All of us have our own jostled collection of memories from our childhood and early days growing up in “Anywhere” USA. Whether you were in the city or the country you still managed to grow up doing things that hang in the recesses of your brain and every once in a while make the unexpected appearance as you daydream or drift off. You find yourself smiling without even knowing why until your consciousness returns and then you think, “oh yeah, I remember that!”
As I get along in years that seems to be happening to me more and more. So I thought, “Hey, I will write some of this crap down and see who else remembers these things along side of me” mainly to find out if I am disremembering or mistaken but also to share with others those little things that I remember most.
As far back as I can remember my brothers, friends and I would occasionally walk the roads on those summer days during school break looking for soda bottles. We would carry either an old feed sack or worn pillow case or the likes just to put our stash in as we found the bottles laying in the road side ditch. Back in those days in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina each bottle you found would fetch a nickel at any store. It did not have to go to a recycle center or collection point, back then every store returned the soda bottles for reuse. And to young entrepreneurs like myself, that $.05 per bottle was a good deal.
There was a good reason that nickel sounded good to us; back then there was a term called “penny candy” and it meant just that. Every piece of penny candy cost us only $.01 cent. Sometimes tootsie rolls, peanut butter bars, caramel creams, Mary Janes, fire balls and other small pieces were 2 or 3 for a penny. It only took a couple of bottles to be able to purchase a nice little sugar snack.
I remember a few times we hit the jackpot and found a couple dozen of bottles at one time. For that kind of money we could buy a soda and candy which was a double treat.
One of my favorite treats to buy during those outings was made by a company called Boyer. They had two snacks that to this day when I find them I buy a couple just because they are hard for me to find in Oklahoma. The first was called “Mallo Cup” and the second was “Smoothie”.
The Mallo Cup was milk chocolate with a marshmallow cream center. There was some kind of rice-crunch-type stuff mixed into the chocolate, I still don’t know what it was and I do not care. All I know was it was delicious. The second was just as good but was kind of like a Peanut Butter fudge style candy. It was delicious as well. With both of these purchases there was a secondary reason for selecting these over some of the other delicious candies. Boyer offered you a chance to “earn” free candy. Free Candy; are you kidding me? I’m there. The way they did this was the buyer collected 500 points ($5.00) in their play money. With each purchase you received a cardboard card printed with a value from 5 points up to 100 points each. You simply saved these until you reached 500 points and then sent them into Boyer. A couple of weeks or so later that magical brown paper wrapped package would be in your mailbox and you had just received FREE CANDY. Heck, you could even select which of the two you wanted, the Mallo Cup or the Smoothie.
As a kid we always looked for anything that might be collected so we could trade it in for free stuff. I remember this one time that the Royal Crown Cola Company in our area ran a collection trade campaign for a whole year that involved collecting their bottle caps that had pictures of playing cards under the cap. They distributed among all the local stores these large paper posters that as you collected a cap, you would glue it to the paper in its proper place. Once you filled the entire “deck” of cards you could take it to any store around and trade it in for A WHOLE CASE of soda! The RC company was also the bottler and distributor for all the “Crush” drinks as well so they included those drinks in the campaign. I had four siblings and the neighbor friends next door had four kids as well and we all scourged every community we went to and collected the caps. Most store owners assisted gladly when we asked them to empty their bottle cap receptacles into our collection. Mainly because they were sticky and nasty from the drying soda and by us emptying the machines the owners did not have to mess with them. There were of course those hateful old bastards that told us to get lost but for the most part we did not have trouble collecting our booty. By the end of the summer both families had cases of soda stacked almost to the ceiling of RC Cola and every flavor of Crush on the market. It was a great summer.
I will never forget Burke’s Grocery Store that was about half a mile from my home back then and the way Tad (Thalmage) Burke allowed me and my brothers dang near free reign in the store when we stopped in. Tad was truly one of those Old Country Store owners pictured in Norman Rockwell pictures of Americana that everyone wistfully remember. Tad and his wife Stella were in their latter years back then but they seemed to enjoy having kids come into the store. If one of them left the register to check on one of us it was to assist with the top shelf candies we could not reach and not because they thought we were stealing or the likes. I often suspected they kept some of them up high on purpose so they would have a reason to leave the counter but I’m not sure. Anyway, one of the candies that was always out of reach was those amazing Sugar Daddy, Sugar Mama and Sugar Babies. For those of you that never had them they were a collection of caramel sugar treats that lasted a long time in your mouth and were as sweet as any candy you could buy. At a nickel a piece they were divine.
Tad and Stella hosted another of the long standing traditions in southern grocers during that era as well by serving handmade sandwich’s at the purchaser’s request. They usually kept three or four different deli style meats like whole roll bologna or liver loaf in their small refrigerator they had next to the counter. They had the usual condiments and such ready to fix your sandwich and would accommodate your request pretty readily as long as they had it available. Most folks that lived in the area that did their usual household grocery shopping at Burke’s generally avoided going into the store during lunch hour just to avoid the wait of all the carpenters, brick layers, plumbers and other guys out on the job that stopped in to get a bite to eat. I remember many times Tad would have eight to ten guys lined up waiting to get a bologna sandwich to go with their “nibs”, “nabs” or chips. Nibs and Nabs were names many of the old country guys back in NC used to call their crackers or chips. I still remember Tad would sell them each a bologna sandwich, Coca-Cola and a pack of “nibs” for $.75 cents. It might cost more if you were wanting one of Tad’s extra thick sliced bologna sammich!
And speaking of Coca-Cola, how many of you knew, let alone remember, that Coca-Cola bottles were actually stamped on the bottom with the city and state of their original bottling plant location? We actually had a Coca-Cola bottling plant in my home town of North Wilkesboro, NC and that plant even stamped some of those bottles. I wish I had kept at least one of them and I could probably find one if I went back there looking. However, during those many lunches at Burke’s grocery a tradition was formed, and I even participated when I reached the working class later that included those coke bottle bottoms as a form of bet. It was tradition in those days, on occasion, that everyone in the lottery would draw a coke from the lift top cooler for their entry. We would predetermine either closest or most distant from our home town as to which would be the winning entry. Most of the time we selected the most distant simply because there were a lot of ties when two or more drew North Wilkesboro bottles. Many times the bet was for a quarter or something small but it was the thrill of the daily bet that always drew interest. It got to be such a thing that Tad kept a road Atlas under the counter where we could locate those far distant cities that no one was familiar with. Sometimes there was an obvious winner and sometimes we had to go to the Atlas. Tad had the final say and broke all ties with a flip of a coin.
And for most of us from the hill country and to this day there is still one tradition that remains when you are having your carpenter’s lunch at the local grocer’s and that is the Southern snack of an RC and MoonPie. That was many folks total lunch back in the day. You just grabbed a MoonPie and a RC, slapped your $.35 cents on the counter and went back to the job site.
I do remember one other thing about the snacks and sodas from that time long ago, I don’t think the controversy was ever settled as to which grape drink was the best; Nehi or Grapette. I guess to this day that is still an ongoing debate. Either way I do miss them both.
Well folks this has been a refreshing trip back and I hope you enjoyed the journey. Thanks for reading.
Tiny URL for this post: