31 July 2008

Memories fizz from long-dry soda cans

Sometimes the only way to realize how much the little things in life have changed is to see something designed purely to be a well-timed product of its own era.
My wife brought something strange home the other day. The corrugated cardboard box was unremarkable, sitting with flaps carefully closed on top of the kitchen table. I didn't recall putting it there, and I didn't know where it came from. I called out to Karla, asking her what this mysterious package was. It was, she cheerfully replied, her soda can collection from 1986-1992. Now, I'm a man who collects many things (military surplus, action figures, model kits, vinyl LPs), but soda cans? I didn't get it.
Shaking my head, I opened the box, and I was shocked at how much I actually enjoyed looking through and seeing what she'd thoughtfully saved over the years. It seems banal - indeed, soda cans are meant to be, as their lifespan once opened isn't long - but there are an awful lot of memories connected to the mundane. Here are some of the highlights.
- Mountain Dew can, circa 1988: Surviving another little league game, and realizing that the parent in charge of purchasing post-game soda had made a smart choice. Twelve ounces of anything has never tasted so sweet.

- Mendota Spring Water: Sitting in the back of my mom's new 1993 Ford Explorer, feeling oddly proud that her hip new car was featured in a big summer movie that involved a park with dinosaurs in it.
- Tangerine Diet Rite: "Can't my parents buy real pop? This stuff tastes terrible!"
- New York Seltzer: I really liked this stuff, but that changed after a can of it fell out of the fridge, landed on my big toe and bruised it so badly I had to get a hole drilled in the nail to relieve the pressure. Thankfully, stores stopped stocking it shortly thereafter. I'm pretty sure these two things are directly connected.
- The infamous 1990 Pepsi summer can that, if stacked on another, allegedly spelled out the word "sex" if held just right (look this one up if you don't believe me): "I can kind of see it. Wait ... there! Oh man, it TOTALLY does!"
- Squirt: "Hurry up and suck that thing down. The first bell is about the ring!" Drinking Squirt in a hurry is nearly impossible, as the combination of citrus and carbonation are strong enough to remove paint from a park bench. It has the same effect on a human throat.
In a way, these aren't just soda cans. They are threads in the tapestry of both of our childhoods. The world around us changes so slowly that the only way one can even notice is through looking at something from not even that long ago and noticing differences. These aluminum creations weren't meant to be anything but containers, but through the passage of time, they've become more.
After sitting on the kitchen table for a week, the box still hasn't been moved. Neither of us has mustered the energy to actually set up a display for these everyday works of art, but we've figured out where in the basement they'll end up. In fact, I actually enjoy having it in the kitchen, because they give a pleasant excuse to handle a tangible piece of what was, in my rather short existence, a rather peaceful and thoroughly pleasant time. Those were good years - and anything I can do to keep them more alive and close to my heart is worth the work.
So, laugh if you want, but I think these soda cans are worth their weight in gold. Seeing as they are aluminum, the amount of treasure that would actually translate to be fairly insignificant, but the memories and feelings they bring to the surface more than tips the scales in their favor.

(This column was originally published in the July 31 issue of the Lakeville-Sun Current).

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