My first memory of the smooth, sleek bottle was around the age of four or five. It was a brilliant design, slimmer in the middle for my chubby little hand to grasp, and flared out to a solid base for less chance of tipping. The green tinted glass made it even more appealing. Coca-Cola, printed in script on both sides of the bottle, forever etching the trademark into my developing brain. Sweet, syrupy, Coca-Cola.
My Dad was the only person in the family who could make a legitimate claim on the Coke bottles. At the time, Coke was expensive and, at least for our family, a luxury. It came in packs of eight, four bottles on each side of the cardboard carrier. They bumped together against Dad’s leg, tinkling happy anticipation. Mom kept the Coke in the kitchen, on the floor next to the back door. Every evening Dad removed one from the carrier and drank it with his dinner.
Seated at the dinner table, we stared at the bottle placed next to his plate in quiet anticipation that he wouldn’t want his Coke that evening. Or, better yet, that it would be one of those lucky days when he would randomly measure out four equal portions of the nectar and we would all share in the delicious drink.
The measuring and pouring process was very serious and precise. We lined up at the table, eyeballs barely peering over the edge, and waited for Dad to bring two full bottles and two empty bottles to the table. Then, like a chemist, he would pop the metal cap of off one full bottle and very gently bring it to the lip of an empty bottle. This was a delicate procedure because any sudden movement might cause the Coke to spill down the outside of the bottle, or the two rims might hit each other too hard and send a shard of glass into the bottom of the bottle. After the measure, Dad knelt to our eye level and surveyed his work. If there was even one extra ounce of Coke in any of the bottles, he would repeat the measuring until all were even. We never considered drinking from glasses or cups. The beauty of having a Coke at dinner was to have it out of a glass bottle.
The ritual continued for years, even though as we got older there was a less theatrical take on the ritual. One thing that didn’t change was the amount of Coke, never a full bottle!
On my 16th birthday there was a party in our backyard. It was a family party: Aunts, Uncles, cousins and a few friends. There weren’t a lot of presents, really just envelopes with funny cards. Then my Mother appeared through the back door with something hidden behind her back. She was grinning from ear to ear as she stepped up to the picnic table. Everyone had a clue about the gift and they cupped their hands over their mouths to stifle the laughter.
Mom drew her arm around the front of her body and revealed the bright red and white carton that held eight full bottles of Coca-Cola. Everyone burst out in laughter and clapped. The card read:
Today, you enter adulthood; a full bottle of Coke to signify your passage.
It may have been a tongue in cheek gift, but for me it was exactly what the card had stated. It was a passage to adulthood, a right to have my full share. I would be getting a job and earning my own money and buying all the Coke I could ever need.
Lori Markuson works as an enrollment representative at National-Louis University, where she is pursuing a Master of Science in Written Communication degree. She and her husband, Buz, live in Elk Grove Village. They enjoy traveling, especially to Italy, and spending time with their family.
Thank you, Lori: my very first Once A Little Girl Friend.