My sister Bettye recently shared a brief conversation with Deborah Bailey about future hopes and plans for a coffee club in downtown Grenada. Their talk had quickly turned to some history of the Dyre-Kent Drug Store. For Bettye the conversation also stirred some sweet memories of her first Coke Float.
Thanks to his older brother Jack, our father, Arnold Dyre, had a job, ready and waiting as soon as he graduated from Kilmichael High School in 1923. He went to work as a soda jerk at White-Dyre Drug Store. Later, Jack Dyre and Spivey Kent would become partners in the Dyre-Kent Drug Company. Daddy then entered Old Miss that fall in the School of Pharmacy. Thanks to my sister Pat, who took the time with our father to record some of his rich history, we know that Daddy soon was jerking soda at Rowland Drugs in Oxford. During his first semester in college, Daddy would catch a train and head back to Grenada for a long weekend of work as a soda jerk. During his second semester at Ole Miss, he recalled a Saturday morning lab class in Quantitative Analysis followed by an afternoon of work behind the soda fountain in Oxford. Mr. Rowland paid $.20 an hour. Daddy felt he was paid well for he was a good soda man. Apparently, Daddy was not the only young man working his way through school during the 20’s, for William Faulkner held a job just right down the street at the post office.
Bettye recalls the day easily. Daddy and Mother had taken the family to the soda fountain at Dyre-Kent. It would only stand to reason, that years after his time behind the soda fountain, as he became the father of a growing family, Daddy would recall the thrill that many a kid had experienced over the fizzle of a coke float. Sundae glasses were sat before the them, two scoops of vanilla ice cream were added to each glass, Coke was slowly poured in, and within seconds the white, bubbly magic began. Bettye claims that the Coke Float was always her favorite, although the banana split served at the Dyre-Kent Soda Fountain held a close second.
Jack Dyre eventually retired as a pharmacist, but always kept his home open to family. Bettye and Herman often would visit Uncle Jack and Aunt Maude’s South Street home. Always, Uncle Jack was the perfect host, and, with each and every visit, he made Coke floats for them to enjoy. Although I have no memory Dyre-Kent soda fountain memories, I do recall fondly, the Sunday afternoon visits when I, too, was served a Coke Float by the kind man who I remember as the tallest uncle on my dad’s side of the family.
The legendary Coke Float apparently lived on in the Dyre family long after the close of the soda fountain and the death of Uncle Jack. When the temps hit their all-time summer highs, I have memories of my mother putting her set of multi-colored tin glasses into the freezer to chill down for the promised Coke Float. Eventually, we would gather round the table. as the cold, cold glasses wrapped in napkins to keep fingers from sticking to the near-frozen surface would start to be filled with vanilla ice cream. Next the Coke was poured. White, bubbly magic happened each and every time. To my added amazement, Mother always managed to serve this special treat right at that moment when we just did not think it could get any hotter. It was summertime, and the living was easy during those coke-float moments.
August 11, 2019
This piece was previously published in The Daily Star (Grenada, Mississippi).