On a very late afternoon in September 1932, old Sister Amilda, the keeper of the gardens in the convent yards across the street from where my mother was embracing birth pains, was raking up the first of the falling chestnut leaves around the statue of St. Joseph.

This is a true story, told again and again by my late sister Rita, who was sitting on our front porch reading a movie magazine and drinking a bottle of Dr Pepper while waiting to be called up to welcome me onto the planet.

When the midwife, my “Aunt” Rosie O’Reilly — friend of gangsters, priests, cops and my father in South St. Louis (she owned a “confectionery” that offered under-the-counter refreshments during Prohibition) — called Rita up to fetch something, Rita came into the room still holding her bottle of Dr Pepper.

My mother was sitting up, waiting for me to arrive.

“Is that Dr Pepper?” she asked. “I’d love a Dr Pepper.”

Rita handed her the bottle, and she finished it.

For years afterward, summer after summer, whenever my mother saw me on the back porch drinking a Dr Pepper, she would offer, “I was drinking that right before you were born.” Imagine, Dr Pepper as mother’s milk.

Dr Pepper was, for a time in 1932, the hottest soft drink, outdoing Pepsi Cola, Coke and Royal Crown.

The Dr was initially introduced at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, where my mother first tasted it.

Guess who else, in the strangest coincidence of all time, was there that day as well? Young Cyril M. Joly, who grew up to become my father-in-law, the estimable Judge Joly from Waterville, Maine.

One wonders, did the sweet young eyes of these two small children meet as they wandered through the fairgrounds?

Did they look back at each other, I wonder, never knowing that one day, both of their children would meet in New York City and marry?

This column today, on the anniversary of my birth, is an excerpt from my forthcoming memoir “Everybody’s Dead But Me,” to be published sometime this year by North Country Press, so I won’t go into that story here.

Rita then went across the street to chat with Sister Amilda and watch the novices walk up the granite steps to the chapel for evening Angelus.

At that moment, she later told me, the novices were stopped in their tracks like a flock of birds at the big doors of the chapel by my very loud entry cry.

“How many is that now?” Sister asked.

“Eight,” Rita said.

“Go see what it is.”

A few minutes later, after she had taken, I imagine, another bottle of Dr Pepper from the icebox, she shouted across to Sister: “IT’S A BOY.”

I wasn’t over there, of course, and nobody knows what Sister mumbled to herself as she made the sign of the cross and kept raking, but I’m betting it was something like “Another boy. I hope he’s better behaved than the other five.”

Yes, Sister, I am better behaved than the other five, and wherever you are, you know it. And you would also remember on a summer day during the war that Paddy Carr and I gave you your first sip of Dr Pepper in your greenhouse, and you gave us each a Milky Way out of your famous candy drawer.

In years to come, birthday or not, I introduced Dr Pepper to a litany of beauties, including She, who had never heard of it before, but who is now a big fan and is drawn to it in the soda machine at Augusta’s Panera.

There was Rosemary DeBranco, she of the one thousand and one pastel-colored angora sweaters and simple strand of pearls, who shared a bottle with me at the Carnival Drive-In movie theater in the back seat of Ray’s Chevrolet. She made a terrible face and spit it out.

There was Mary O’Hara, who became a nun a month after our last date and didn’t like any soft drink, and Joya Feldman, the Israeli ballet dancer who loved it but preferred champagne.

On my birthday in 1975, while on the late Dennis Weaver’s television cop show “McCloud,” I brought it up and he, who had grown up in Joplin, Missouri, was already a fan.

Regrettably, it comes in cans now or on draft in soda machines, both in regular and decaf. Sad. I prefer it in the old glass bottle, but can’t find any. And I won’t drink from a can.

Today is my birthday, and, as usual, I like to toast with my mother’s milk, Dr Pepper. If you happen to see any in bottle form, give me a call.

Happy birthday to me and Dr Pepper.

J.P. Devine is a writer from Waterville.

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