My paternal grandparents lived on the second floor of an apartment building that could be considered Binghamton’s version of a tenement; I do not mean this pejoratively, as the building served as the home for many members of my grandfather’s family, beginning with his own father who came from Avellino, Italy. It was always familiar and a place of childhood joy for me. My grandfather was born in the building and he himself never lived anywhere else until he was well into old age and moved with my grandmother to the “country.” I can still recall the steepness of the stairs leading to the second floor porch in the front of the building, as if in climbing those stairs we were ascending to our ancestors. My grandparents had nine children, so the apartment, which contained four bedrooms and one bathroom, wasn’t nearly enough space to give one a sense of privacy, but I always remember the place as quite large and roomy.
I recall many parties and family gatherings at the apartment, most of which seemed to have been joyous, if chaotic occasions. I loved being part of a very large family, even if I couldn’t fully understand the family dynamics at the time. Some of my earliest memories revolve around soda, or “soft-drinks,” as my family called them. My brother and I drank soda, but mostly with meals. Going to my grandparents meant that we could drink a soda brand called Eagle’s Beverages, produced by the Binghamton Bottling Company. The soda, or soft-drink, would come in tall, clear bottles with the label stenciled in white on the glass. These bottles always seemed to be in abundance, especially on Sundays when most of the family would stop by and the apartment would be sweltering in the summer heat.
The kitchen was in the back of the apartment, and its back door opened onto a porch, with a set of stairs leading up to the third floor and another down to the ground floor. I remember the back porch as being a long and narrow passage, and dark, even in summer, but with light enough from the window or opening in the wall (here memory fails me) to see onto the backyards of the neighbors. The back porch always seemed to be the place where the Eagle’s soda bottles were stored. The bottles came in a large wooden crate, and there were always several flavors: cola, ginger ale, cream soda, root beer, orange, and lemon-lime, among others. My mouth salivates at the memory of the soft-drinks, even as I write this. I remember wanting to taste them all, but my parents would only let us choose one flavor. If I remember correctly, the ginger ale was my favorite.
My own children do not drink soda, because they say it “bubbles their tongues,” not liking the way the carbonation feels in their mouths. I am mostly happy that they don’t, but a part of me thinks that they are missing out on one of life’s greatest inventions. Now that I am an adult I rarely drink soda, opting for “harder” drinks or water. Still, I often find myself thinking about Eagle’s, especially when I’m eating pasta or pizza, and those thoughts have a powerful nostalgic hold on me. In my memories the soft-drink bottles are still standing at attention in those wooden crates, with dividers for each bottle; there is always a bit of sun shining down, reflecting off the bottles that were such a meaningful, but at the time neglected, part of my life.
What I wouldn’t give to have just another taste.