The American Way

I was a kid. My father and I walked into the filling station. The bell above the door dinged.

Daddy was filthy from working under a car. He was always working under cars. He came from a generation of men who were born with Sears, Roebuck & Co. ratcheting wrenches in their hands. These were men who changed their own motor oil, who worked harder on off-days than they did on weekdays.

Old man Peavler stood behind the counter. He was built like a fireplug with ears. He, too, worked on cars all day. Except he did it for a living, so he hated it.

Daddy roamed the aisles looking for lunch among Mister Peavler’s fine curation of top-shelf junk food. In the background, a transistor radio played the poetry of Willie Hugh Nelson.

My father approached the ancient cooler, located beneath the Alberto Vargas calendar my mother warned me not to look at under threat of eternal hellfire.

The white words on the fire-engine-red cooler said DRINK COCA-COLA—ICE COLD. My father removed the sensuous hour-glass bottle, dripping with condensation. Then he grabbed a plastic sleeve of salt peanuts from the shelf.

We approached the counter.

“Howdy,” said old man Peavler. Only it came out more like “Haddy,” because that is how real people talk.

Old man Peaveler looked at our items, did some mental math, and told us how much we owed by rounding up to the nearest buck. The old man’s cash register hadn’t worked since Herbert Hoover was in the White House.

We exited the store and sat on the curb in the all-consuming sunlight. There, my father and I counted cars. For this is what people did before Olive Gardens and Best Buys ruled the world.

Daddy used his belt buckle to pop open his Coke. He used his teeth to tear open the peanuts. Then he carefully dumped the nuts into the mouth of the bottle.

He handed the bottle to me.

“Here,” he said. “This is something my daddy used to do. Try it.”

I tentatively took a sip. It was a peculiar flavor, Coke and peanuts. Salty. Sweet. Fizzy. With subtle roasted hints of Dothan, Alabama. I’ve been an advocate for mixing peanuts in Coke ever since.

Which is why when I was invited to give a presentation to Mrs. Welch’s eighth-grade English class, I knew exactly what I was going to present.

I arrived at the school late. I jogged across the parking lot, carrying a box of 31 glass bottles of Coca-Cola with 31 sleeves of Planters peanuts. I schlepped the heavy items into the school office and signed in.

The receptionist looked and me oddly and—this is a direct quote—she said, “You’re giving these kids caffeine?”

She had a point. Because eighth graders are an interesting lot. They aren’t children per se, and they aren’t adults. They are life-sized puberty demonstrations.

Eighth-graders only think about one thing, and this “one thing” is immediately evident when you walk into their classroom, because the classroom is entirely illuminated by spontaneous electrical arcs of raw hormonal energy.

I enlisted two students named Ben and Amanda to distribute Cokes and peanuts. One diabetic young man received a Coke Zero.

I went through a brief introductory spiel, explaining the cultural practice of adding peanuts to Coke. It’s a regional thing. A cherished convention. A practice so emblematically American that it’s Rockwellian.

The tradition started in the early 1920s when shelled peanuts began showing up in mercantiles and general stores across the Bible Belt. Blue-collar men, covered in grease, would dump peanuts into their Cokes to avoid eating with soiled hands. These men passed this habit onto their sons.

But this is where history gets sad.

Because my generation let the practice die. Most young people have never heard of adding peanuts to Coke, and that’s our fault. I have a hard time forgiving my peers for that.

My grandfather’s generation gave us the radio, the airplane, the refrigerator, the Model T, the electric toaster, and victory over Hitler. My generation gave the world E! Entertainment television.

I aimed to even the score.

The students poured peanuts into their bottles. Messes were made. Bottles erupted on desks like Mount Saint Soft Drink. Everyone started to giggle. Then the class looked at me with hideously confused faces when I suggested they drink this concoction.

“Gross!” said one spokeskid.

“No way,” said another.

“Class,” Mrs. Welch reminded everyone, “Mister Dietrich has gone to a lot of trouble and spent his OWN MONEY on these Cokes.”

I sincerely appreciated her support, although I couldn’t help but notice that when I added peanuts to her personal soft drink, her face went pale and she covered her mouth.

