The Red Metal Cooler

I didn’t know what cutoffs were until I moved to Tampa, Florida with my family after living in Holland for three years. My next door neighbor, Terry Parrish, a boy three years older than my seven years, walked over to me on our first day at the new house while I helped dad unload the car of suitcases, the old beat-up red metal cooler with Coca-Cola painted in white on both sides, and a few boxes of clothes, sheets and blankets, and dishes, just enough to tide us over until the moving van arrived with the rest of our stuff. Terry said hello and asked me where I came from. I told him I came from Turkey, but we came to Tampa from Holland and before that we lived in California. Terry asked me why I lived in Turkey and I told him I was born there. He seemed a little taken aback at that but just said, “Oh.” Terry was wearing jeans that had been cut off about mid-thigh. I thought they were the coolest shorts I had ever seen. Dutch boys didn’t wear cutoffs.

We moved to Tampa in June of 1967 and lived in a small, nice house on Trilby Avenue between Manhattan Avenue and Westshore Boulevard, about a mile from MacDill Air Force Base, just down the street from the Little General Store. They didn’t have Little General Stores in Holland. They sure didn’t know what they were missing. In Tampa, I would wait impatiently until Saturday when dad gave me my allowance, and then I’d run up the street with Marianne, my next older sister, and buy comic books and soda pop. I liked RC Cola best. I still do. In Holland, I spent my allowance on black licorice that I bought in the drugstore up the street from our house on Borneoplein. On Saturdays, when mom went grocery shopping on the base in Soesterberg, Camp New Amsterdam, the old Dutch couple who operated the news stand at the PX always gave me the comic books they had saved all week. That was nice of them because it meant I could save my allowance for western movie night on Thursdays with dad and my buddies and their dads. Mom let me visit with the old Dutch couple while she shopped at the PX. I think they liked me because they always smiled when they saw me. Maybe I reminded them of their son as a little boy. Maybe he had died in World War II.

Tampa differed from Holland in so many ways. It was hot most of the year. And humid too. I don’t remember hot weather in Holland, just the snow in winter. Tampa had beaches too, unlike Holland. Well, unlike Amersfoort where we lived. Amersfoort lay inland, and had a moat that surrounded the old city, but it wasn’t the same as having a beach. There were two ponds in the park across the street from our house in Amersfoort. I loved to play in the park and walk across the narrow bridge that separated the two ponds. Mom got pretty mad when I fell in and lost one of the cowboy boots I got for Christmas. It wasn’t the only shoe I lost in the ponds. And mom always got mad. I really loved those cowboy boots.

In Tampa, my sister Marianne and her friends sometimes took my younger sisters and me to the beach by the big Westinghouse plant. I remember being awed by the immensity of the building and the acres of green lawn in front. The beach was on an inlet of Old Tampa Bay. I don’t know why it was called “Old” since more of the bay was on the other side of the Interbay Peninsula, the part of Tampa where we lived. The bay on the other side was called Hillsborough Bay, and both bays emptied into Tampa Bay. It’s a good thing things like that didn’t worry me as a kid. I always wore cutoffs when I went to the beach. They dried by the time we walked home. That was what was so cool about them: you could wear your swimsuit all the time. That, and the strings of thread you could pull off the cutoff part when you were bored or when they tickled your legs. I still wear cutoffs, but only around the house. And I sure miss that old beat-up red metal cooler with Coca-Cola painted in white on both sides.

 

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