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Jewish World Review July 18, 2002 / 10 Menachem-Av, 5762

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

In a hot and fearful
summer, a kool place

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | HASTINGS, Neb. Oh, man.

Two years in a row, I come through Hastings in the wrong week.

Not that any week is a bad week -- Hastings is a swell town of about 23,000 people -- but for one weekend each summer. ...

Oh, man.

Especially in these days of warfare and terrorism, of front-page stories about corporate swindlers and human larceny ... especially in these days when America seems desperate for something to feel happy about. ...

Oh, man. I wish I was passing through Hastings just a little later in the summer.

Aug. 9 through 11, to be exact.

That's when the annual Kool-Aid Days will be held.

I don't have to write another word here, do I? I don't even have to explain to make you smile -- to smile like that gloriously goofy grinning face on the frosty Kool-Aid pitcher of national memory.

Kool-Aid was invented here -- right here in Hastings, in 1927. The inventor was a fellow by the name of Edwin Perkins. Kool-Aid has been a part of American life for so long that it may not have occurred to you that it had to have gotten its start somewhere. But it did, of course. And that somewhere was Hastings.

A simple concept: Instead of selling soft drinks in bottles, sell it as powder in packets, and let people add sugar and stir it up themselves, to suit their own tastes. That little bit of powder translated into big (smiling) pitchers of flavored drinks -- the original Kool-Aid flavors were cherry, grape, lemon-lime, orange, raspberry and strawberry.

Kool-Aid became such a big business that it soon moved away from Hastings, although the legacy never did -- Edwin Perkins has been enshrined in the Nebraska Business Hall of Fame, and Kool-Aid has been declared as the official soft drink of Nebraska (although, frankly, even if Kool-Aid hadn't been invented here, there's a good chance that it would be the official soft drink of Nebraska -- Nebraska is just a Kool-Aid kind of place).

And come early August, Hastings -- as it does every summer -- will devote itself to Kool-Aid Days, and turn the town into one giant Kool-Aid stand. There will be a parade, and games, and antique fire-engine rides, and a taffy pull, and music ... but mostly there will be Kool-Aid.

Kool-Aid from the world's largest Kool-Aid stand, Kool-Aid all over the place, Kool-Aid until you can't drink any more Kool-Aid. ...

Does that sound like an antidote to what ails our world this summer, or not?

And it doesn't stop there. This year, the Hastings Museum of Natural and Cultural History (a fine place run by friendly people, I can tell you from personal experience, and just a short hop from the town's Dairy Queen) is opening a new continuing exhibit. Last year, like a lot of U.S. businesses, the Hastings Museum didn't do so well -- attendance and revenues sagged. But now comes the new exhibit.

It is called "Kool-Aid: Discover the Dream." It is about. ...

Well, you know what it's about. It is about, according to museum director Terry Hunter, "the magnificent story of a man and his dream from the birthplace of Kool-Aid, right here in Hastings. No other location in the entire world can make this claim to fame." The exhibit, which will take up much of an entire floor of the museum, will feature a replica of downtown Hendley, Neb., where Edwin Perkins grew up; a reconstructed DM Perkins General Store, where Edwin worked as a clerk as a young boy; a rebuilt Hendley post office, where Edwin served as postmaster when he was a teenager (this was one ambitious kid); a model of Hastings in the 1920s, where Kool-Aid was born after Edwin came to town. ...

There will also be "a fiber-optic river of Kool-Aid and interactive DVD kiosks," which, while very 21st Century, may not be necessary.

Just come to Hastings in August, and get in line at the giant Kool-Aid stand. That's all the Kool-Aid interactivity a person could ever desire.

Oh, man. Salvation in a smiling pitcher, and just when we need it most.

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JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. His latest book is Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.

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