As a kid growing up “down the way” in Cleveland, Ohio I was a member of one of the most dysfunctional households imaginable. Food was not always available, but on those rare occasions when the stars were aligned and my Aunt Mattie Ida was in the house, life seemed so good. There was nothing better than dining on her wonderful deep-fried chicken, collard greens, homemade potato salad, cornbread and peach cobbler. Of course, those meals also included a refreshing jar of Kool-Aid. The sugar sweetened beverage poured over ice cubes just hit the spot! My siblings and I felt as if we had died and gone to heaven. Then one day a terrible thing happened that changed the way I would look at Kool-Aid forever.
Mattie Ida was the most frugal person I have ever known. She always bought in bulk. Even things like table salt were purchased in five pound bags. On one very hot summer day, she served up a meal to write about, which included Kool-Aid. As kids, we were not allowed to eat in the kitchen with our parents, instead we had to sit at the big black oval table in the adjacent dining room, and we were served last of course. I remember looking at the big jar of Kool-Aid sitting in front of my father, and feeling the drool form at the corners of my mouth. The glass was frosted over and I could just imagine that cold liquid running down my throat. Fortunately for me, it never did. The joviality of the day was loudly disrupted when my father took a big gulp of Kool-Aid only to discover the sweetness of sugar has been replaced with the brine of salt! Everyone stopped breathing momentarily. His voice could be heard on the other side of town as he lambasted Mattie Ida, my mother and even us kids. He threw down his fork, kicked back his chair and stormed out. That was my first lesson in the power of Kool-Aid.
My next lesson came about following the tragic events surrounding the massacre in Guyana, orchestrated by the Reverend Jim Jones. Much like other religious leaders of similar ilk, Jones was a master mixer of the drink. Kool-Aid became a metaphor for the palatability of charismatic religious and politically rhetorical messages delivered by people in positions of trust and power. It became the powerful elixir that always promised change, much like the recent political campaign for President of The United States.
After eight years of political idolatry, the likes of which have not been seen since the Roosevelt administration, it was time to create two new batches of Kool-Aid. Each one was sweetened with a different measure of verbose grandiosity, due in large part to capture the attention of those of would not otherwise listen. Palatability was the determining factor in the outcome, and the torch of power will be passed on.
A lifetime later, I am keenly aware of the power of Kool-Aid, and the impact it has on the average person. It will always be a staple in American lifestyle, both the kind found in the colorful envelope bearing the smiley faced pitcher that makes that deliciously inviting drink, and the kind that is served up to create a following in business, religion, and politics.
©2017 Marsha Walker Eastwood ~ All rights reserved