Maybe you remember the spring out behind the house, with a metal dipper laid on top of a stump, the water so cold it’d make your teeth ache. Back at the house, a well bucket sat on the kitchen table with another dipper hooked to the side. Everybody in the family drank out of the same dipper.
Maybe you remember the wide-mouthed glass jars on the top shelf of the refrigerator, filled with sweet cow’s milk, three inches of cream floating on top, Granny saying to the children, “Stir that milk,” but the children never did, instead pouring their jelly glasses full of rich cream.
There was always buttermilk.
There was always tea.
I was 20 years old before I ever heard the phrase “sweet tea,” said to a waitress at the Little Dipper in Asheboro by my friend who’d gone out of state to college. We ate chicken pie, and she ordered a “sweet tea,” as if there were any other kind, and it was the first time I’d ever considered the notion that tea might come unsweetened somewhere else.
Maybe you remember breaking from the tobacco fields at 10 in the morning, heat already spiking toward 90 degrees, and heading to the pickup with the cooler set out on the tailgate. Someone standing in the truck bed handed out drinks, tossed you a Cheerwine or a Dr Pepper, and you took your honey bun or your Royal Cake cream-filled oatmeal cookie to the shade of a tree and sat on the ground and stared off across the field and lifted that icy drink to your lips, sheer relief, nothing ever tasting so good in your life.
And then the farmer barked, “Pour ’em out and let’s get it!” and everybody chugged their drinks and tossed the empties back into the cooler and went back to work.
Maybe you remember playing American Legion baseball; after a game in Randolph County, you slid into the booth at the Dixie Burger in Ramseur — baseball players got free food — but your mouth was still dry from kicking up all that red dirt on the field, and nothing beat that first, long swig of a cold Pepsi, all syrup and sweetness and pure summer.
And there were the country stores — Van Lanier’s in Asheboro or the Grease and Run in Julian — where you ran in, screen door slamming, and tipped back the lid on the hulking chest freezer, a blast of cold air smacking you in the face, and reached in for a bottle of grape Nehi or orange Crush, flicking the cap into the built-in opener and guzzling half the bottle before you made it to the cash register.
There was no talk of “diet.”
Maybe you remember carrying bottles in their cardboard holders to the grocery store to cash in for a nickel deposit. On Saturday mornings, when my grandmother and I went to Food World, my job was to cart the bottles she’d placed in the floorboard to the bin at the front of the store.
I don’t see people doing that anymore. The first two-liter hit the shelves in 1970, and after that, it seems that a lot of things went away, that we all dove into a world of plastic and artificiality.
For a while, anyway.
I now see younger people, families with children, sitting at the soda fountain at Brown-Gardiner in Greensboro; I’ve popped open an RC to go with my BLT at Merritt’s Grill in Chapel Hill, and I’ve dug through 200 bottles at Corbett’s in Cary to find an old-fashioned Moxie.
Everything comes back around, if we give it time. The well always refills.