available downtown or at any one of many restaurants. A soda jerk wasn’t necessarily a wise guy or bad person, but just a nickname for one who dispensed soda at a fountain. Like today, fountain drinks were any one of the popular brands that were purchased as a syrup and mixed through a pump with soda water at the counter. The only drawback to that is, if the taste of the water itself is questionable, so is the end-product. Remember the cone-shaped paper cups dropped into metal holders that were used to serve drinks?

Some sodas of the day were even touted to have medicinal value. I can recall my Mom buying Coke syrup at Lussier’s Pharmacy on Pearl Street when I had an upset stomach. Not sure what the ingredient was that did the trick, but it worked. The same result could be had by putting bottled Coke in a glass and stirring it until the fizz dissipated. Believe it or not, that was an actual suggestion by our family doctor!

Remember getting rich as a kid by returning “small” bottles for 2 cents and if you were lucky enough, getting your hands on the “big” bottles would net you a whole nickel? Or, you could trade their value for penny candy at the local corner store. Let’s see, hot tamales were four for a penny, so a “big” bottle would net you enough candy for whole a week!

Eventually, aluminum cans gained in popularity. But unlike today’s containers, early cans had a fully removable pull ring. Those rings often turned into land mines on beaches, at times causing nasty wounds on a beachgoer’s foot. The irresponsible disposal of those rings led to today’s cans with tabs that remain affixed after opening. Many creative kids back then looped the rings together to make bracelets and necklaces.

Cola, ginger ale, cream soda … Writing this flashback is beginning to cause me some thirst. Makes me want to get myself a diet soda, eh, tonic, eh, pop. … Or maybe just something to drink!