Still, the kids were good sports. They tried it. And here were the remarks I received:

“It was good,” said Michael.

“Salty and sugary,” said Blake. “All that carbonation. I’d do it again.”

“It was actually okay,” said Kera.

“Didn’t think I’d like it,” said Mark. “But it’s kinda the same idea as chocolate and peanut butter, only kinda not.”

“Honestly,” said Brady. “It made me feel like a really old fart inside.”

Everyone’s a wise crack.

And then there was Deshawn. Ah, Deshawn.

“That was nasty,” Deshawn said between retching gags. “The worst stuff I ever…” Gag. “Can I be excused, Mrs. Welch…?” Gag. “I seriously feel like I’m gonna…” Gag. “…gonna Puke all over Mister Dietrich.” Gag.

So all in all, it was a pretty good day. Which is why I went directly home and seriously considered changing my own motor oil.

You were missed, Daddy.

68 comments

  1. frugalfellow - February 8, 2022 6:59 am

    Yeah, I remember sitting at GrandPa’s store counter doing the same thing, with my little legs swinging in the air above the bar stool rungs they couldn’t quite reach. I have to admit, though, I never tried the pickled pigs feet.

    Reply
  2. Norm Farnum - February 8, 2022 8:11 am

    Fun story. Nostalgia at its best!

    But I don’t drink Coke.

    But I do like salted peanuts.

    But I like pecans better.

    But I wouldn’t put ’em in a Coke!

    Reply
    • Patricia Collins - February 8, 2022 12:25 pm

      Norm, you’re missing out !!

      Reply
  3. Leigh Amiot - February 8, 2022 10:04 am

    My daddy and the older of my two brothers used to do that…at the service station Daddy ran no less. I never tried it and I also never considered why mechanics did that in the first place. Enjoyed the trip back in time and hearing again about the era when men were men. You conjured a memory of my daddy’s tool box, in it a red, wooden-handled Craftsman hammer with his initials stamped on the side of the head. EJS Hadn’t thought about that in years, thank you.

    Reply
  4. James Lanier - February 8, 2022 10:50 am

    Make sure they are Tom’s Peanuts. Lance Peanuts will do in a pinch but are not as desirable as Tom’s. Coke Zero? Never heard of it says this Ole Timer.

    Reply
  5. Sheryl - February 8, 2022 11:36 am

    I may just have to try it. After being on this earth for 67 years I think it’s finally time…

    Reply
  6. Tom R - February 8, 2022 11:52 am

    Norm the poet.

    Reply
  7. franfluker - February 8, 2022 12:13 pm

    Oh, Yay! I grew up eating peanuts from a coke bottle, at my dad’s cotton gin! Delicious, especially in August in south Georgia.

    Reply
  8. D Childs - February 8, 2022 12:16 pm

    After my cousin’s funeral, all the attendees toasted him with Coke and peanuts at the graveside services. It felt a little wrong because he was more of a Pepsi and peanuts person until the dreaded plastic bottles arrived and he couldn’t find a glass bottle for them. My older son (16) had had this on occasion so it isn’t completely lost.

    Reply
  9. Alice Purim - February 8, 2022 12:21 pm

    As Barbara Mandrell sang:

    “ I remember circlin’ the drive-in
    Pullin’ up and turnin’ down George Jones
    I remember when no one was lookin’
    I was puttin’ peanuts in my Coke”

    Thank you for the nice story.

    Reply
    • Alice Purim - February 8, 2022 12:25 pm

      I was country when country wasn’t cool

      Reply
  10. Patricia Collins - February 8, 2022 12:22 pm

    Love your story. It took me back to my younger years with my daddy, if it wasn’t coke and peanuts then it was a moon pie with an RC Cola on a rainy day!! Sweet memories, thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Richard Owen - February 8, 2022 2:54 pm

      Thanks, Patricia! I had not thought of Moon Pie and RX Cola in years. But I do remember going into a local restaurant/bar and ordering “PBR”. If you don’t remember, that was “Pabst Blue Ribbon” beer!

