Memory

Every so often some trivial thing will evoke a memory of something I haven’t thought about in decades. If I had the gift and the memory-evoking thing were the smell of madeleines, it might inspire me to write thousands of pages of novels. In this case what brought old memories floating back to the surface was just a television commercial and it will only produce a blog post but, since it’s a memory of a world that no longer exists, I thought I’d pass it along.

When I was a kid no more than eight or nine years old every so often I’d walk the half mile or so along the main drag of the gritty neighborhood we lived in at the time from my home to the drug store. Sometimes I’d pick up a few glass bottles along the way I could return for the deposits. At the drug store I’d purchase a comic book, sit at the counter, and order a cherry coke. In those olden days a cherry coke wasn’t the horrible ersatz thing that passes for a cherry coke today and makes you wonder why anyone would ever drink such a thing but was made to order from carbonated water, coca cola syrup, and cherry syrup.

I’d sit there, drink my coke, read my comic book, and be transported to the future or a world of superheroes and grand adventures. These weren’t the dark worlds of today’s comics but the bright, heroic worlds of the comics of my boyhood—a difference so immense I can hardly explain it to you.

Just writing this has evoked another memory. I think the last time I sat at a drug store counter and drank a cherry coke I purchased not a comic book but a paperback book. That was more than thirty-five years ago in a different town and a different drugstore. I think I still have the paperback somewhere around here. It was a novelization of Star Wars, issued before the movie was released. Another bright, heroic world. In a galaxy far, far away.

16 comments… add one

  • jan

    Childhood memories have a filtered glow around them, where the ‘good’ is pungently preserved, while the remainder of our experiences are placed in a tickler file somewhere in the back of our cranial file cabinet.

    When I was growing up there was no discretionary money for food or soft drinks outside the home. We didn’t eat out at all. The only luxury was an infrequent single scoop of ice cream. Consequently, when I started dating in my mid-teens, it was such a delight to have my boyfriend buy me a milk shake, soda or hamburger. That’s also why I started working so young — in order to have some money of my own.

  • ...

    We used to collect bottles for the deposits, and then take the money to the video game joint just off-campus near Evans High School – Game Street USA. You could get eight tokens for a dollar back then, which was awesome!

  • I’ve mentioned the darker side of the childhood of my memories before. On the walk from home to the drug store I passed a brothel and three rather dingy bars. If I cut down the alley (usually a good place to find bottles), there was usually an elderly black man smoking a joint on his back stoop.

    Behind our house there was an open sewer which smelled to high heaven in the St. Louis summer.

    When I was small money was pretty tight. My dad practiced law during the day trying to get his practice established and taught it at night. We were still much better off than our neighbors. Basically a blue collar neighborhood.

    None of my siblings have memories of any of this.

  • ...

    Don’t know where to drop this, so I’ll do it here. I saw this somewhere else today the WaPo or NYTs I think, but I can’t find that. Thus the second rate source.

    Most of pdf computer files are left unread: World Bank study

  • ...

    I’ve mentioned the darker side of the childhood of my memories before. On the walk from home to the drug store I passed a brothel and three rather dingy bars. If I cut down the alley (usually a good place to find bottles), there was usually an elderly black man smoking a joint on his back stoop.

    So what was the dark stuff?

  • Well, it wasn’t Leave It to Beaver. It wasn’t even The Life of Riley.

    A few months back I had occasion to go down to Bronzeville. I was overwhelmed with nostalgia. You can google that for pictures. Similar except for the high-rise projects. Pruitt-Igoe was a ways east of us and a bit north.

  • Some time I’ll need to dredge up some memories and write about inner city St. Louis in the 1950s and 60s. Pruitt-Igoe was built in what used to be called “Kerry Patch”—the poor Irish neighborhood. The parish there was St. Patrick’s.

    When I was a teenager I occasionally went to St. Patrick’s to sing with their choir. There weren’t too many white boys singing solos with black choirs in those days. It was tremendous fun.

  • PD Shaw

    As a nostalgic aside, I’ve started reading Voodoo Tales: The Ghost Stories of Henry S. Whitehead, which so far (about a quarter of the way through) is more optimistic and possibly even heroic than most stories in this genre. Would like to read more stories set in the Virgin Islands, but I’ve seen some reviews that suggest the collection saves the best material later (perhaps due to chronological fealty).

  • michael reynolds

    I remember those comics, before they got so angsty. Used to get them courtesy of the army PX. Batman mostly IIRC, Fantastic Four, and I think Spidey just coming on the scene. Also read Tintin en francais while we lived in France, and of course Hardy Boys and Ivanhoe in English. It’s probably weird that the one location from my childhood that stuck with me was Fouras, France, a small, unknown, out of the way Atlantic beach town. Not much like St. Louis. The old black man smoking a joint in an alleyway was an old Frenchman in a Deux Chevaux smoking a Gauloise.

  • Voodoo Tales: The Ghost Stories of Henry S. Whitehead,

    I recommend them highly. If memory serves, Whitehead had served as an Episcopal priest in the Virgin Islands so his stories have a certain verisimilitude.

  • I remember those comics, before they got so angsty

    Nowadays they’re all dark. They just killed off Archie, for goodness sake.

  • Cstanley

    Nowadays they’re all dark. They just killed off Archie, for goodness sake.

    Modern pop culture is all dark, with only the artificial light of ironic humor.

  • Cstanley

    So what was the commercial that triggered the memory?

    Our drugstore in Old Bridge NJ (where my Babci bought us Archie comics with the money she earned from taking in ironing) didn’t have a soda counter. The first memory I have of a fountain drink was after we’d moved to a small town in Connecticut and a neighbor took us to Guilford for a Checkerberry soda. It was a mystery flavor made with ice cream, Checkerberry syrup, and soda water.

  • I just learned something. Checkerberry is another word for teaberry or wintergreen.

    It was a commercial for cherry cola.

  • PD Shaw

    Hmmm, Archie has been dealing with the Zombie apocalypse, and now he’s dead? I suspect a twist and he’ll be back alive, but something didn’t return with him, his sense of decency and humor, or maybe something can back with him? First scene: pieces of Jughead are found spread all over Ms. Grundy’s home room. Who could have done it?

  • Cstanley

    I just learned something. Checkerberry is another word for teaberry or wintergreen

    Yep, that sounds right. It was an unfamiliar flavor to me at the time, and I mainly remember it being pink, sweet, and fizzy.

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