Sunday, July 11, 2010

Coke Bottle Gambling

The other evening as I was driving home I was listening to John Hancock on the local “talk radio” show. I used to call in a lot about politics, but these days I’m more likely to weigh in on such complex issues as “What did you collect as a kid and wished you still had?” The topic was really baseball cards and comic books, but all collections were allowed.

At the beginning of the show the announcer usually starts off with a preamble concerning what he is interested in discussing. The call screener then begins lining up calls, usually reserving a spot for the first, most interesting, or what is often referred to as the “kickoff” call.

I was calling to say that I had collected Coca Cola bottles, the green 6-1/2 ounce “Christmas tree” bottles, so named due to their shape and that the first ones actually bore the patent date of December 25, 1923. The photo above shows a Christmas tree bottle dated 1923 on the left and the older version of the green Coke bottle to the right. In between I have stacked a few of the Christmas tree bottles with the bottoms showing the plants where they had come from.

Across the country there were thousands of Coke bottling plants and each one stamped the name of the town, or city, on their bottles. In 1967 I had about 200 or so of these bottles in a wine rack, bottoms up. I had bottles from Anchorage, Alaska to Bangor, Maine. I was very proud of this collection. Every time I bought a Coke I would look at the bottom to see if I could add it to my collection. If not, I would put it back and choose another.

One day, and I don’t remember quite why, my father took a 9 pound sledge to my collection, shattering all that pretty green glass. Then I had to clean it up. A few of the bottles escaped unscathed and a couple of them are in the center of the picture, bottoms up, just as they once were many years ago.

Well, I got to be the “kickoff” call that evening and I have been thinking about those bottles ever since. So I thought I’d round up a few of them for this photo and story.

The funniest part of the whole thing was that John Hancock, the show's host, asked me if I had inherited the rage and anger of my father. It was an odd question, given the topic of the show, but I answered truthfully. I replied that I had struggled all through raising my kids to control my temper. While I may not have been entirely successful in that endeavor, I have not, at least in my memory, ever taken a sledgehammer to any of my children’s things.

But the real kicker to the whole story is the third call after mine, which bought back some memories I had forgotten. This caller, a local man from Albemarle, had a grandfather who owned a “filling” station there. On Saturday mornings he and his cronies used to gather around the Coke machine, next to the stacks of crates that contained the empty bottles. The bottles were in a standing position so the bottoms could not be seen. Each player would lay down his fifty cents and name a city. Then everyone would pull a bottle from the crate. The one that pulled the city closest to the one he’d named won the pot.

I had forgotten all about this game until that third caller. It bought back a mixture of memories, some good, and some bad. But one thought keeps rising above all the rest, “Hey Dad, you missed a couple.”

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