Nostalgic for Green River Soda

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When Katharine Shilcutt worked up her map of American sodas, she invited the wrath of dozens of sugar-addled, overly indignant sodaphiles across the land. There were complaints and accusations of soda nepotism, soda jingoism, and soda agnosticism. Okay, that might be a stretch, but it really did seem to piss people off. Who knew Americans were this serious about the accurate portrayal of their soda allegiances?

Growing up in Northern Indiana, I'd never heard of Ale-8-One. My most striking soda memories are of Green River, which Katharine linked to Illinois. I didn't really care that I hadn't ever heard of my "state soda," I was just excited to be reminded of the carbonated beverage of my youth.

We used to have neighbors who owned an honest to God 5&10 store down the road from my school. We used to pop in there to buy penny candy -- wax lips being a favorite -- but the real treat was a Green River from Brandt's old-fashioned soda fountain. I remember the soda jerk pulling the Green River with a distinct fondness. I used to ask about Green River anytime I saw an old-fashioned soda fountain, but hadn't found anyone who'd even heard of the stuff until this.

When I discovered I could actually have a dozen bottles of the stuff FedExed to my house, I was practically giddy with anticipation. A potent sense memory from my youth, having lived only in my head for 17 years, was now a scant six business days away from being reality.

When the boxes arrived and I fished a bottle of the shockingly green cordial out of a pile of foam peanuts, I began to worry. What if I didn't like it? What if it tasted nothing like my memory told me? This one bottle of soda could have a serious impact on my sense of self. If this memory proved to be a lie, what else in my personal history, and therefore my very identity, could be based on imagined truths?

I opened the bottle, closed my eyes, and took a sip. It was like being smacked in the mouth with a thousand dreams. It's not so much that the stuff was delicious, just that it was exactly as I'd remembered it. Rarely have I had such a visceral moment of nostalgic satisfaction. It was like tasting my youth, reconnecting with friends and places not seen in nearly two decades, through one simple sip of soda.

How did it taste? My wife summed it up perfectly, though I'd never made the connection before, strangely. Green River tastes like melted green popsicles, in the best possible way. It's more subtle than that, though, and not quite as sweet. There's a lovely vanilla-tinged creaminess to it, also, reminiscent of a lime-flavored Creamsicle. After a few sips, I decided to relive another childhood memory, and concocted that rarest of after-school treats of my second-grade year: the Green River Float. It was even better, just as I'd remembered it.

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