Boomer Blog: To quench the thirst of summer


Another unprompted childhood memory recently floated by: a packet of Kool-Aid mix being torn open. That fleeting vision brought to mind the summer drinks we enjoyed when I was a kid.

Our beverages were quite basic. With breakfast we drank orange juice made from frozen concentrate sold in 12-ounce cans. My sister recycled some of those containers; she cut out both ends and used the resulting cylinders as rollers to curl her long, dark hair.

Otherwise, we drank milk from our own cows – raw, whole, unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk our father brought in fresh from the milk house. When Mother was in the mood to churn butter, she skimmed off the cream that had risen to the top. Accustomed to the flavor of our milk at home, I never cared for the “imitation” flavor of the pasteurized milk at school. Thank goodness for the chocolate milk we drank through straws from those waxy little cartons.

We did not drink pop of any flavor or brand for or between meals during any season. Mother did not buy carbonated beverages at the grocery, and our rambunctious troop never ate in restaurants – even the fast-food type, at that time in their infancy elsewhere in America.

On occasion, however, we did enjoy small mugs of root beer. When I was very young, we drove to the root beer stand on North Main Street, possibly located near the building where White’s Chrysler/Dodge now stands. The car hop would attach a metal tray laden with heavy glass mugs to the driver’s window. Hot dogs wrapped in white paper were also available, but we were lucky just to savor a frosty treat on a hot day. Oh, and there was that one unfortunate mishap involving a child’s jostle against the tray and the cascade of shattered glass that resulted. Eventually Ben’s Frostop, sporting its big, rotating mug, opened on Scioto Street to become Urbana’s root beer hot spot.

However, Kool-Aid was our go-to summertime treat. The “a five-cent package makes two quarts” jingle preceded the animated Kool-Aid Man. Mother made a double batch by pouring two envelopes of the drink powder into a white, enameled pan. She had her own “recipe,” using less sugar than called for and adding a bit of lemon juice. Finally, she would ladle the well-stirred red or purple liquid into our waiting cups.

Kids in town had another reason to celebrate summer and Kool-Aid. A friend described the Kool-Aid stand she set up in front of her home near the fairgrounds, often during fair week. Serving the public and earning good money – a winning combination not possible for my sisters and me out on River Road.

My sister reminded me of the “second generation” of drink mixes: Funny Face. The brand became popular in the mid 60’s with its character and flavor combinations – including Goofy Grape and Rootin’ Tootin’ Raspberry – as well as its sugarless ingredient list. In an early case of political correctness, Pillsbury changed the “faces” of a couple flavors to allay national origin and ethnic concerns. However, it was the use of cyclamates in place of sugar that doomed the continued sale of Funny Face.

Years later we indulged in the occasional glass of lemonade, also reconstituted from frozen concentrate. However, we were never iced tea drinkers. At family reunions there were gallons of it, but we just never developed a taste for the chilled version of the brewed beverage. For potlucks and county fair picnics, Kool-Aid was always “on tap” from our family thermos with the spigot.

Of course, there was always water. Whenever we pestered Mother for a snack, she replied without fail: if we were really hungry, a cracker would do; if we were really thirsty, a drink of water would suffice. Fortunately, we had plenty of tasty well water out in the country. There was really nothing better than a good, long drink of cold water on a steamy, hot day. By contrast, I spent several years acclimating myself to the less-delicious taste of “city” water.

Very early on, our drinking vessels were mostly glass, ceramic, or metal rather than the ubiquitous plastic of today; in fact, plastic sippy cups did not become popular until well after I had finished college. On one of my early trips to Germany, I noticed an interesting form of packaging for juice: a foil-type container into which a thin straw could be inserted. Several years later the German company introduced its Capri Sun pouches to America, and juice boxes gained wide acceptance shortly thereafter.

I remember when people drank pop from bottles that could be returned to the store for a deposit. The first time I ever saw a can of cola was in the hallway pop machine in my freshman dormitory – that was 1966. And everybody’s ever-present bottle of water did not begin to “trend” until twenty years ago or so.

I miss those carefree, summery days when we excitedly “lapped up” a cup of red Kool-Aid or enjoyed a refreshing swig of cold water straight from the tap. Currently, my daily beverage intake includes a cup of antioxidant-laden decaffeinated coffee with breakfast and 11 ounces of vegetable juice later in the day. And I attempt, often unsuccessfully, to guzzle the recommended eight glasses of “city” water. Quenching the thirst of summer these days is somehow not the same…