Wastelands of Suburbia

A place where the cast-off ephemera of the last four generations comes to rest, and is discussed fondly....Like junk, or the injection-molded minutiae of history? Welcome home...Junkyards, yard sales, roadside oddities, thrift stores and more-your memories are deep inside the box, so keep shaking.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

The Icy Cool Persistence of Memory.

The above picture may not seem like much. To me, however, it means more than you could probably imagine. This antique cooler represents my past. It represents people dear to me. It represents simpler days gone by.

This is a 1970s/1980s vintage Coleman "Steel Belted" cooler. For the uninitiated, these were ubiquitous during the two previously mentioned decades. They are clad in metal (Here the red portion), and feature metal handles, a heavy metal clasp that seals it tightly, and a built-in bottle opener.

They were available in green, red and blue. My maternal grandfather had a green one. Some of my fondest memories of him revolve around that green cooler. Countless picnics, camping trips, fishing and road trips all included that green Coleman. I have fond memories of pulling ice-cold A&W Root Beers and 7-Ups out of that thing. Or, pulling out a Rolling Rock 7oz. 'nip' bottle for Granddad, and opening it with the opener on the side. Sneaking a drink out of it in the back of his green Country Squire with the simulated wood-grain sides, barreling down the highway at 70 MPH sans seatbelts, the rear window open, sucking in Carbon Monoxide and making us all high. My childhood hides inside that green cooler, wherever it is today. Granddad is gone, but, like many nostalgic old fools, I keep my memory of him securely inside this now.

The journey to this cooler was rather lengthy. Remembering Granddad's, the easy answer was to first try to track his down. Somewhere between his time here in PA (Until about 1980) and his time in Florida (from '80 until his passing), the old green Coleman was lost, sold, thrown out, etc. My guess is, being of resourceful, Depression-thriving stock, he kept it up until the end, and an estate-settling cleanout snatched it up, never to be seen again.

The next logical answer for me was to try Ebay. It became a quick lesson in the value of Nostalgia, and a question of the cost thereof. These coolers, in decent condtion, can sell for as much as $100, not counting the shipping. Granddad would have smacked the back of my head for such frivolity, representing his memory or not. I then committed myself to finding one, as I find all things, at the right price after a long search. I believe when it is time, these things will appear.

A representative example of the green Coleman like Granddad's-you probably can't see the memories, but I can-they ooze all out the sides.

A few weeks ago I was trolling my favorite flea market, at the former Blue Ridge Drive-In in Saylorsburg, PA (I'm local there), and I came across the red Coleman. My first reaction was "nice, but it's not green". Would I properly represent the memories with this? I decided it was worth the risk to try, but was still a bit hesitant-the advent of the Web, sites like Ebay and shows like AMERICAN PICKERS have given everyone an idea of what their stuff is 'worth'-an often debated, often skewed number that leaves the tightwad in me walking away quite often.

Hesitantly, I asked the price, expecting somewhere from $35 to $40, and, in all honesty, was willing to pay that on that particular day. "I've been asking $15-", the vendor said. My heart did a happy flip-flop, but my Haggler's Brain (positioned on some of us just above our Reptilian one) said "keep it shut, Dummy-wait." The vendor trailed on "-but you can have it for $12 if you like it." Both brains said "SOLD!" and I handed him the cash. I wonder if he thought I was mentally ill, smiling so widely for something so ordinary to the untrained eye. I didn't care-I had recaptured a lost love.

After a good cleaning (WD-40 and steel wool for the chrome, Mequiar's for the red finish), I did a repair to the latch to ensure it would stay clamped shut (Which required fabrication of a small part I made from a scrap in my parts bin). It looked great. Still, something was missing.

What I did next helped to tie in the memory of a few more relatives long past, and another high point of my childhood. I searched for, found, purchased, and added a vintage decal from the defunct Schaefer 500 at Pocono Raceway, also in my backyard. As a kid we traveled to Pocono for NASCAR, Indy, semi truck races, Camel GP bike races, and on and on. The 500 was one of the original events there shortly after Pocono was built by the late Dr. Joe Mattioli.

More importantly, Schaefer was the 'weapon of choice' for my dear Great Uncle Ern, who was like a third grandfather to me. Ern gave me his secret recipe for peanut butter fudge ice cream topping (he co-owned an ice cream and soda fountain in the days when those were slowly dying off-it closed sometime in the early 80s), a recipe I selfishly guard, per his instructions, to this day.

Now the cooler will be the one I use when I travel back in time to Pocono circa the early 1970s, where I will relive the glory of my childhood and take one more opportunity to tell my family how much I love them.

For parity's sake, here's Old Blue. I probably won't be happy until I have all three colors I guess.

So in the end, a $12 purchase (Plus another $7 for the decal, including shipping) practically raises the dead for me. Nothing makes my seltzers (does anyone drink soda anymore, really?) taste sweeter, and nothing keeps them colder. I wouldn't sell you this cooler for $100,000. Get your own.

This? This is just a travesty.


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