Something I’ve not quite adjusted to here in Maine is the unpopularity of ice. I’m not talking about the sheet of ice on the sidewalk or the long stalactites hanging from the eaves. That ice is met with half-hearted — convivial, even — dislike by most adults. The ice I’m talking about is the kind Southerners do not go without, the kind that is piled high and deep at the bottom of a glass of tea.
Perhaps Northerners are sick of winter and ice, so the last place they want to find something cold is in their drinking glass. Or maybe Northerners take ice for granted. Either way, refrigerators with automatic ice dispensers on the door — a sign of true luxury in the South — are hard to come by up here. I have a friend in Bangor who drinks her soft drinks warm, straight out of the pantry.
For someone like me, however, who drinks a Diet Dr Pepper every morning (don’t judge, coffee-drinkers — it’s caffeine) and likes it cold, the scarcity of ice for drinks is a problem. In the South, my drink order was served like this: ice with a little splash of soda. In the North, it’s more like: soda with a few pebbles of ice floating at the top.
You know my mom — born and raised in Birmingham, Ala. — is visiting when you see bags of ice stocked in my refrigerator. What won’t fit inside sits on the back porch, where for six months of the year it is actually colder than the freezer. Mom always orders her drinks the same: “a large Diet Coke with a lot of ice.” (If she can stir the liquid with her straw and the straw doesn’t bend and snap against the ice, there isn’t enough.) Here in Bangor, that amounts to: soda with a few (extra) pebbles floating at the top.
In time, I’ve learned to creatively manage this ice dilemma. For starters, my cans of Diet Dr Pepper are generally colder than normal straight out of the pantry due to the overall temperature in Maine. It doesn’t take much to get them up to drinking standard. In a pinch, putting the can in the freezer for a good 10-15 minutes will work. However — and this is very important! — after about 20 minutes, the soda will freeze, the contents will expand, and the aluminum can will burst.
Actually, on second thought, “burst” doesn’t adequately capture the violence with which the soda explodes. “Burst” suggests a breaking point, but it has happy connotations, such as “bursting with happiness” and “bursting with pride.” To be sure, I’m bursting with something when I open the freezer and see brown slush spewed across every surface, but it isn’t happiness or pride. What a frozen can of soda does inside a freezer is detonate. Sometimes you can even hear the pop when it happens. That’s when you quickly run away and let your spouse be the first to open the door and see the mess (finders keepers!).
Speaking of my spouse, Dustin is just as guilty of leaving sodas in the freezer. Only he drinks diet root beer, not Dr Pepper. Therefore, the aftermath of an explosion is like a hot potato: No one wants to be left with the cleanup. But root beer and Dr Pepper are both brown. Often it is difficult to determine whose mess it is, especially when the guilty party quickly gets rid of the offending can but leaves the slush behind. You might think I’m above getting on my hands and knees and licking the floor, but you are wrong. If tasting the slush is what’s required to accuse Dustin, I’m so not above that.
At Christmas, my dad had the great idea to leave cases of soda on the front porch to keep them cold and ready for the morning. The porch, which is not heated, was about 20 degrees. Instant freezer! This method worked beautifully until last week, when temperatures dipped well below zero (dangerously cold for carbonated beverages under pressure).
I remember hearing the pop. I was lying in bed, and I thought, “I wonder if a picture fell off the wall.” But then I fell asleep.
The next morning, as the kids and I were putting on our snow boots, I saw brown slush, like a splatter of paint, on the wall behind me. I looked up, and then around. Similar splotches, some bigger than others, surrounded me. They were on the ceiling, the walls, the windows and the furniture. In fact, the porch looked like a (frozen) crime scene. And then I saw the ripped-apart cardboard box and one of my dad’s sodas on the floor. The top had been blown clean off the can.
Previously I thought that a frozen soda detonating in the freezer was the worst thing ever. I was wrong. Twelve frozen sodas exploding on the front porch is much worse.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at email@example.com.