So with this latest “didn’t make it” installment, I will correct any shortsightedness.
As recorded earlier, as an adolescent I was very fond of orange chiffon cakes, oatmeal, chocolate chip and walnut cookies, and PB and jelly, mixed together and placed on one piece of white bread, folded over, accompanied by a glass of milk. Another fave was a stacked combo of bread & butter pickles and American cheese on a regular saltine cracker—but my food focus in those earlier years was not strong. I was too involved with becoming a teenager without serious physical incident, so my burgeoning creativity with food was slow to develop.
It wasn’t until I reached double digits that my cravings took on a more prominent, and sometimes wacky turn. And due to the phenomenon of how quickly we could get around via bicycles, as my world enlarged, so did my penchant for foods, not all of it normal.
For starters, the already iconic Coca Cola did not make my preferred list. There was just something about the taste that turned me off (a vague reference to its murky “drug” past maybe? After all, my father referred to the soft drink as “dope.”) Instead, I went for Pepsi Cola, although my preference came with sidebars. Drinking this well-known #2 in-the-industry product came with another need: the bottle that contained the soda. Until it was phased out in the 1980’s, Pepsi came in a distinctive 16 ounce glass bottle, which to me looked like cut glass. And with its distinctive red, white and blue logo smiling back at me against a colorless background, it was the container that completed the picture, while satisfying completely my taste buds. Cans and other types of bottles had begun to hit the market when I was about 12 or 13, but I refused to accept them. To me, nothing took the place of drinking straight from that gorgeous “cut glass” bottle.
My friend Matt shared in my love this unique bottle too. So much so that he usually kept 10-12 empties under his bed as souvenirs—until his mom discovered them and made him return them for cash, lest they became a haven for creepy crawling critters—attracted by the half-teaspoon of the sugary substance that usually remained in each container.
Where candy bars were concerned, my favorite were the MARS twins, Almond Joy and Mounds, which we could purchase easily in our own neighborhood, at the Lee Street Store, which is still going strong. Of the two, Mounds was my bar of choice, mainly due to being covered in dark chocolate. Almond Joys may have offered the nut as part of the deal, but the cover was milk chocolate. Baby Ruth’s were okay, but kinda chewy. Heath Bars were a treat, but their vague coffee aroma made it an every-now-and-then event.
When we attended any of the 5-6 movie theatres then available to us, sometimes the food choice was limited to one item: popcorn. And with nothing to wash it down with but water from the fountains in the lobby, we didn’t indulge frequently. However, in just about every venue (except the “Buggy” Boone, in which we had an unwritten agreement to avoid all foods sold in that place,) the popcorn was delicious. But it was at the Uptown Theatre where the goodies were plentiful. There you could buy (and take into the theatre to watch Randolph Scott do his thing) soft drinks (Coke, Pepsi, Dad’s Root Beer, 7UP, Dr. Pepper, Orange Crush, Nehi and the like), and you could also get hot dogs! Cooked on a rotisserie fronted by a thick plastic cover (so you could actually see them being cooked), they were served in a pre-warmed bun, and were heavenly.
Being from the middle of the Midwest, most of us referred to the soft drinks we consumed as “pop,” or the more formal “soda pop”. We rarely, if ever, said “soda,” but sometimes identified our drink of choice as either “Coke” or “Pepsi,” no matter what brand or flavor we were reaching for.
I have no examples for fast food: there really was no such animal in those days. In the early 1950s, Dairy Queen was the only outlet that came close to meeting that definition. But when they first showed up, all they served was what we called “fake ice cream” (iced milk)—but ate anyway. The closest definition to fast food then were the various hamburger joints. While on the greasy side, they served us well. (My favorite “complete” meal when still in grade school was a hamburger on a toasted bun, with relish, mustard and catsup (hold the onions) and a chocolate malt.)
When fully fleshed out as teenagers, we pointed our Schwinn’s, Elgin’s and Roadmaster’s toward places like Long’s BBQ at 9th and Elm, right across the street from the University’s sainted School of Journalism. The hamburgers there, doused with a ‘special’ sauce (we were told later it contained water, catsup and caraway seeds) offered as a side for dunking fries, were out of this world. The guy responsible for these delicacies had worked for Ernie Lewis, who owned Drake’s Drive-In out on Highway 40 and later opened Ernie’s Steak House, which is still doing business.
Since our parents didn’t go out to dinner that often, (not that far removed from the Depression, they were still frugal) but chose instead to invite guests and family over and do the honors themselves, our choices were limited. Our favorite “sit down” dinners tended to be dishes specially prepared by our moms or dads that became favorites. With me it was my dad’s BBQ ribs and the special way he prepared fish. With mom it was a cold salad, consisting of the unlikely combo of pineapple, cheddar cheese, marshmallows, mayonnaise, coconut, and something else I can’t remember.
I didn’t like Brussels sprouts (still don’t) and am not that crazy about avocados, but knowing they’re good for me, I do eat them occasionally.
As it was with most of us, my food preferences evolved over the years, a change which began when I started my four-year run working a board job at the Delta Gamma house at Northwestern. The head cook there was a big, loving black lady named Gussie. She wasn’t that crazy about the girls, was tough on the delivery men, and a little short on extensive conversation, but she loved us to death—and it was reciprocated.
I learned a lot from her; but that’s another story, and would be part of my sequel.