      Reply
  11. Lisa K Riley - February 8, 2022 12:40 pm

    Middle school kids. Always one wiseacre in the bunch. I taught middle level for 12 years. Must be where I lost my mind. My daddy was a mechanic. Since we were in the Northwest, that other cola was predominant. And peanuts went in every bottle. I switched to Coke as soon as I was old enough to drive. I may not get peanuts into a bottle anymore, but peanuts and a Coke are still required for road trips.

    Reply
  12. J - February 8, 2022 1:09 pm

    I remember those days. I use to sit on the lowest limb of the maple tree in front of our house and count the cars till suppertime some days. And coke is by far superior to any other drink known to mankind over the years. One sip and your scalp will tingle. 🙂

    Reply
  13. Cynthia - February 8, 2022 1:11 pm

    I grew up in Alabama and Georgia, but never saw the concoction until I came to Kentucky to attend college. The men around here put their peanuts in their soft drinks (you have to be careful on naming the drink; the other brand is more popular here) because of working on the farm, It makes perfect sense. I tried it and liked the flavor combination, but was always afraid that I’d swallow a whole peanut and choke!

    Reply
  14. Russell Bush - February 8, 2022 1:17 pm

    What a fun day! Surprised there were no peanut allergies among the group.

    Reply
  15. Lisa - February 8, 2022 1:26 pm

    During the 1970’s I had a middle school math teacher, Mr. Beasley who everyday had this very thing on his break. It intrigued us kids. I tried it once and though it was ok, I never felt the need to continue the habit.

    Reply
  16. Paul McCutchen - February 8, 2022 1:32 pm

    My wife had the same reaction serving tuna gravy to the grandkids.

    Reply
  17. Karen - February 8, 2022 1:34 pm

    Sean, you touched my heart again. Walking to the store with my cousins to the country store to get an ice cold coke and pouring in the peanuts was the best.

    Reply
  18. Cathy M - February 8, 2022 1:46 pm

    You take me back with this sweet and salty memory. Have not done it in yrs but I think I am going to surprise my high school boyfriend and husband of over five decades with this delightful mix for Valentines. Life was so simple when I was growing up and it was things like this that made it special. Don’t try to tell me that coke is not better in a bottle cause it just is👍

    Reply
    • Suellen - February 8, 2022 3:15 pm

      I must be slow this morning. I had to read that over a couple of times. It was my surprise that you had a high school boyfriend AND a husband. LOL

      Reply
      • Susie - February 9, 2022 3:47 pm

        Suellen, you also made ME read it again! THAT is funny. Yep, sounds like she had both at the same time. Lol

        Reply
  19. William Lowe - February 8, 2022 1:55 pm

    It had to be a 6 ounce Coke.
    How about putting a Goodie’s Powder in a Coke/

    Reply
  20. Nana - February 8, 2022 2:04 pm

    Thank you for taking your time and your money to mentor a classroom of 8th graders. They will never forget having a famous red-headed author who introduced them to Cokes and peanuts!

    Reply
  21. Mike Toon - February 8, 2022 2:11 pm

    1976. Toodie’s Cafe in Scotland, Indiana, population 112. I was 8 years old and the boys in the bicycle gang and I would terrorize the town by cutting through people’s yards, shouting out how we would one day marry Farrah Fawcett and make fun of the old lady who would get up on her roof and sweep it on Saturdays. Harold Manis and family owned the cafe. Harold sat in the corner booth and chain smoked while his wife and daughter did the cooking. There was the old red coke machine that kept bottled Cokes colder than a witch’s part! On the counter was a wire rack with sleeves of Planter’s peanuts. 50 cents later we were out the door, dumping the peanuts into our Cokes and plotting our next move for the day…..fishing in Doan’s Creek or sneaking a chew of Skoal behind the old, closed-down school building! Man…Sean…your stories sure do bring back great memories for me! Thank you!

    Reply
  22. JonDragonfly - February 8, 2022 2:14 pm

    Ah, if only you could have taken them outside to sit on the curb and count cars….

    Reply
  23. JonDragonfly - February 8, 2022 2:16 pm

    Say, FrugalFellow, do try the pickled pigs feet. They’re good.

    Reply
  24. Helen De Prima - February 8, 2022 2:18 pm

    I tried it a couple of times until I choked on a peanut. May try it again for nostalgia’s sake..

