Small joys are important. No larger than would fit inside a child’s hand, you can have several without being overwhelmed by delight or guilt. They wash you like air conditioning’s cool breath: feel lighter, say oh.
November brings the Christmas onslaught, including aisles and aisles of candy: marshmallow and solid chocolate Santas, minty squares in foils, chocolate fruit you whack like a head of lettuce. Halloween is dumped on tables piled high with orange- and black-themed plastic wrapping, as pathetic as piles of fish heads. Red and green are the color of the big money. Sugar is a way to get into the black.
I love all that candy. I have always loved all that candy, working with polite determination through the crowds on December 26th to pick up scraps at half-price. The holiday is complete with impromptu college parties centered around cheap candy. Let the other college kids have their beer and the determined bargain moms their decorations and Christmas cards. Give me the mass-produced childhood wonder of chocolate in bags.
Some candy is worth full-price. Sierra Mist Cranberry Splash is one. There is a cleanness to it beyond normal soda, which to me is all about blazing Texas summer, standing in front of the ancient Kenmore fridge marooned out in the garage, opening the door for a a cold can of sugar water. Cranberries have nothing to do with summer, and mixed with the citrus and the sugar it is all about short days and big sales and lights everywhere.
How can a grown man be excited by the annual appearance of a soda? By being the kind of man who occasionally has pancakes for dinner and feels a small triumph when there’s a big chocolate cake on the day-old rack.
How to describe the first sip from the first cold can? The first fall morning with true frost deep into the grass blades, the sun pressed down to thin wedges, idling cars puffing cold breath. Not bitter, but brisk on your face, sharp on your hands. It cleans you. You remember the cycle of the year, and that descent is not loss but completion. There is a lot to look forward to, whether you are a child or remembering childhood.
Many of us have crappy childhoods and a crappy Christmas is the year’s foul pit where the betrayal of your innocence was total. Some of you had it worse as time went on, some just a year here or there. It’s far more than the TV lets on. I’m sorry that happened. I wish I’d been more tuned into the desperation of others in that little town, but I wasn’t. For you now, I offer the clean taste of this soda. And why not? Candy is sweet so let it be sweet. Don’t think to make up something you didn’t have or dwell on how the universe shit on you. You are here now, with us. Drink without forgetting, because you don’t need to. Focus on the future, which is where you are now, at last arrived where you so needed to be then.
I love this soda as it is part of all of that: the warmth and gatherings and getting little things for people you care about, the smell of sugar baking and, if you’re lucky, snow. As I grow older and come to realize how many people did not have that, and have only the slimmest margins of it now, I am grateful for the warm bubble made by my parents and friends. I wish, like in a Philip K. Dick story, I could copy my warm and questioning and not-quite delighted memories–the whole un-retouched spectrum of them–and share them. But, fortunately I think, we are a long way from even finding the bottle with that genie in it. So I offer this soda in that spirit. It’s something small, sweet and good I can offer you, here and now.
The picture is of the last can, which held on until the last day in January. I had it with a turkey sandwich, and it was good, but not as good as the first one, a couple months ago. The wonder flattens somehow, becomes just bubbles. It’s good to put things away, to have them to look forward to.