Monday, November 07, 2016

What Sparked Childhood Memories

For Dia de Meurtos I bought a six pack of the little six ounce size Cokes, in the same kind of green glass bottles Coke came in when I was a kid in the 1940s. 

Having a soft drink was a real treat in those days. Soft drinks weren’t kept in the pantry or fridge, and they certainly weren’t considered appropriate for a child under six years of age, and soft drinks containing caffeine weren’t given to children at all. What we were allowed was 'Kayo', carbonated chocolate milk which cost five cents a bottle, which we purchased at the laundry across the street and up the alley. 

The laundry was a big building with high ceilings and doors that opened right up on both ends. It was always hot and steaming and smelled of lavender soap, scorch and hot starch. The floors were rough, and always wet, cement, cool to our bare feet.   

The square galvanized washtubs were arranged in sets of four with a wringer that swung between them. Four or five women took care of about 30 sets of these tubs. It was like watching a dance, as the women in their aprons moved between their groups of tubs, endlessly moving laundry through the four tub sequence that took it from dirty to clean. 

By the time the laundry reached the fourth tub it was nice and clean, and the woman might add starch, or if the laundry was white shirts or sheets or table linens she might add a bit of bluing from a bottle in her apron pocket. 

At the end the clean clothes would have the water wrung out and they’d go into a big basket and a man would carry the basket outside so the clothes could be hung on the clothesline. In one corner several women worked over ironing boards, and it was from this corner that the bewitching smell of scorch and starch arose. 

I would hang over the edge of a tub to see the agitators churn back and forth and watch the clothes rise and disappear again in the dark water,  but my friends were far more interested in the soda machine, and would pull me away. 

The machine that dispensed the sodas was magnificent. We discussed at length how it knew when you had inserted your nickel, because my friends Tommy and Leslie knew boys who had actually tried to remove a soda from this very machine without paying and the machine would not let them!  Tommy said it had to be a thinking machine, a scientific marvel such as only seen in our Flash Gordon Comics. 

The marvellous thinking machine was an ordinary-looking enough box. It was red in colour with “Drink RC Cola” emblazoned across the front and it had a thick lid you had to lift. Inside it was lined with galvanized metal with a series of channels from which soda bottles hung by their tops. The channels ended in a single channel which allowed you to bring your bottle of choice to the front where there was a gate apparatus which could be lifted. You inserted your nickel, slid the soda bottle you wanted along the channel to the end, brought it to the gate, and lifted your bottle out. 

Of course there was first the difficulty of obtaining the required nickel. To do that we collected bottles, raked leaves, pulled weeds and picked bugs off plants in gardens and did all manner of odd jobs. A week’s worth of work, or several days of looking for bottles might net us the nickel needed for a Kayo. All the sweeter for the effort. 

In retrospect, while childhood seems to last several lifetimes to a child, it is but a fleeting moment in retrospect … but it can all be brought back more than 60 years later by a little green glass bottle.  

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