    Reply
  25. James willis - February 8, 2022 2:34 pm

    Reminds me of Barbra mandrel sang about putting peanuts in her coke when country wasn’t cool

    Reply
  26. Suellen - February 8, 2022 3:14 pm

    I didn’t even know it was a thing until a couple of years ago. I may have to try it one of these days.

    Reply
  27. Clark - February 8, 2022 3:32 pm

    I was born in Iowa but raised all over as an Army brat. I remember being at the GMC car dealership in Ottumwa Iowa in the summer of 1960 (I was 7 years old) and getting a nickel coke from the machine and then adding a nickel bag of peanuts to the coke. It was something I didn’t have to think about doing so evidently I had either done it or seen it done before. It’s not just a southern thing. I live in Georgia now and have since 1966. I tell people that I wasn’t born in the South but I got here as quick as I could. I still love peanuts in my coke. ps. I can still smell that car dealership showroom in my mind.

    Reply
  28. Stacey Wallace - February 8, 2022 3:44 pm

    I remember peanuts in Coke. Thanks, Sean. Also, I taught eighth graders for three years and sixth graders for 27. That was so sweet of you. As a diabetic, I commend you for bringing the Coke Zero. I’d have loved to have had you as a speaker.

    Reply
  29. Jan Noel-Smith - February 8, 2022 3:51 pm

    Peanuts in Dr. Pepper for us Texans! … haven’t had a real sody pop in years, but if I ever do again, it’ll have peanuts! Wonder how they’d be in my Topo Chico? 🙂

    Reply
  30. AlaRedClayGirl - February 8, 2022 4:03 pm

    My daddy also showed me how to pour peanuts into a bottle of Coke. He swore that Coke in plastic bottles and cans did not taste as good as those in glass bottles. Sure wish I could enjoy one now with my daddy. Thanks for the memories.

    Reply
  31. Ruth Mitchell - February 8, 2022 4:03 pm

    Oh, my goodness! What memories you brought back. We had a little neighborhood filling station, and about the only “junk” my mother ate was peanuts in Coca-Cola. I can picture her now sitting in front of the cement block building pouring the whole package of peanuts into the bottle creating quite a little fizz. Thank you for reminding me!

    Reply
  32. Erin Pepus - February 8, 2022 4:21 pm

    I loved adding BBQ spiced peanuts … that added extra zing !!

    Reply
  33. Mim - February 8, 2022 4:27 pm

    Good stuff.

    Reply
  34. Ruby Corbin - February 8, 2022 5:16 pm

    I drank many a coke with peanuts dumped in as a child. It’s just not the same with plastic.

    Reply
  35. Jayne Holland - February 8, 2022 5:30 pm

    OH MY GOODNESS!! My Daddy had a friend who owned a “Pure Oil Gas station” The best part was Daddy let me get dirty, I played with the lug wrench, but could barely lift it. The station had stuff inside to purchase; “Timing belts” oil, tobacco in a pouch, gum, and candy bars. We had to return the glass bottles, but Dad saved one to spit his tobacco juice in. The “Pure Oil Service Station” was on old Highway 31 North. Then they put up the NEW road, which became Highway 65. The owner of the Station was ED Benson. I think he and my Dad went to WWII together in the Philippines. I got my Dads war records about 20+ years ago. I still have trouble finding the correct kind of peanuts to dump in the Coca Cola.

    Reply
  36. frugalfellow - February 8, 2022 5:39 pm

    For those that might not know, that’s a “coe-COE-la” or a “coe-COE-ler”. But my grandPa just always said, “Go on down ‘er to the store and tell Willard yoe grandPa said to give you a dope and p-nuts.”

    It was always a “dope.” Also “croaker sack,” (never a bag), “cheer” (chair), “broe-gans” (work shoes), and we always “cut out” the light at bed time.

    Reply
    • wfsuga - February 8, 2022 7:21 pm

      Wow, a “dope.” Haven’t heard that in a long time. All the cotton mill workers in the town where I grew up used to call a Coke a “dope.”

