Uncle Ott’s Store

Carol Burt
9 min readMay 18, 2023

The Paradise Across the Street

On many hot, still afternoons when the heat waves could be seen above the asphalt in the street, Mom would let us cross the road and go to Uncle Ott’s store to get a “Coke” as they were all called “Cokes” then even if you bought a root beer or a Dr. Pepper. Even if you purchased a red cream soda, it was still referred to as if you’d bought a Coke.

Down in this part of Arkansas, there were no “soft drinks” or, perish the thought, “sodas.” A soft drink was just a “Coke.” we considered sodas a concoction made at the corner drug store up the street.

Uncle Ott, who owned the store across the street, was my mother’s great-uncle, my great-great uncle.

Entering his store on a hot summer day was like walking into an oasis in the desert. They’d have several air conditioners running full blast, and all the coolers would be laboring to keep everything cold. The roar was considerable. You had to speak up to be heard.

Uncle Ott and Aunt Gertha always had smiles and greetings for us and would ask how our folks were.

…get yourself a cold “Coke.

“You kids look hot,” Uncle Ott would say, “you better get over there and get yourself a cold Coke.”

Which was our cue to open up one of the big ice-chest type coolers and pick out a soft drink. It was a hard decision; my little sister couldn’t even reach some of the drinks. They floated or stood up, depending on how deep the ice water surrounding them was. Now that I think about it, I guess there was a cooling mechanism in those ole “Coke boxes,” as we called them, but all I knew was that there was always icy cold water. You couldn’t keep your dirty little paw in there very long, as the ice water would cool your hand until it hurt.

We’d take our chosen treasures to the counter and give Aunt Gertha six cents each for the cold drinks or have her put it on Mom’s ticket, as they called the charge sales. Then either Aunt Gertha or Uncle Ott would open your Coke with a beer opener they kept behind the counter. The counter was built upfront so Uncle Ott or Aunt Gertha could go behind the counter on either side and could see outside, too.

“Momma said to put it on the ticket,” I’d tell her. Every once in a while, I would dare to get us a piece of candy and put it on the ticket. Mom seldom noticed when she added up the tickets; if she did, she didn’t say anything. I…

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Carol Burt

Former print journalist, former mayor, retired law enforcement officer. Writing about politics and government along with random personal essays.