LITTLE BALKANS CHRONICLES — Treat Night and Nickel Pepsi
I identify strongly with this episode of Gary Gleason’s ‘Boyhood Days in Pittsburg.’ I remember helping unload our station wagon after mom’s Safeway and Foodtown shopping trips – as well as the excitement of getting pop instead of Kool-Aid (the only time we had Pepsi was when mom made chili). I also slid Pepsi and NuGrape bottles along the steel rails and visited the Pepsi Cola Bottling Plant, where I got my first glimpse at the wonders of modern, high tech machinery. It was a whirling, clanking, hissing marvel of a production line with empties being first filled with syrup, then injected with carbonated water, then capped, whirled and propelled onto a conveyor toward a crew of high school boys waiting to grab them three at a time and fit them in the wooden pop cases. — J.T.K.
Friday night was Treat Night at the Gleason house. It was a big event.
Mom and Dad went grocery shopping at Foodtown and Safeway every Friday evening. They would come home with a carton of assorted sodas; Grape, Orange, Root Beer, you name it.
We would pop popcorn or make fudge — or we would each get a candy bar. Sometimes we made homemade pizza with bologna and Velveeta cheese topping. Friday night treat night was our big night, but it rarely occurred without a fight over what flavor soda each got or who got the most soda in their glass or the most popcorn or a certain candy bar
The four of us lined our glasses up on the kitchen table then measured by eyesight the level of soda in each glass as it was being poured. We waited for the fizz to settle not dropping ice cubes in until the level of soda in each glass matched perfectly. This method took time. (At lunchtime, we argued over who had the most noodles in their bowls of chicken noodle soup. I often wonder how Mom and Dad ever made it through all this.)
We got to stay up an hour later on Friday nights to watch 77 Sunset Strip and The Twilight Zone. But at 7 a.m. Saturday morning, there we were on the couch, in our PJs staring at the test pattern on the TV screen waiting for the Saturday morning cartoons and kids shows. Our favorites were Mighty Mouse, Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Fury, Sky King, and of course, The Lone Ranger. Hi-Ho Silver, Away!
I don’t watch Saturday morning cartoons nowadays, but to this day, I do find myself bringing special treats home on Fridays. Friday night will always be treat night.
Pittsburg, Kansas was a Pepsi town. We lined up in front of the Pepsi machine and dropped in a nickel to slide the bottle out through the steel rails.
Back then, on the back of the bottle in white print, were the names of the cities in which they were bottled. Bottles came from places I had never heard of before.
I remember getting a bottle from Waxahachie, Texas. That’s when I began to comprehend there was a world beyond Pittsburg, Kansas.
How did all those bottles from so many different places find their way to the basement of the St. Mary’s cafeteria? After a career in the transportation industry, the logistics of it still intrigues me.
Bud was one of our janitors at St. Mary’s. He always carried a pocketful of change in his faded worn out overalls. When the lunch bell rang, a line formed in front of Bud, who stood at the top of the stairs next to the candy table leading down to the cafeteria, ready to make change. “Two nickels for a dime Mr. Bud?” we asked as he reached into his pocket with his huge, sweaty, calloused hand pulling out a mountain of nickels. "Thanks Mr. Bud" (The sisters made sure we thanked him.)
Down the stairs, brown lunch bag and nickel Pepsi in hand, it was either peanut butter and jelly or a bologna sandwich, a banana and, if lucky, one Hostess Twinkie.
A time or two (or three), I bypassed the cafeteria and headed straight out to recess — after making a quick pit stop at the candy table to spend all my lunch money on licorice and penny candy. To quote a famous non relative, “How sweet it is!”
So many events took place in St. Mary’s basement cafeteria besides lunchtime — school carnivals, the annual school bazaar, PTA meetings and Sunday Pancake breakfasts. It was the social gathering spot at St. Mary’s. We even watched a couple of tornadoes pass nearby.
On hot summer days some of my little league buddies would ride our bikes around Pittsburg often ending up hanging outside the Pepsi Bottling Company on Broadway across from Pittsburg High. I played first base for Foodtown-Pepsi which, in my mind, made me an official part of the crew at the Pepsi bottling plant. They gave each of us a fresh bottle of warm Pepsi straight off the line. There’s nothing better than a warm Pepsi on a hot Kansas summer day!
Next stop Lincoln Park. Off we rode, ball gloves hanging from our handlebars, hot Pepsis in hand, proudly displaying our little league caps — only to suffer terrible stomach aches later in the day.
— Gary Gleason
If you have a remembrance and/or photo to share, send it — along with your name, address and phone number — by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by land mail to 401 W. Euclid, Pittsburg, Kansas 66762. You can phone and text photos to 620-704-1309. — J.T. Knoll