December 1 is the official birthday of Dr Pepper, quaff of the gods. It was introduced in 1885 (making it a year older than Coca-Cola) in Waco, Texas, (delighting crossword editors, who occasionally want something a little lighter than “cult shootout locale” for a Waco clue). It was strictly a local treat for 20 years, but was introduced to a wider audience in 1904 at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, a.k.a. the St. Louis World’s Fair. (If only Judy Garland or Margaret O’Brien had drunk some in Meet Me in St. Louis.)
Dr Pepper is the most enigmatic of the widely distributed soft drinks: no one knows exactly what’s in it (not prune juice, though that was the urban legend) or what the name means (probably nothing). It is also the most delicious of drinks, as well as the name brand of anything I have been loyal to the longest — damn close to half a century.
Sometime back in the mid 1960s, I traveled with my parents to a family wedding in Virginia. The details are incredibly murky — I’m not even sure whose wedding it was. It was either my father’s nephew, Franklin Weightman, or his two half-sisters, fraternal twins Jeanne and Joanne Chuchek (born to Norma, the widow of my father’s brother Donald, who was killed in World War II).
What made this trip so doggone memorable is that it marked the first time I ever had Dr Pepper, in a glass bottle that came from a pop machine in the motel we stayed at. It was love at first sip, but the good doctor proved elusive for many years. At that time, Dr Pepper was a regional drink, rarely, if ever, seen north of the Mason-Dixon line. I remember having it again a few years later, from the McDonald’s in San Diego but it was a few years after that, when I was in college, that I started drinking it regularly.
Which I still do. The entire bottom shelf of my “pantry” (open shelving in the kitchen) is devoted to two-liter bottles, and the easiest way to distinguish between friends and acquaintances is whether they buy Dr Pepper for me when they know I’m coming over.
Here’s to you, Dr Pepper — I look forward to many more years of bubbly goodness with you.