Soda pop, or just “pop”, as we called it in Ohio, was not always like it is today. Drinking a pop was a special occasion, and closely regulated by our parents. The only soft drinks we kept around on a regular basis were ginger ale and tonic water, and those were left over from the rare evening party my parents held for other adults. My mother would often serve us ginger ale when we were nauseated or suffering from influenza. I’m not sure how ginger ale became a tonic, especially when there was tonic water already in the refrigerator, but I think it was a case of a mother feeling the need to do something for her sick child, and ginger ale tasted better than tonic water, so ginger ale it was. She served crackers too, so it was a one-two punch of soda pop and soda crackers.
When my parents hosted a day-time party, it was a cause dé celebration for us kids. This was typically in the summer, and was a thinly veiled excuse to have family members over to eat grilled hamburgers and drink cheap beer. As kids, we didn’t care what the reason, and we endured the forced labor of cleaning the garage because the payoff, the reward, was unfettered access to pop during the party.
The pop was bought from a beverage store (at least that’s how they were known in our part of Ohio). The store would be stacked and crowded with cases of bottled beer and and soda pop. There was a walk-in cooler in back for beer ready to serve. Placards and banners promoted various brands or specials, but in the era of supermarket coupons, it was cheaper to buy in quantity from these small, dark, family owned beverage stores, so advertising and merchandising was not really the point.
Going to the beverage store was an exciting precursor to the party. If brought along for the ride, we had an opportunity to influence some of the decisions. I was not that enamored of Coke or Pepsi back then, but absolutely loved root beer. My mother had a thing for cream soda, which I thought was weird, and would question the sanity of such a purchase. But the reality was that we were there to save money. A few name brand mixers were bought for drinks (the aforementioned ginger ale and tonic water) but for the kids and really old people, the cheapest soda pop available was selected.
That’s where O-So came in. They were packaged in ten ounce bottles, and arranged in wooden boxes, in a mixed array of flavors: purple, red, orange, brown, and white. They were supposed to be grape, cherry, orange, root beer, and cream soda, but they tasted nothing like that, and it was just easier to refer to their colors, orange notwithstanding. Because the case of small bottles was relatively light, I could, as a kid, help load them in the trunk, which I did with great care. Fear of my father’s retribution for wasting money and making a mess focused my attention.
The pop was loaded in a steel cooler and packed with ice. We were forbidden from drinking anything before the guests arrived, but there was usually so much barking about sweeping, arranging, and setting chairs that there was little time for worrying about it. Besides, as long as both of my brothers were suffering as equally as I suffered, it was okay to wait.
I believe purple was O-So’s flagship flavor, but those went so quickly in the mad grab by kids that it was hardly even a factor in the decision. I remember ending up with “red” a lot. It may have been intended to taste like cherry, but it was always strong and spicy, and was nothing like the cherries from our tree out back. “Red,” in fact, became my favorite because I was much more fearful of ending up with O-So’s version of cream soda.
The cooler had a bottle opener on the side. That was the other neat thing: we opened the bottles just like the adults opened their beer. If we wandered away from the cooler too quickly after our grab, we might have to venture into the garage where a church key could be found among the tools. For me, as a kid, I was much more into holding onto a long neck bottle of something to drink, even though “red” didn’t taste that good. It’s kind of like getting married because everyone else is getting married, and then realizing the orange soda may have been more to your liking.
During one of the parties, we had lost a tree some time during the previous year, and so a stump remained. One of my brothers, or cousins, or an uncle, had the idea of pounding the bottle caps into the stump, and so the fun for that day was gathering the bottle caps, either beer or pop, and pounding them into the wood. Considering the amount of sugar we were consuming, we really needed to get busy.
As the party wound down, the bottles had to be returned to the wooden case, beer and pop alike. These were stacked in the garage to be returned the next weekend. In that sense, life itself is like a party: you build up and prepare to have fun; before you realize, the party is over, and you have to start cleaning up the mess. In the end, you’re left with dirty dishes, trash, and maybe, just maybe, a few good memories.