Yesterday, while writing my most recent post, “shift change“, I Googled Gabrielle Hamilton’s restaurant, Prune. One of the options recommended at the bottom of the page was “prune juice”. And it got me thinking . . . about Dr Pepper. Along with ice cream cones and hot dog buns, Dr Pepper was introduced nationally ( and internationally for that matter ) at the 1904 World’s Fair in St Louis – The Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Cue the YouTube clip of Judy Garland singing “Meet Me In St Louis“, from the movie “Meet Me In St Louis” . . . one of my favorites.
Okay, back to the DP. It was created in 1885 in Waco, Texas and is the oldest major soft drink in America. There is even a Dr Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute in Waco. It was marketed to be enjoyed at 10am, 2pm and 4pm . . . hence the classic 10-2-4 logo that is synonymous with DP.
I crave a Dr Pepper about once a week. When I have a migraine, it also seems to help. Some say it is the caffeine, but for me, I think it is more emotional and psychological. It is a soothing, comforting concoction that always brings on an “Ahhh.” and magically makes my head feel better. My love affair with Dr Pepper began as a young child. We were only allowed a soda or one piece of candy on Fridays. Seemed like torture back then, but my cavity-free head can appreciate the family policy now. I almost always opted for a refreshing and ultrasweet Dr Pepper. The slight cherry flavor and the forbidden dark liquid were too much to resist.
My parents have always been soda consumers. Dad was a fan of Tab
( rumored to stand for Totally Artificial Beverage ) and mom drank Dr Pepper. Dad even had a soda machine installed just down the hall from his office. It was one of those old fashioned red Coca-Cola machines with glass bottles that were arranged vertically. It was curved on top and the paint was chipped in many places. It had a built in bottle opener and felt like an antique to us. It hummed loudly and always caught our attention in passing – the clinking bottles taunted us as kids. Ice cold deliciousness just a stones throw from the house, but not on the approved list of beverages. Drat! Every once in a while we would sneak over there and armed with a shiny quarter we would quickly remove a bottle and then run to the back yard to guzzle down the bubbly nectar. These days my folks drink caffeine free, diet versions of Coke and Dr Pepper. Criminal in my book. What’s the point?
When I was in fifth grade, I was told by someone that prune juice had been discovered as a secret ingredient in in Dr Pepper. I had never tasted prune juice and probably couldn’t recognize a prune at that time, but I was convinced somehow that it was true. I confidently mentioned it and was met with disbelief from my classmates at Kelley School. My claim was strongly challenged by a kid named Ross Stone. My memory of him is probably a bit embellished over the years. He was a scrawny kid with freckles and brown hair parted down the middle. Since I was a “P” and he was an “S”, we were probably seated somewhere near each other in Mrs. Shepardson’s classroom. I picture him in a white tshirt and jeans and my mind conjures an image of him with candy cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve of his shirt, like he was a character from “Grease”. Probably embellishment for the story’s sake. Ross Stone bet me $10 that Dr Pepper did not have prune juice in it. I was not yet the babysitting magnate that I became in a few years. $10 might have been close to a month’s allowance. That was a lot of cocker spaniel poop scooping, trash can carting and dish washing for a ten year old. But, I took the bet.
It was 1979 and there was no internet or Wikipedia. There was no website with a handy dandy FAQ list to peruse. The Encyclopedia Britannica did not have an ingredient listing for Dr. Pepper. How was I going to prove the claim that I had so vehemently defended? In the name of “research”, I purchased a bottle from the machine next door and between sugary gulps, I studied the labeling. There was an actual address on the side of the bottle. Like any dorky kid, I decided to write a letter. Again, it was 1979. No computers or laptops. No email, mobile phone, texting, Twittering or FaceBook page. I didn’t even know how to type. I had barely mastered cursive. These were the old days.
I sat down at the dining room table to construct a business letter. I might have used lavender striped stationery with a lavender pen. I remember I had note cards back then that had brown puppies on the front. There might have been stickers involved. Not sure. But likely. Stickers were big then. I wrote the the president of the company and explained my dilemma. I told him about the bet with Ross Stone. I pleaded with him to reply and assure me that one of the 23 secret ingredients in Dr Pepper was prune juice. I affixed a stamp and sent it on its way.
Very shortly after that, I received a large box from Texas. The president of Dr Pepper replied to me personally. He regretted to inform me that prune juice was not an ingredient found in Dr Pepper, and he was sorry to say that I was in debt to Ross Stone for $10. He realized that this was a large sum of money for a middle schooler and perhaps I could convince Mr. Stone to accept some Dr Pepper promotional products instead. I had hit the jackpot! The box was full of tshirts, hats, bumper stickers and several key chains. Ross agreed and I begrudgingly handed off several items, but kept a few for myself. Even though I had been proved wrong, I proudly wore my Dr Pepper tshirt until it was thin and full of holes. The bumper sticker I affixed to the desk in my room ( next to my Carter-Mondale sticker ) served as a reminder of the squabble for many years. I am quite the sentimental pack rat and have held onto many items from my youth. But, the Dr Pepper reply letter has not survived the many moves and packing boxes of my childhood or adulthood. I haven’t seen it in twenty or more years. I think it is in the same small box as the letter I received from Tai Babalonia and my ticket stub from the Shaun Cassidy concert. All three of them are treasured items from my childhood in the 70′s and 80′s that were misplaced along the way. But, I’ve included gratuitous photos for those of you who were ten in 1979. I’ll write about them another day. I’m off to enjoy a Dr Pepper and an afternoon drive.