07 November 2016

Harken Back to Childhood Nostalgia & Cheer ...wine

I'm a native Southerner, born and raised in a small town near the Georgia-South Carolina border. In many ways, this was an idyllic way to spend childhood, with little concept of crime or world evils. It was a (mainly) materially poor, rural area where many people still scraped what living they could off the land. Dotted with family farms, large swaths of open wilderness, horse trails, and plenty of bumpy dirt roads. Hunting, fishing and farming were how many folks put food on their table. Nature was to be respected. So were your parents.

Kids played outside, largely left to our own devices without a worry of being bothered by anyone. Doors were generally left unlocked during daytime hours and were often completely wide open, for that matter. People sat on porches. Everybody knew everybody else and neighbors looked out for one another. Every passerby was greeted with a smile and a wave.

Most of my day (outside of school) was spent in the great outdoors when I was a child. Certainly, there was schoolwork and chores to be done, but outside of these unfortunate interruptions, if you went looking for me, my siblings or my friends, we were to be found running through fields barefoot, climbing trees, or splashing in mud puddles. We made-up our own games and entertained ourselves. We were materially poor so the powers that be told us, yet assuredly as rich as kings in our creativity. Imagination ruled the day. Oh, the stories I could tell, if I wasn't pinky-sworn to secrecy. 

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all goodness and light. Not by a long shot was my childhood perfect (often, it was downright hardscrabble and at times quite terrible), but it's what shaped me, taught me right from wrong. Taught me how to be... Made me. I wouldn't change a thing. My memories are as sharp as glass, some brittle and even brutal, others sweet as sticky syrup. There was both good and bad, and that's likely how it should be. So when you found the good, you held onto it, treasured it, nurtured it.

When I left my hometown and moved away to California, people I met there often remarked upon my manners, my graciousness, my fortitude, my sense of self. "How did someone like you come to be?", they wondered, as if I was a curious specimen unencountered before in the wild. (And perhaps, sadly, I am ...a dying breed of humanity.) My reply was always the same, "for I am a Southerner, reared at my mother's knee" --- and in spite of any shortcomings inherent in our fabled history, Southern hospitality and genteelness are not merely metaphors. We do believe in "home-training".

Some years ago --- after having spent nearly half my life up to that point in California --- I returned to the South as several of the family members left behind had started to become frail from illness or old age. And my return has been a reawakening of sorts. I've rediscovered many loves, cherished things that made me thoroughly relish being a Southerner, and thankfully also put some old demons to bed. In short, it has been a rather storied homecoming. Oh, the stories I could tell, if I wasn't pinky-sworn to secrecy....

After I moved away to California, I lost out on some of my favorite childhood treats, which were only distributed regionally. One of the best parts of being back in the South was finding out that these products not only still existed after all these years, but that I could get my grubby hands on them more readily, for they had been very dear to come by for a penniless child. My favorite ice cream. A favorite soda. I had missed them, not realizing exactly how much until I was able to sample each again as an adult.

It was serendipity. One day last Fall, I was searching for something else entirely and came across a mention of Cheerwine. I blinked and quickly scrolled back up to it. They still make Cheerwine! Land sakes, Susan! (Before you go getting all bent out of shape, allow me to clarify. I was not out secretly getting drunk as a child. The "wine" here is not an alcoholic appellation, instead it's a soda pop created back when such things were oft considered body tonics. A cherry vine's fizz, is this Cheerwine.)

Unable to locate it in California, I was certain that Cheerwine had simply gone out of production, because it never expanded its reach. Instead, it was still here, in the South, ready to welcome me home.

Created in North Carolina and almost exclusively distributed in the Carolinas, it's truly a regional secret. I only knew of it because my hometown was so close to the South Carolina border that we could practically skip over it --- I perhaps exaggerate, just a tidge. Thus, even among Southerners, it's remained somewhat of a secret. (Although this may soon change with internet outreach.)

Whenever we were lucky enough to get it as children, it was a veritable treat, because it wasn't come by often. In fact, my oldest siblings --- they were five of us, and I'm the youngest one --- didn't recall it, when I inquired. Only the sister closest to me in age recalled drinking it when we were little. Apparently, Cheerwine only started to spill across the Georgia-South Carolina border near us during my own childhood.

Got my eye on the Authentic Soda Society Grand Prize!
With a smile, I did a cursory web search and found the usual social media outlets. My timing was very fortunate, because the Cheerwine website [cheerwine.com] announced the launch of its fan club, the Authentic Soda Society. No one needed to ask me twice. I clicked through to take a quiz and joined the ranks. And so became a Tastemaker (what they call us club members) and volunteer brand ambassador, not due to any proffered compensation, though the potential to earn free pop and brand merchandise was hinted at, but instead out of unadulterated joy --- and the wonders of childhood reclaimed.

If you happen upon me sitting on the porch, barefoot and smiling, sipping from a chilled red can full of cheer, don't be a stranger. Mama taught me to share.

Take my word for it, if someone offers you a chance to try Cheerwine, you'll want to sit down and take a sip. Or if you're in its local distribution area, you could go ahead and join up (and earn some goods or gear of your own): 

Get on now! Shoo!

NOTE: As a Tastemaker, I've since corrected a gap in their edifications and introduced my older siblings to the Cheerwine they missed out on in childhood. It's become a family gathering favorite, of course. I've also given free 12-pack coupons that the Carolina Beverage Corporation sometimes sends me to new friends by way of saying "How do you do?" Quite a few of my friends and neighbors, new and old, are now fans, too. By the way, I was not asked or required to make this post, or compensated for it, but I am a card-toting member of the Authentic Soda Society and take it as my duty to spread the Cheer, as it were.

1 comment:

  1. A friend in California told me that reading this blog post gave him a hankering for Cheerwine. He'd never heard of it, and I felt sadly remiss at never having shared my love of this soda with him before now.

    He's gone out and (amazingly enough) found some at his local Nob Hill grocery store. It was pleasantly surprising to learn Cheerwine has made it to NorCal. I'll no longer have to smuggle it in from Georgia.