My Grandma died 15+ years ago, but when we open up her trunk that sits in the corner of this intergenerational home where we live and pull out one of her journals, we can hear her voice like she is just in the next room. We do this pretty often – reach into Grandma’s trunk and find something to read aloud. Grandma was a storyteller and a prolific jotter. She left a lot of notes from her life and we, her descendants, enjoy peeking behind the scenes of this Grandma character who played prominently in the stories of our own lives.
One evening, sometime in the past few months, I pulled a pink, soft-covered notebook out of the trunk that I don’t recall looking at before. It was a collection of daily prompts, Grandma’s Daily Book of Memories, much like today’s Storyworth program. From what we can tell, Grandma worked on this journal of daily prompts in 1999. She would have been 86 years old, still living in her house in Aloha, with her second husband, the man we knew as Grandpa Bill. Just a couple years later, she would move in with my parents through a sort of intervention living re-arrangement and Bill would be eventually moved to memory care.
But none of that is the point of this post. The point of this post is Green River soda. In response to the prompt: What did you and your friends do after school during your junior high and high school years? Did you have a favorite meeting place or hangout?
Grandma wrote: I took six years of Latin. In high school we would sit on the curbing under the street lights three friends and I and translate Caesar and Cicero. We had a lot of fun coming up with some weird translations. Traffic wasn’t a problem – very few cars and it was safe in those long ago days We also used to go to the Oasis for ice cream bars and green river (a cold drink). Marion and I went almost every summer day on our way to the “libe” (library).
For no particular reason, Green River (a cold drink) caught our attention as I read this entry aloud that night. We googled to see if it was still available anywhere and discovered that it is. Sprecher Brewing Company, in Wisconsin bought the recipe in 2021 and offers it for sale through their website. So I ordered some and when family was gathered on New Year’s Eve, we opened a bottle.
Whew! Yellow 5 and Blue 1 = that GREEN.
Through a bit of google sleuthing, I’ve learned that Green River soda was developed in 1916 and sold to The Schoenhofen Edelweiss Brewing Company of Chicago in 1919, just as Congress was passing the 18th Amendment: Prohibition. The brewery poured soda into old beer bottles and sold it as part of its stay afloat strategy during the nation’s no alcohol years. Grandma’s reference to the soda places her drinking it in the late 1920s. It was a particularly popular soda into the 50s and 60s (right behind coca-cola), and was remarkable for its lemon/lime flavor and obviously, THAT BRIGHT GREEN.
Google sleuthing also linked me to this songfact story that claims singer songwriter John Fogerty wrote the song Green River as a nod to his happy childhood memories playing out along Putah Creek, near Winters, California. For the purposes of the song, Fogerty named the place Green River, based on his favorite soda flavor. And here’s a TikTok video from this past August where Fogerty talks about the Green River soda in relation to the song. See this 1969 recording of Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival performing Green River.
For whatever it’s worth, there are also google trails that point to Al Jolson recording a song about Green River written by Joe Schenk and Eddie Cantor with lyrics:
Since the country’s turned prohibition, I’ve been in a bad condition. Every soft drink that I try just makes me want to cry. Take it back from whence it came. All your drinks are much the same. I tried one here today, and believe me when I say: CHORUS: For a drink that’s fine without a kick, Oh, Green River. It’s the only drink that does the trick, just Green River. Has others beat a mile, makes drinking worth while, And if you want to wear a little smile, try Green River.…..
My sleuthing stops short of finding an actual recording of that claim, but you can download the sheet music here.
Lastly, this is a good summary of the Green River soda trails online.
If you clicked the link above to see what I purchased, you know that I had to buy a 12 pack from Sprecher. If you look at the picture above, you might accurately guess that we’ve only opened one. If you’re local and want a taste, let me know! We’ll be pouring Green River on St. Patricks Day for years to come.
Also – my Grandma sat on the curb with her friends and translated Caesar and Cicero for fun after school! That’s a whole other trail.