Commentary by Ward Degler
Next time you open a bottle of soda or beer, take a look inside the bottle cap. Yeah, I know, there’s nothing to see. Just a soft vinyl seal.
It wasn’t that way when I was a kid. Every bottle cap had a cork insert. And that presented possibilities.
We used our jackknives to pry out the insert. In those days every guy had a jackknife. Mine had three blades. Some of the rich kids had super jackknives with scissors, screwdriver, and a corkscrew as well as three blades.
Once the cork inserts were removed we were ready for action. We could attach the caps to our shirts by reinserting the cork from the inside of our shirt into the cap on the outside.
We also could attach them to our blue jeans, except we had to be careful where we put them. Some locations could cause embarrassing injury. In school if we sat behind a girl with a big flowing collar, we could attach one there. We had to be careful there, too. Being slapped by a girl you thought was cute hurt more than the sting of the slap.
Collecting the bottle caps was another part of the process. We started with the big four: Coke, Pepsi, 7-Up and RC Cola. Then we went for the off brands. That included Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda, Sprite, Bubble Up, Slice and Nehi.
For some reason, Nehi Grape was the hardest to find. Maybe because it was a relative newcomer in the soda pop market. Coca-Cola emerged in 1894. Pepsi made its debut in 1898. But Nehi didn’t come along until 1924.
Of course, we had to get beer bottle caps as well. As it turned out, beer was more regional than soda. Griesedieck beer was found only in Missouri, where it was brewed. Jax came from the South, and Grain Belt was strictly a Minnesota brew. Wisconsin brewed Stag and Schlitz.
We had a pact. When we went on vacation trips, we had to get beer bottle caps. Sometimes that meant sneaking behind the local pubs and digging through the trash. Obviously, caution was the watchword, because if we were caught, it wasn’t just that we were messing around where we had no business being, we didn’t even live there. And everybody knew out-of-towners caused trouble.
I filled up the entire front of a tee shirt with caps. I wore it with pride an entire summer. Rather than try to wash it at the end of the season, mom said it was ruined, so I hung it on my bedroom wall with thumbtacks.
When I went away to college, it disappeared.