Make Mine Moxie
For a carbonated soft drink I didn’t taste until recently, Moxie— Distinctively Different, has played an enormous role in my life.
By my late twenties, I’d heard the vocabulary word “moxie” of course, a noun synonymous for determination, courage and spunk. And at the time, I’d surely lost mine. I was fleeing a suffocating marriage, questioning my sexuality and had pretty much nowhere to go.
I was a scared, closeted lesbian in her twenties, who showed up on the doorstep of a liberal, socially conscious, recently widowed, heterosexual friend in her mid-fifties. I stood there with two cat-carriers (inhabited), the clothes on my back and the need for a place to reinvent myself.
My friend Mary Jane invited me to make a nest in the basement of her home and I stayed for over four years. We’d been casual friends before but became grand lifelong family members.
I adored Mary Jane’s wicked sense of humor and adventurous nature. She taught me to drink booze without mixers, got me to grow up a little, proved absolutely non-judgmental in a hostile and homophobic world, and gave me the courage and good-natured push to come out of the closet.
Gay male friends took us both drinking and disco-ing at DC’s Lost and Found and other glitzy ‘70s gay bars, where we had Saturday night fever and loved the night life, loved to boogie.
Back at home. Mary Jane had an elderly Schnauzer named Max, who I also came to adore. After he passed, she brought home one determined, spunky Schnauzer puppy which she promptly named Moxie.
One day, Mary Jane and I wandered into an antique store to find an old embossed bottle that said Moxie Nerve Food on it. A hobby was born, as we discovered the history of the New England soft drink called Moxie and started trolling antique stores seeking Moxie memorabilia. We collected cans, bottles, ad posters, paper fans and promotional materials. We even found a wooden Moxie yardstick.
Enter Bonnie. By 1982, Mary Jane had had a ringside seat to much of my coming out angst and dyke dating dramas. Mary Jane liked my lesbian and gay pals and she especially liked Bonnie when she came into my life. We all partied together and Mary Jane loved her status as mother hen and token straight.
When Bonnie and I bought our first home, I left most of my Moxie memorabilia behind with Mary Jane and she sent us off with a puppy sired by Moxie as a housewarming gift. The housewarming gift was more of a house wetting gift and we named the little pisher Max so the cycle could begin again.
For the next twenty years or more, we dined weekly with Mary Jane, often sought her advice and counsel and especially sought out antique stores on our New England travels to enhance her Moxie collection.
In 1998, just before we lost our beloved Max to old age, we’d gotten a Schnauzer puppy, and of course, his name had to be Moxie. A year later, our second puppy arrived with the name Paddy and we just went with it.
Clearly, along with my Moxie memorabilia compulsion, Mary Jane also gets alternating credit and blame for my Schnauzer addiction.
Bonnie and I remained close to Mary Jane through the years, until she passed away in 2005, taking with her a large chunk of my heart. Aside from the legacy of dog names and breed specificity she left me boxes of Moxie memorabilia. Our home has had a certain Moxie decorating panache for years.
My Moxie and Paddy are gone now too, and Bonnie and I are on temporary Schnauzer hiatus.
Ironically, just a few weeks ago, preparing for our downsizing move, I hosted a yard sale and sold most of the Moxie items to a collector who was thrilled to have them. I kept the original embossed Moxie Nerve Food bottle, the Moxie yard stick and the memories.
But here’s the astonishing thing. On the last day of our Canada/Maine vacation, a Wednesday, we saw a sign for the Union Blueberry Fest, happening about 15 minutes from our Maine campground.
On a complete whim, we drove to the fair, where, at the entrance, we saw a banner across the road. Wednesday is Moxie Day! it said, in the logo print of the soft drink. I grinned.
“What does that mean?” I asked the ticket-seller.
“Oh, at the museum, free samples of Moxie today.”
Museum? Yes, it was the Blueberry Fest, like a state fair, with goats and chickens, a midway and Funnel Cakes. But on the fairgrounds stood the Matthews Museum of Maine Heritage featuring “our extensive Moxie Collection.”
I’d say it’s the largest Moxie Museum in the world, but I have a feeling it’s the only Moxie Museum in the world. The entire exhibit hall, almost as big as the RB Convention Center, was crammed with thousands upon thousands of Moxie bottles, ads, posters, soda wagons, soda fountain signs, crates, antique photographs and objects I’d never seen before.
Having inadvertently stepped into paradise, I chatted with the docents and learned about all things Moxie. Among the plethora of treasures and memorabilia, I was stunned to learn they do not have a single Moxie yardstick.
Needless to say, I spent much more time at the museum than at the blueberry spitting contest or the oxen vs. tractor pull (although that was a first for me). And I bought a bright orange souvenir Moxie hat and orange Moxie museum shirt. The staff, thrilled to have a visitor so fascinated with the collection, gave me several complimentary orange Moxie stickers, a drink cooler and more. As the new TV series says, orange IS the new black, so I’m all set.
Oh, and I tasted Moxie. Let’s just say it’s a cross between Coke and root beer, with quite a bit of fizz. I have a feeling it’s been sweetened over the years to satisfy the contemporary palate. In the old days, to earn the moniker nerve food, it probably had a lot more, well, moxie.
So I’m still reeling from the lucky coincidence that had us in the backwoods of Maine, stumbling across a Moxie Museum on Moxie Day, so I could indulge in this mini Moxie memoir.
And when I got home, the first thing I did was donate that Moxie yard stick to the museum. Downsizing, you know.
Fay Jacobs is the author of As I Lay Frying—a Rehoboth Beach Memoir; Fried & True—Tales from Rehoboth Beach, and For Frying Out Loud—Rehoboth Beach Diaries.