“I see what you’re doing there,” she said. “That’s the old way of drinking a Coca-Cola.”
Ginny was pushing 90 when I met her down in Arkansas in 1990. She is buried in the dappled shade under a big magnolia next to her husband now. She only called him “Dink.” I assumed it was a nickname, but hard to tell.
Pouring a handful of salted peanuts into a bottle of Coke is something my grandmother showed me how to to back when Lyndon Johnson was president. Ginny did it a lot more than I did. She was doing it when Truman was president, even Roosevelt. She did not just eat a MoonPie with an RC Cola. She dipped it in the RC after pouring it into a chipped old green coffee cup that sat on her cupboard the entire time I knew her. She never ate it any other way.
“The South is a wonderfully awful place,” she once told me after a few sips of rum, which she loved to do on her porch, also shaded by a big old Magnolia tree. Ginny, like many Southerners her age, called it a Bay Tree. And I captalize those two letters to show the reverence she felt for its shade, a reverence that helped convince the cemetery to save her a good spot for eternity.
“People down here are mean to each other and then love each other all at the same time,” she said. “I think it’s a Scottish thing. Maybe Irish. Makes no difference. It’s a complicated mess, I’ll tell you that. We’ve had a history that sets us apart both good and bad. And Lord I’ve lived long enough to see a mighty lot of it.”
The last time I saw her was in her kitchen where she took out a vintage six-ounce Coke bottle, poured some into it from a can and asked me to top it off with some of my Lance peanuts.
“What town is on the bottom there,” I asked her, referring to the old custom of embossing the name of the town on the bottom where the Coke was bottled.
She knew it by heart.
“Andalusia, Alabama,” she said. “Never been there. Have no idea where that is. But that’s the name on the bottom of this bottle. I’ve had it since the 60’s I reckon. Dink brought it home after a fishing trip.”
“Miss Ginny,” I said. “I’ve been to Andalusia and it’s a nice little town down in Lower Alabama next to a National Forest. Has a pretty town square. You have to go through there on the way to the beach.”
“I bet they have some big old Bay Trees down there,” she said, smiling and motioning toward her own tree with her Andalusia bottle, peanuts bobbing in the neck.
“Yes they do.” I said. “I know some of them personally.”
“A Bay Tree is a lifelong friend,” she said.
She is under one right now, and I’m drinking a Coca-Cola from the Andalusia bottle she gave me. Peanuts float inside, but memories float all around it.