Wednesday, July 6, 2011


We’ve been making just gallons of Crystal Light, mostly Tangerine/Orange and Fruit Punch flavors, and Chris’ favorite:   Peach Mango Tea.   Both call to mind the endless Kool-Aid pitchers of childhood Summers.    There was also a drink-mix packet of the time which sold for a penny, unlike its ritzier kin in the 5-cent pack.    We called it Penny Drink, and I don’t recall ever making any at our house, but drank it often at parties and picnics and just at a friend’s house on a hot afternoon.   It was small, as I remember, flat and thin and about the size of the Knox Gelatin envelope, and may have made only a quart.

The stuff calls to mind such a day in the Fifties---sleepy Southern town, hot as blazes, with the heat from the sidewalks to blister your soles through your shoes, and the sun itself to crackle the tiny hairs on your cheeks into a tickly mask.

None of us had air-conditioning yet, and so we think now that perhaps we just didn’t “feel” the heat.   Yes, we DID.   I can remember the scratchy Sunday dress---pale blue voile, quickly aproned-over at home while we got dinner on the table and did the dishes, and worn back out into the two-o’clock blast of the day.   We went to church in full regalia, looking much like the ladies who square-dance today on outdoor stages at the Fair.

The coolish prickles of perspiration beneath all those seams and darts and nylony fabric added to the discomfort, but what the heck.   It’s WHAT YOU WORE.   A Sunday dress, on a Sunday afternoon (the tale of a trip to the lake in such a yellow, stiff outfit with petticoats is past bearing, even in the remembrance).

And I think I was probably wearing a little makeup by then---RealSilk, if I remember correctly, for a stern, deep-voiced, no-nonsense older woman was the Representative, and she made monthly calls on my Mother, who heartily resented being “put on the spot” by the confident flourish of the big caseful of products and the pushy old lady, but felt obligated to buy at least something.   And so my face was also probably covered in a film of Natural or Nude, adding to the discomfort factor.

And stockin’s---who ever heard of a Sunday dress without STOCKIN’S?   And since we were probably going straight on to the five-thirty Youth Gathering and BTU, then Evening Church---we wore those confining clothes ALL DAY, until the walk home after Just as I Am and the final handshake.   I was usually stepping out of my shoes on the porch, and would have kicked them off sooner and walked the sidewalk home barefoot, if those pesky hose hadn’t been so fragile.   And removing them in plain sight, dark or not, on the street---I’d as soon have mooned the preacher.

One particular Sunday, I’d been invited to come spend the afternoon with my friend at her strange “apartment” in an old converted storage-locker building---she had two new records.   There were four or five apartments the length of the old block-building, with the front doors opening right out onto the town sidewalk.   The little front-door areas outside every place but hers were filled with rattly chairs, a rump-sprung old couch, some coffee-cans of struggling flowers, and a gaggle of kids and lounging old folks.  

But her house had a pink front door, a welcome mat, and one pretty black wrought-iron stand, with a pot of pink petunias, all put there by Lynne herself, in a desperate attempt to better at least the appearance of her surroundings.

The inside was made of however-the-storage-rooms had originally been, with a windowless kitchen, and her own room with a big curtain stretched over the doorless archway.   We sat on her bed and listened to her new 45’s, and I remember helping her glue the tee-ninecy black corners into the equally-black pages of a big heavy scrapbook. 

  The gentle bend and snap of the black-and-white Kodak pictures into those perfectly-aligned spaces punctuated the afternoon’s fan-whirr and the distant mute of the Gospel music on her Mother’s kitchen radio competing with the strains of Elvis on the little brown turntable with a big spool for adapter.

The whole house smelled of the rich chicken broth simmering on the stove, making a redolent sauna of the humid heat of the house, with the musky, sage-y scent of an incongruous Thanksgiving permeating even MY clothes by the end of the afternoon.

Her Mama called us to come help her get the table ready for the five-o’clock dinner---we laid three places on that silver-gray formica, slick as flat mother-of-pearl, and arrayed with a tall red coffeecan of clean steel silverware, bottles of ketchup and Tabasco, a little silver snuffcan sprouting a bristly brush of toothpicks, the little bottle of BB-size saccharine tablets, and a stack of wrinkly one-ply napkins under a spoon.   There were only three places, for I was forbidden to eat at any friend’s house, and we were leaving, but her GrandDaddy made the third.  Her Daddy was there, but like most Daddies of the time, an almost invisible presence behind the Sunday paper.

 Grandpa had always lived with them, mostly staying in his room with a ballgame on the radio, or out at the town’s one picnic table-in-the-shade, just across the street, with a Perry Mason or Horatio Hornblower from the library, or strolling round to the Mayor’s office, with the always-full bench of his khaki-clad friends with galluses and hats and desultory discussions between whittle-and-spit.

I watched, fascinated, as Mrs. Waters used a big slotted flat utensil to remove scoop after scoop of chicken-backs from the pot, then strained the whole pot of broth through the big colander into a pan.    She picked through, removing the tiny separated bones, putting all the whole sections onto a platter for everyone to pick over for leavings, then wrapped the debris in a section of newspaper before putting it into the brown paper grocery bag lining the garbage can.

On the linoleum counter, she scattered great handfuls of flour, and removed a round of dumplin’ dough from the fridge, sectioning it neatly into four pieces with a big knife, then rolling each crawly flap thin and pliable.   Great cuts of the knife all around the big circle, and handful after handful of the little squares into the simmering pot, where they disappeared into the goldy-gray depths.   I could see tiny shards of transparent onion, small chips of carrot, a smile or two of sliced celery dancing at the top of the boil, as she rolled and sliced, rolled and sliced.

We got ice into the glasses, as she told Lynne, “Go see what flavor Penny-Drink Papa wants,” and when she returned, we made the grape, measuring the sugar by eye with a coffeecup, and stirring the violently-purple liquid in a big old battered silvery pitcher with the ice-catcher.  

We set wide soupbowls at each place, cut the black skillet of cornbread into wedges, and the big pot of dumplin’s was set onto a towel on the table.

I can’t reconcile the sugary drink with the bottle of saccharine, but since Papa got to choose the flavor, I suppose he drank some.    Lynne and I freshened up our lipstick, gave a quick touch to our hair, and headed out for the Youth meeting, where the Good Church Ladies always served a few refreshments to get us through two hours of church til we could get home to our suppers.  

And the frosty pitcher of that ersatz Kool-Aid seemed like the most refreshing spot in the Universe.

I've been Goggling several variations of "Penny Drink," "One Cent"  "Powder Drink Mixes 1950s" and hope that someone remembers the real name of that tiny packet of powder-for-a-penny.


Chesapeake said...

Wyler's was available in our area, cheaper than Kool Aid.

LV said...

Loved you refreshing post today. Just seeing and visioning all this makes me think it is cooler.

Beverly said...

My husband would have loved the chicken and dumplings.

I do remember Kool-Aid, but I must confess that I never liked it. It was just too sweet for me. I was a big lemonade fan.

I grew up in south Florida, and we didn't wear stockings - thank the Lord. I do remember those hot Sunday dresses, and I did lots of squirming and scratching enduring the beauty.

Kim Shook said...

I still like Kool-Aid - though I make it with Splenda now. I've got a pitcher of Cherry in the fridge right now. A must in summer.

Rachel, this was a gorgeous post. You say so much, but not too much. Can I tell you again that you are my hero??? Mwah, girlfriend!!

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