Out of Pearidge

Authorization is granted for the use of short quotes for educational purposes as long as proper citations are used. A version of this story first appeared in The Huntsville Times, Jan. 27, 1998, C2.

The Value of a Cola

This past Christmas, seasonal displays again had cola in their traditional bottles. The first year of this promotional, Sara, my wife, bought me a pack for Christmas. She knew how much colas, or "soft drinks," meant to us as children.

Soft drinks were a luxury which we could afford. Really, at a nickel a bottle, it was not only the cost, but also the ice-box, and then refrigerator, space. We bought a six-pack a week. That was one bottle per family member.

Of course, we children purchased and enjoyed colas away from home, but we had to pay with money we earned, often by scavenging empties - discarded cola bottles - from the countryside for their one-cent deposit value.

Occasionally, one of our parents would buy us a soft drink when away from home, but there were rare events. I found that it happened more often than usual when Dad took me hunting with a group of his friends.

One evening, I got to go on a raccoon-hunting excursion. There must have been ten of us in the group. It was rare for me to be included on night outings because I was only about seven. However, one of Dad's friends permitted his son, who was about my age, to go.

We went across the narrow Whitesburg Bridge and stopped at "gasoline alley" to fill the cars. Several men bought snacks and then soft drinks. I looked at Dad and he nodded. I reached in the box of ice water and pulled out my treat.

I wanted to savor it for all the enjoyment I could, but I knew time was limited. We hadn't paid a deposit; we would leave the bottles. However, one man had been occupied elsewhere and was late getting his drink. Although the men were rushing, I figured I had until he finished.

To my surprise, with a third of the contents remaining, the man set his bottle down and said he was ready to go. "Let's go!" several of the others said forcefully. I downed the remainder of my pop and started to the car.

Then, there was a delay. I don't know what it was; someone forgot his snacks or something. It was just long enough for me to eye the remainder of the man's cola sitting there. I could down it in a second. It didn't seem right just to leave it.

Still, I considered how it might look to the others if I did it. I'm sure that I had decided not to do it when the other lad rushed forward and swallowed the remaining soda in two gulps.

No one said anything as we left the store or as we climbed into the cars. None of the men in our car ever said anything about the boy drinking the cola.

It was only after we were back home that Dad told me how embarrassed the other father had been by the actions of his son. "I was proud you knew better than to do a fool thing like that," he said. "No matter how bad we want something, we always have to consider whether we have some right to it and even how we'll look if we take it. That boy really acted like an orphan, and you showed a lot of maturity." I never told him how close I was to doing it.

Often I think about that unfinished drink. Self-gratification has its consequences, personal and social. Life, like soda, is best when its consumption is not at another's expense.