      Reply
  37. Jacquelyn Wolfe - February 8, 2022 7:20 pm

    I think that I love your writing because it’s so relatable for me. We must be similar in age. Except I’m from small town Tennessee. So you’d never hear me say “Roll Tide”. I bleed Big Orange!!! Thanks for carrying me back to a time and a place!!!

    Reply
  38. Belinda Byrd - February 8, 2022 7:32 pm

    I laughed so hard ….
    Yep…. you guessed it…. on the toilet now! 😂😂

    Reply
  39. Pingback: Sean of the South: The American Way | The Trussville Tribune

  40. Donna Parker - February 8, 2022 8:45 pm

    Enjoyed I don’t think I every did it but remember hearing of it. Reminder of many fun things things!

    Reply
  41. Becky+Souders - February 8, 2022 8:59 pm

    Yup. Missing fathers: my first taste of coffee was on my dad’s lap and he spooned up some vanilla ice cream, dipped it through his coffee and offered it to me. Thanks for stirring up memories, Sean… happy, tasty ones.

    Reply
  42. Steve McCaleb - February 8, 2022 9:58 pm

    Your depiction of the South’s favorite delight brought back on of my all time favorite memories. It was the year the state of Alabama adopted daylight savings time (1963?). Several of us kids were sitting on a derilect Methodist church bench in front of our local general store/gas station eating Tom’s Salted Peanuts out of a longneck glass Coca Cola bottle. Delightful! On another pew on the other side of the entrance sat 6-7 old farmers chewing the fat. The DST came up in conversation and one of the old guys said “I wish the govment would leave the sun alone…that extra hour of sunshine is burning my garden up.” You think that didn’t get some tiny cranial cogs to spinning? That’s the first time I can ever remember thinking…”I’m not sure I understand all I know about this.” Talk about a govt OVER REACH ! Ah, those were the days…..

    Reply
  43. Linda Moon - February 8, 2022 10:44 pm

    I loved reading ‘I was a kid’ just now, and I love peanuts in Cokes! Earlier today when I was with my Doc who actually talks to and gets to know his patients — well, guess where he’ll be travelling to soon {…crickets here while you guess…}. You guessed it — up there in God’s Country where Ryan Pasborg works and saves lives! Good doctors do that, too. And in the Deep South, lots of us love peanuts and Coke, Mister Dietrich. Oh, and we love your son, too.

    Reply
  44. MAM - February 8, 2022 10:55 pm

    I must admit, I remember Coke and peanuts, but I never took up the habit. My favorite as a kid was a “frosted” root beer. Root beer with a good dollop of ice cream in a frosty glass. And no sodas don’t taste as good from plastic.

    Reply
  45. Martha Gwen Sibert - February 8, 2022 11:05 pm

    I grew up putting salted peanuts in Cokes, but I am an old person. I think that the introduction of canned Cokes is the root cause of the decline in the putting of peanuts in Cokes. It’s just not the same trying to pour peanuts through the small opening in a can, plus I don’t think canned Cokes taste as good as those in a glass bottle. Loved the column today!!

    Reply
  46. Chasity Davis Ritter - February 8, 2022 11:55 pm

    Always something to make us miss our daddies. I can’t look a fig Newton in the face without tearing up. Thanks for teaching these new kids a few of the old tricks.

    Reply
  47. Scott Sovereign - February 9, 2022 2:21 am

    Roasted peanuts are OK, but I prefer mine boiled, thank you! And the best boiled peanuts in Dothan were always those the Peanut Man (or at least that’s what we always called him) sold at the corner of the Circle and West Main, but he’s been gone for years. For that matter, we’ve been away from Dothan more years than I would like too.

    Reply
  48. Nita - February 9, 2022 3:16 am

    Love peanuts in Coke, which I learned from Mama. Missing her right now.

