There really was an RC time

Published 3:54 pm Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Memories are weird. It doesn’t take much of anything to send my mind running down some old trail that I haven’t visited in decades.

Like Ole Bulger, the coon hound, getting a whiff of some critter on Saturday night and simply taking off after it, leading whomever will follow through the woods.

Donna Sue and I had stopped by The Fresh Market in Tallahassee for some fresh squeezed orange juice. That’s all we went in for, until I walked by the cold drink cooler and saw a bottle of Frostie Root Beer. I couldn’t believe my eyes and even called Donna Sue over to look.

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I had not even thought about Frostie Root Beer for decades. For all I knew, Frostie Root Beer had gone the way of all those little, country stores that populated the crossroads of my boyhood. There was a time when, if two roads crossed, there would be a little, country store with one gasoline pump, a good supply of Vienna sausages, sardines, saltine crackers, light bread, other snacks and cold drinks.

I took a closer look at that Frostie Root Beer. It looked the same and I told Donna Sue, “I’ve just got to have me one of those.”

Of course, I was shocked at the $1.29 that it cost. The last time I remember buying one, I think it was a dime or pretty close to it.

That Frostie Root Beer and the fact that it is June took me wandering down the trail of summers gone by. What would I have been doing way back when?

We didn’t get out of school until June back then and, once school recessed, there was plenty to do on the farm. These days kids seem to want to get out of school as quickly as they can. I liked the excuse of school that kept me out of those tobacco and peanut patches.

I’ve said it here before because it was such a big part of my growing up, but the tobacco patch was a first priority back then. The crop of tobacco was planted in early April and, after that, there was the plowing, the hoeing, the suckering, the topping and the gathering. After it was gathered, it was put in the barn, cooked, taken out of the barn, put in sheets, loaded on the truck, taken to the market, and thankfully sold. Did I say that it took a lot of work?

Around this time of the year, we would begin to think about harvesting. Crews would be arranged. Usually neighborhoods would supply their own labor. There were plenty of children to work and some worked better than others.

Our family helped my aunt and uncle. Between our two families, we were just about able to take care of the tobacco business. A crew consisted of four croppers, four stringers, a driver for the harvester, and one who would walk behind the harvester. That was my first job at the age of 8 or 9. I can’t remember exactly the age I began, but the older I get the younger I started. I guess if I live long enough, I will say that I started at around 2 or 3 years of age!

So what does Frostie Root Beer have to do with all of this? Am I chasing some rabbit or coon like Ole Bulger? Well, hang on, I’ll get there.

We started work around 6:30 in the morning. The full grown tobacco plant has 25 to 30 leaves and they can get pretty big. They also can be very wet early in the morning right after the dew has fallen. To a sleepy little boy, the idea of getting soaking wet and chilled in that early morning dew made me tiptoe through those tobacco plants trying to miss getting wet.

However, staying dry was impossible. About 15 minutes after the day began all of us except those stringers on top and the driver were drenched with our shirts and blue jeans sticking to us just as if we had jumped in the wash hole (the creek).

That moisture that was so uncomfortable in the beginning was gone pretty quickly as the hot, Georgia sun came up and the temperature began to move upward toward the 90s. About nine o’clock, we’d be wet no more unless it was the moisture that came from sweat.

Nine o’clock also brought a yearning for a cold drink and something to eat. We called it RC time. I don’t why RC was the name of break time because all kinds of cold drinks were available. There were Coca-Colas, Pepsis, Sun-drops, Dr Peppers, Orange Crushes in a brown bottle, Mountain Dews, and, for me, if available, Frostie Root Beer.

“I don’t see how you can drink that,” some would say. “It tastes like Syrup of Black Drought to me.”

I don’t expect many of you to know what Syrup of Black Drought is, but trust me, it can get you going!

We had a wooden crate for the drinks and always kept the bottles for exchange. There were no such things as canned drinks yet. Someone would go to Mobley’s Country store and bring back a selection of cold drinks and snacks. There were packs of square cheese crackers, round malt crackers, packs of salted peanuts and moon pies. Hence the phrase heard around the world, “I’ll take a RC and a moon pie.” Well, some parts of the world have heard it.

I have been many miles down the road of life since those RC times. I’ve eaten on golden plates and used gold-plated forks, knives and spoons and, with the wine, the meal probably cost $200. I don’t know how much because I wasn’t paying. I’ve had hotdogs that were two for a dollar in poolrooms. I did pay for those. I’ve eaten enough fried chicken to be called Colonel Sanders Jr.

None of those meals or foods was greeted with greater anticipation and joy than that cold drink and moon pie in the tobacco patch. I’m glad I can say that and I’m glad that it only takes a bottle of Frostie Root Beer to let me know just how wonderful life has been and can be.