One of the things I didn’t mention earlier this week about last weekend’s cabaret performances was my voice: As Friday and early Saturday passed, I had a persistent frog in my throat. The only thing that seemed to keep it at bay was a decongestant, and even then, my voice felt rough.
As showtime approached Saturday, my voice was raspy, and a new package of decongestant – a different brand than my usual – wasn’t working well. So on my way to StudioJeff, I stopped at the nearby grocery store and wandered over to the cough drops. I was looking for the store brand to save a few dimes, but every package of the store brand contained menthol, which I dislike at least a little.
So I went to the brand names, and there were the Luden’s wild cherry flavored drops. I bought a bag, and in the car, I popped one of the drops in my mouth. And the flavor took me back more than fifty years.
At Lincoln Elementary School in the mid-1960s, neither chewing gum nor candy was allowed in class. (The same would hold true when we headed off to South Junior High, although at St. Cloud Tech High School, students could chew gum. I have no idea what’s restricted or allowed these days.) There were, however, what one could call medical exceptions. A student with a sore throat was allowed to chew Aspergum, an orange-flavored gum that contained aspirin and actually did soothe the soreness. It wasn’t much of a treat, however, as the orange flavor did not last long, and the gum quickly became a grainy glob in one’s mouth. Another exception was cough drops; whether cough drops had any medicinal value, I don’t know, but they did tend to soothe raspy throats.
And some of them tasted pretty good. Cherry was the preferred flavor among the twenty or so students in my sixth grade class during the 1964-65 school year, but there was some dispute about brand preference: Some of the kids preferred the Smith Brothers brand, while others held to Luden’s. One of the Luden’s fans in my class was a kid named Mike.
And one morning when he had a nagging cough from a cold, Mike ran out of cough drops. Knowing that I walked home for lunch each day and knowing as well that my five-block route took me right past the little grocery store on Fifth Avenue Southeast, Mike asked if I could pick up a box of cough drops for him on the way. The drops cost fifteen cents, or about a penny each, if I recall correctly (as opposed to the $2.50 or so I paid for a bag of thirty last weekend), and Mike gave me a quarter. He said I could keep the dime.
And from then on for about a month, I was Mike’s cough drop runner. Two or three times a week, he’d hand me a quarter during morning recess and say, “I need another shipment,” and shortly before one o’clock that afternoon, I’d hand him a box of Luden’s cherry cough drops. It didn’t take long before Miss Hulteen – our sixth grade teacher and the principal of Lincoln Elementary – figured out that Mike’s cold and resulting cough had gone away and he no longer needed his cough drops. And after a little further observation on her part, we were busted.
I don’t think the disciplinary outcomes were too severe. I imagine our parents were called, but I truly don’t remember, which tells me that there were no major penalties. I just stopped buying cough drops for Mike. And I had to quit buying whatever it was that I bought with the ten cents I’d netted from each shipment (most likely Sour Grapes bubble gum, one of my favorites of the time).
And just to throw some music out there that has a temporal (and flavorful) connection to my tale, here’s “Up Cherry Street” by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. It’s from the 1964 album South of the Border, and it wound up as the B-side of the “South of the Border” single in 1965. The single didn’t hit the Billboard charts, but the album went to No. 6.