3193346731_63474fbdd5The folks at Mountain Dew – PepsiCo, I suppose – are now marketing a “throwback” version of their classic soft drink, one with an older logo and formula, and it gave me a flashback to the summer of my first Mountain Dew. It was an experience that brought me closer to hellfire than a 10-year-old ought to be.

Every summer my parents sent my sister and me to visit our cousins – either our girl cousins in Montgomery or our boy cousins in the wilds of rural Alabama, which I preferred.

My cousins Bill, Gene, and Larry, and their little sister Phyllis, lived at the time near Notasulga, Alabama, where their stepfather, my uncle, Reverend Howard E. Gunter, was the home missions pastor at Friendship Baptist Church and my sainted Aunt Eloise took care of them all. (The fact that he was a missionary to the primitive tribes in rural Alabama always amused us no end, since we’d moved up to high-church Presbyterian when we moved to the big city of Birmingham.)

Big and red-haired, Uncle Howard was fairly new to the ministry. He was a freshly retired Air Force master sergeant and a recently reformed alcoholic, which, along with being a newly minted Baptist preacher made him a Bible-quoting force of nature. It should go without saying that he felt led to be the living hand of God against drinking, drinkers, and anything even remotely alcoholic.

That summer, a new soft drink came into America’s stores, a lemon-lime concoction of sugar, citric acid and caffeine. And, if you’re old enough to remember, the first Mountain Dew bottles had a drawing of a moonshiner, Willy the Hillbilly, shooting at a revenuer running from an outhouse. “Yahoo! It’s Mountain Dew!” said the bottle. “It’ll tickle yore innards.”

I’d had a taste of the new Dew in the big city of Birmingham, and I was anxious to share the snappy tastes, sugar rushes and caffeine buzzes with all my country cuzzes. So when Bill and I walked to the country store to get a drink, I suggested he try Mountain Dew, not knowing that the wrath of Howard would soon be upon us.

Mountain Dew old bottle 180X343So imagine the scene: Two innocent boys come home from the store, drinking soft drinks and reading the cartoon on the label out loud. Really loud. “Yah-HOO, it’s Mountain DEW! Whooee!”

Overhearing the commotion, my uncle the reverend, the recovered boozer, comes steaming out of his study and unleashes a torrent of preaching on Bill and me about how the pit of Hell was awaiting for winebibbers and that anyone who drank moonshine would, without a doubt, burn in Hell forever.

Now, we Presbyterians were God’s frozen chosen and we didn’t mention burning in Hell much, but I was familiar with the concept. I had certainly never been on the receiving end of a personal, eyeball-to-eyeball, finger-wagging message from God’s own red-faced spokesman, and it scared me pretty good.

I remember the cold bottle sweating in my hand and me not daring to drink that last tasty swallow of sin. I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to escape without a paddling until my Aunt Eloise rescued us with the dinner bell, practiced as she was at saving kids from her husband’s misdirected wrath.

After that, needless to say, I drank Mountain Dew at every opportunity, now partly for the illicit thrill. I never did grow into a winebibber or Hell-bound drunk; in fact, I never developed much of a taste for alcohol. (I am, however, a big, big fan of caffeine to this day.)

This weekend, I saw that Willy the Hillbilly was back on Mountain Dew’s website, and I tried the throwback Mountain Dew, with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. It was pretty good, that taste of long ago, but when I took that first sip, I thought for, just a second, that I detected a nostalgic whiff of brimstone.

And it sure did tickle my innards.


This article originally appeared in The News-Reporter, serving Washington, Ga., and Wilkes County, and is re-printed with the newspaper’s permission: http://www.news-reporter.com/news/2009/0514/opinion/023.html

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Kip Burke

Kip Burke

Kip Burke, the news editor and columnist at The News-Reporter in Washington, Georgia, has been a writer, newspaper and magazine editor, photojournalist and ghostwriter in his 30-year career.