Column: There’s nothing like a handful of peanuts in a bottle of Coke

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 9, 2003

It was a time when straw hats were no longer in their hay day and a time before I started taking meetings. My friends and I would check in at Tony’s in New Richland at least one evening a week. Tony’s was a gas station/auto repair shop, manned by a couple of great guys &045; Tony and Bob &045; who were willing to put up with our presence. We were teenagers who had finished our farm chores and were armed with some spare time and had no computers, golf clubs, CDs, DVDs or bug zappers to entertain us.

We would pull into the gas station’s parking area, all jacked up on moon pies and banana flips, and sit in Tony’s while we pretended to waste time. We had perfected that &uot;we have suffered, but somehow prevailed&uot; look. We feigned being too cool to care. We were couch potatoes in training. We were not really wasting time, of course. We would purchase a Coke each. The Cokes came in glass bottles from a cooler that opened at the top. We had to buy something so that Tony and Bob wouldn’t think we were loafers and would allow us to spend a little time in the friendly confines of Tony’s. Tony and Bob didn’t think we were loafers. They knew we were loafers, but allowed us to stay anyway.

Sometimes we would ask Tony and Bob questions about the mechanics of certain cars and then do an impersonation of someone who actually knew what Tony and Bob were talking about. Once we had obtained the pop, we’d stick a nickel in a small fish-bowl-like vending machine and give its key-like apparatus a turn that would dispense a small amount of salted peanuts. Each of us boys would take a couple of swigs of our sweet soda and then dump our newly acquired goobers into the bottle. I liked a little over an inch of peanuts floating like flotsam and jetsam on the surface of my pop. It was a magic elixir with no purported health benefits. A thing like that didn’t matter much in those days when eggs, bacon and sunshine were good for us. The combination of the salt added to the sweet tasted great. It wasn’t as odd as it sounds. It wasn’t unlike people salting watermelon.

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My companions and I would sit around Tony’s sipping and chewing. We reveled in the succulent flavor and delicate bouquet of the peanuts soaked in Coca-Cola. We would consume the beverage slowly as we stared at wall posters advertising batteries and gas additives while we listened to one of the old guys (anyone over 30) read the obituaries from the New Richland Star, the local weekly newspaper, to see who he had outlived. Sometimes it looked as though the reader was hoping to find his name listed so that he would have a good excuse for taking a day off work.

The peanuts made the pop all fizzy and fuzzy. Some called it disgusting. We called it a slice of heaven right here on earth. We would munch the wet peanuts as quietly as possible as people came in to pay for their gasoline purchases. It was a full-service gas station. You stopped at Tony’s, you could get gas, your windshield cleaned, your oil checked, air put in a tire and a good look at teenage boys having a Coke with salted peanuts in it. The pop had to be in a glass bottle to make the whole thing come together in an appropriate fashion. A proper gentleman (as none of us really were unless we were looking for the sign on the men’s room door) would never think of dumping peanuts into a glass of Coke. Putting it in a can or a plastic bottle? Don’t make me laugh. We would never have done that. I think that cans and plastic bottles are what put an end to the custom of commingling salted peanuts and a Coke. We would hold those bottles that were built for holding and try to shake the last few peanuts into our mouths. There were always a few of the peanuts that refused to leave the comfort of the bottle and stubbornly clung to the bottom. We even came up with what we thought was an extremely clever name for our nutty beverage. We called it &uot;salted peanuts in a Coke.&uot; We were precious.

Why did we suck down these salted peanuts and Coca Colas in glass bottles? Why? We didn’t complicate it with any reason or logic. It was just something that we did. Just because, that’s why.

Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear Wednesdays and Sundays in the Tribune.