August 20, 2004

The Bright Shining Age of Grapette
by Donald G. Mashburn

Many who watch the popular television show M*A*S*H may not understand Radar O'Reilly's penchant for grape Nehi. Younger viewers may not even know what a "Nehi" was, or what it was like.

For the benefit of the young, and the historically challenged, before and during World War II, grape Nehi was perhaps the second-best soft drink in America. Second best, because for a few bright, shining years, parts of this great nation were blessed with a beverage – the word seems somehow inadequate – called Grapette. It was simply the best soda pop ever bestowed on a largely undeserving world.

Grapette’s greatest popularity was in the 1930s and 1940s. Times were tough, and a nickel or a dime was hard to come by for a Grapette, as good as it was. The six-ounce bottle led to the phrase, “as next to nothin’ as a Grapette,” a term used only by heathens.

But to the less ignorant, a Grapette fished from ice water was far from nothing. We never worried about its small size. Perhaps Grapette came in the small bottles because it was expensive to make, or perhaps because of some Depression-era mindset that six ounces of it was all any one person deserved. We knew only that it was the most refreshing soda pop imaginable, little bottle or big.

Grapette’s main competition, Pepsi and RC, or Royal Crown, both came in 12-ounce bottles. The admittedly good Nehi came in 10-ounce bottles. Coca-Cola, with its seven ounces of next-to-nothin’, didn’t measure up in that simpler, slower-paced time in rural Eastern Oklahoma.

Some older women talked of drinking Coca Cola for headaches. Rumors had it they took it for others reasons, but I never understood what they were. Adults had a habit of mumbling when children were within earshot.

Pepsi and RC were good, especially Pepsi, but their thirst-quenching properties were limited. Grape Nehi was a more civilized drink, and in some parts of the country it was the best people could do.

But we had Grapette, and the freedom to work almost half an hour to buy six ounces of it. Additionally, we lived in country Katharine Lee Bates must’ve had in mind when she penned, "America the Beautiful," in which she wrote, "God shed His grace on thee." It’s easy to imagine her savoring a cold Grapette as she wrote of a land upon which God’s grace was shed.

Grapette was a drink you could wrap your taste buds around. If taste buds tingled with excitement at the prospect of a grape Nehi, they danced with glee at the taste of a cold Grapette. A taste that lifted your spirits, and made the world a better place.

Grapette brought energy and new life to the dirty, hot and weary, and to a tired, dehydrated youngster whose body ached from filling and lugging heavy baskets of potatoes and spinach. Grapette was soul-soothing and thirst-quenching wet. It’s inner pleasure seeped into every crease and corner of the body, then rose and flooded the face with smiles that sometimes broke out into full-fledged giggles.

"No soda pop could do all that," you say. Well, skepticism is often born of ignorance, or it can come from merely being educationally or culturally deprived. People over 60 have little or no excuse for being guilty of one or both. However, youngsters not old enough to have savored Grapette are guilty only of being under-educated.

Since Grapette disappeared from the American scene, our society has become meaner and more intolerant – check it out. If this nation had a good bottle of genuine Grapette, no president would ever again have to plead for a "kinder and gentler nation."

Gentleness, feeling good and being at peace with the world were what Grapette was all about. I want to bring it back, and soon. Our country needs it. What a shame if our grandchildren are allowed to grow up and never know the taste of Grapette.

So I continue my search for the real Grapette – not some cheap, watery-blue imitation. If we can bring it back –with its original flavor – it would be a wonderful gift to future generations.