    Reply
  49. Mark Daigle - February 9, 2022 2:55 pm

    Well, American cokes will never taste the same, glass, plastic or can, as they used to, because they substituted the original Cane Sugar with High Fructose Corn Syrup. Remember the “New Coke” debauchery? Allegedly Mexican Cokes still use cane sugar. Circa 1974 the Coke company sent a representative to our school to invite us on a field trip to the bottling factory in Vicksburg, MS. There, they pleaded with us to stop putting peanuts in the returnable Coke bottles. Watching the bottle cleaning process explained why. If you remember Cokes came loaded in wooden crates. They would take these crates and put them on the line and a machine with long rubber fingers would pick up all the bottles at once and turn them upside down and shoot the sterilizing fluid in them. The problem was that the fingers were just large enough that the peanuts couldn’t drain out with the fluid. Immediately after the fluid drained out the bottles were turned right side up and filled with Coke and capped and then visually inspected by several ladies that would grab the ones with floating peanuts and pull them off the line. At the end of our tour they did give us what would be, to this day, the BEST, freshest Coke I ever tasted.

    Reply
  50. Elizabeth Ann Novak - February 9, 2022 3:57 pm

    Reminded me of the many times my great grandfather and I walked the few blocks to the local drug store on the corner and sat with old folks in the rocking chairs at the back of the store and drank coke with peanuts. I was 6 or 7 back then and now I’m 60, but I still like peanuts in my coke. Brought tears and a smile to my face.

    Reply
  51. Holly Layman - February 9, 2022 6:00 pm

    Gosh darn it, Sean! I thought I was going to get through this one without needing Kleenex. I ought to have known better, especially since this one was about your Daddy. See, I lost my dad a month ago today. It’s still pretty raw. Guess it will be for a long time. Since my family and I are from California, I’d never heard about putting peanuts in Coke. I love these fascinating glimpses of our culture and history. Thank you for always packing so much into one story.

    Reply
  52. Susie - February 9, 2022 11:46 pm

    Holly, I am SO sorry about your dad. 😔 I lost my dad 27 yrs ago. Still hurts, but there is light…….it just takes time. And, yes, Sean has that knack….gift….let’s call it, shall we?!? I swear, Holly, I, too, while reading his stories, have laughed OUT LOUD, while still wiping tears at his last statement!! 🤪. It’s uncanny, right?! 😂. Sean has a gift…..and IS a gift for us all. 👍❤️. Holly, I am embracing you in my thoughts. Remember all the good times; great memories of your dad!!

    Reply
  53. William Lowe - February 10, 2022 1:08 am

    The sterilizing fluid was carbolic acid.

    Reply
  54. Bruce Garner - February 10, 2022 2:19 am

    Peanuts in Cokes and boiled peanuts and my dad’s parched peanuts. Seems about right in the peanut state!!

    Reply
  55. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - February 10, 2022 5:53 am

    One of life’s finest treasures! It’s sad that this generation doesn’t know about that. Well, at least you tried to show them.

    Reply
  56. Marcia Enquist - February 10, 2022 12:03 pm

    Coke and peanuts was my lunch every day at Blount Junior High School. You wouldn’t dare eat in the lunchroom! Gag!

    Reply
  57. Kathryn Wiley - February 10, 2022 7:41 pm

    Being from Texas, we poured peanuts into Dr. Pepper instead of Coke. But only on road trips. Seem to remember Sissy Spacek being interviewed on TV, and she told about doing this as a kid growing up in Texas.

    Reply
  58. Paul J Redhead - February 11, 2022 2:48 pm

    Peanuts and Coke and RC Cola and Moonpie..both Southern traditions and good.

    Reply
  59. Judy Riley - February 11, 2022 5:16 pm

    I hope you really did this!!! I loved it! But why Dothan, Alabama?

    Reply
    • Kathryn Rose MacDonald - February 12, 2022 5:39 pm

      Dothan is the peanut capital of Alabama, maybe even the WORLD….at least when I was livin’ there they swore ’twas.

      Reply
  60. Toni - February 12, 2022 11:32 am

    I’m a grown woman so this is how I do it now. Although I made it for a party and it was not well received.

    https://gardenandgun.com/recipe/coke-peanuts-and-whiskey/

    Reply
  61. Kathryn Rose MacDonald - February 12, 2022 5:37 pm

    Peanuts in Coke….another classic, right alongside RC Cola and a Moonpie, or an A&W Rootbeer and an icecream sandwich. *BIG sigh* I do so miss home. Reading things like ‘is makes it a LOT easier to not be home. Thanks a bushel and a peck. Giant hugs from across the Pond.

    Reply

Leave a Comment