Justin Smart: Thank you Cheerwine for trip down memory lane

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 23, 2023


woke up early the morning before the Cheerwine Festival. I started taking a trip down memory lane and realized it was seeing like a string of Cheerwine ads.

Full disclosure: I was born in Dover, Delaware. My sister was born in Charleston, South Carolina. We were a military family. in the summers, we would come to North Carolina to visit my grandparents. I remember one of the places we would always go was Gary’s Barbecue in China Grove. My grandpa ordered the hotdogs off the menu on the wall that were super cheap. I would get my cheeseburgers and a Cheerwine. Being from Delaware I didn’t know about barbecue yet.

When I was 10, we moved back to North Carolina, and things were very different. I didn’t have any friends yet and we didn’t know about sales tax. Why was the dollar store more than a dollar and we had a time finding a dump. What is an arsh tater anyways? Later we found out what and where Irish Potato Road was. But I did recognize Cheerwine. My first friend in North Carolina — even though I said the name funny with my Delaware accent.

As a young teenager, there were weekends devoted to friends with 2-liter bottles of Cheerwine, Arby’s five for five, and the video game rented from Blockbuster near Brendle’s. Staying up late, fueled on sugar and fizz.

Now that we lived in North Carolina, we became Cheerwine ambassadors. When visiting family in Florida during the summer, we weren’t allowed in the door without a tribute of Duke‘s mayonnaise for Granny and cans of Cheerwine for everyone.

After I graduated from high school, I moved to St. Louis, Missouri. Each visit to North Carolina meant a trunk full of Cheerwine brought home. Everyone who knew me had tried Cheerwine. Some would ask me how much I had left trying to get me to bring them another. I remember one time, there were 15 full cases stacked up in the pantry, and empty cans were stacked up on every flat surface. It was like dorm-room decorations.

Even when learning to mix a few drinks with friends, Cheerwine wasn’t left out. I was the only one around who could make you a NyQuil in St. Louis at the time. Cheerwine and Everclear. After one you’d feel great. But then if you didn’t go to bed, things started to get a little “bendy.”

After some living and learning, it was time to come home. I packed up the car and made the long drive back. I’ll tell you when I knew I was finally home. It was dark when I rolled into town. Tired and ready to be out of the car at a stop light, I looked over at a closed gas station. As if an old friend is waving and welcoming me home was a brightly shining Cheerwine vending machine.

I remember holidays with Cheerwine punch, receiving gifts of Cheerwine shirts and hats. Local artists make Cheerwine jewelry. I love my Cheerwine swag.

Cheerwine has such a great color, and that burn when you chug it from a cold can. Even the burp has a pleasant aftertaste. What else can you say that about?

I remember I wanted one of those Cheerwine pickup trucks so bad. I’d see them out and about. I would’ve been the perfect driver in fear of tarnishing Cheerwine’s reputation.

Through the years Cheerwine has had some great tag lines to live by. They were all in good taste.

Turns out that moving home was the best decision ever. That’s where I found the love of my life who’s now my wife. She’s the only reason I made it to the festival. Oddly enough, she’s from Salisbury, the home of Cheerwine.

I don’t get out much these days, so the Cheerwine Festival is especially fun. All these people out celebrating my friend.

Whether you have it in a glass bottle, 20-ounce bottle, 2-liter bottle, as a pound cake or ice cream, or Chapstick, or my personal favorite — in a white Styrofoam cup fresh from the fountain with that impossibly tiny, crushed ice at Gary’s Barbecue — it’s always been Cheerwine for the taste emergency.

Thank you, Cheerwine!

Justin Smart lives in Rockwell and wrote this while enjoying a Cheerwine.