Sunday, June 6, 2010

My First Orange Crush - Five Cents

As I ride Vancouver's skytrain through Burnaby to my office in New Westminster, I pass by the Jubilee neighborhood that I used to live in. Sometimes just seeing the place brings back memories, although so much has changed. I only need a few cues to bring back the memories.

One of the cues is a small building that used to be a corner store with a house attached, but now is a computer place. I have a particularly poignant memory about that place.

I was just seven when this happened. It was a very hot summer day, and I was playing in the back lane in just my shorts. The lane now is paved with blacktop, but then it was a gravel lane, that got a fresh layer of tar every few years. On a hot day, the tar absorbed more of the sun's heat and made the middle of the lane unbearably hot for a child's little bare feet, so I was inclined to walk along the edge. The edge of the lane had less tar, always seemed to be cooler, had patches of grass you could step on to let your little feet cool, and it seemed to have a less even distribution of rocks, so there were more patches of just dust that weren't as hard on little feet. If you could find a thick patch of dust that hadn't already been stomped, the dust was fun to plop your feet on and feel it gush out between your bare toes. I guess we got a lot of tar on our bare feet in the summer!

Somehow, while playing, I spotted a nickel on the ground. Now a nickel today is not a lot of money, but back then, a nickel, for a seven year old, was a serious haul. I was standing there, with the sweat trickling down my little bare back and tummy, standing on a tuft of grass so my bare feet wouldn't burn, feeling the hot sun baking my bare skin, and I realized that this nickel would buy me a pop.

At seven years old I had never gone alone into a store, without either family or friends, and bought anything, but being a very independent little boy, I decided it was time I did so. I hadn't ever been told I couldn't. So I walked down the lane towards the corner store. Our lane ran behind the house, parallel with Imperial St., and to the East where I was walking, ran into Jubilee St. I made my way down the lane, walking on the concrete parking lot of the Laundromat at the end (King Coin Laundromat - still there, too!) I crossed the street, stepping gingerly over the rocks on the side of the road.

I hesitated a bit outside the store, screwed up my courage to overcome the slight squirming sensation of nervousness in my tummy at doing something new by myself, and, with the nickel clutched firmly in my sweaty little hand, I stepped onto the wooden step, opened the door and stepped in. I clearly recall the feel of the step on my feet, rough wood, hot with the baking sun. They didn't have air conditioning, so it was fairly warm and a bit stuffy inside, but they had a fan and the old linoleum floor inside the store felt cool to my little bare feet, after the hot gravel and pavement.

There was an older lady at the till, wearing glasses (I suspect she was a lot younger than my recollection, but at 7, anyone older than 25 felt ancient), and she smiled at me, so I smiled back. Her smile ended the nervousness in my tummy, so I walked up to the soda cooler, which was right next to the counter, and pulled it open. It was one that had a lid on top that you had to lift out of the way. I believe that there was a little step-stool there, so little ones like me could reach in more easily. I leaned in, my bare tummy right against the cold edge of the cooler. It felt delightfully cold on my bare skin! Then I had to choose.

There were lots of different flavours, but the one that jumped out at me was the Orange Crush. I had never had one and the thought of something orange-flavoured and cold and fizzy on a hot day appealed to me, so I grabbed an Orange Crush and closed the lid of the cooler. I handed it to the lady and asked her to please open it for me. I gave her the nickel and told her I would drink it there. It would have cost 1 cent more for deposit if I wanted to leave the store with it, but if you were willing to drink it there, it cost only the nickel. The lady opened the bottle for me, and handed it back, still smiling (I was probably a very cute intrusion into a quiet, boring day for her.)

I tilted the pop back and began to drink. I had never had an Orange Crush before, so I was delighted with the explosion of tangy, fizzy, cold, sweet flavour in my mouth. I leaned my head back, closed my eyes and drank. As I gulped the first mouthful down, I felt its coldness going down inside me. I felt the coldness from about the bottom of my breastbone down to the middle of my tummy, where it spread through the middle of me. At the same time, I clearly recall feeling a bead of sweat running down the outside of my tummy, cooling and drying in the breeze of the fan. I would take a mouthful of pop, swirling it around in my mouth to get the most of the cold, fizzy, tangy-sweet flavour, then gulping it, feeling it going down cold to my tummy, with my head tilted back and my eyes closed. I had to pause once or twice to catch a breath of air. It tasted so good I was neglecting to breathe while drinking it. Finally, much too quickly, it was gone. With a big breath that was half sigh, I handed the bottle back to the lady, smiled, said "Thank you!", and wiped my mouth with my hand. Then I turned and left the store.

I don't recall anything else I did that day, but that little episode has stayed with me over the years. Orange Crush is still one of my favourite drinks. Now, when I ride past that corner store on the skytrain, the memory of that day comes back to me.


  1. Robert, you find this more than a little bit weird but I know the name of that seemingly old lady behind the till... She always looked old as long as I can remember. her name was Carolina Smith (nee Behl) but we all just called her Aunt Lina. My father's mother's sister. She passed away in 1997 at the age of 93. I only remember a few things about that corner store. There was a big old stove in the kitchen in the back that always had a big old dog sleeping behind it (Sandy). We loved visiting because we always got treats from the store. Her one major vice was she smoked like a chimney pretty much until she died (she was not a cooperative person in the hospital). But while it may have contributed to her death in some small way it clearly didn't shorten her lifespan appreciably. Her siblings, including my Grandma all were long lived (90's). She was a very sweet lady. However she had this gruff gravelly voice and when you did something disagreeable, she let you know in no uncertain terms.

    We always thought it was really neat that the house and store were connected.

    It is a small world indeed!

  2. BTW, she would have been about 61 years old at that time.

  3. Robert, one more note. Just talked with my Dad. Seems when he came out here in the 50's (before his parents) he lived in that very store for one year while in high school in 1954. He was gone by the time you got there (as I was 3 then) but... wow!

  4. Wow, I'm getting a lot of interesting information about this! One of my friends who lived down the street had told me it was "Mrs. Smith's Store" (I had forgotten the name.) He thought she was grumpy or stern, but I remember her smiling at me (probably more her eyes smiling, I've always looked at people's eyes to know how they are reacting to me.)

    Now that you mention it, I remember the dog, too!

    Thanks for the info, and yes, it really *is* a small world, isn't it!

  5. Wow! I also remember this from when I got into my DeLorean and went back a bazillion years in time. There was an Asian guy who ran a restaurant next door called 'Arnold's' and a really cool guy they called the "Fonz." Also, underwear was made of wood and everyone powered their cars by sticking their feet through the floorboard.

    Alright, I admit. I was kinda' touched by this story and I'm just trying to act tough.

  6. What a wonderful memory! What a small world it really is. Cool. I loved our corner store too; KK Korner, at Rupert & Wellington in Vancouver. It also had no AC and I loved getting a treat once in a while. I usually chose Pink Bubble Gum, because you also got a tiny cartoon with it. Or I would pick a straw with powder I'd lick from my palm. Or sometimes I'd choose a package of candy cigarettes, or an ice cream. But never pop. I hated pop and still do!