Remembering Ms. Deal

For my “Ms. Deal Progressive Nostalgia Soda Set“, a collection of products centered around a vintage-modern soda, here is the (fictional) backstory of Ms. Deal: the soda, the woman, the history, and the hope. Enjoy.

The story of Ms. Deal, if only a footnote, is nonetheless an interesting one. It begins in 1883 in Seneca Falls, New York, when the woman named Patty Fallow was born. Patty’s parents owned and ran a corner drugstore, which, like most drugstores of the time, served all manner of sweets and drinks. Young Patty was quite fond of these things, though her favorites were the various sodas of the era. Indeed, she loved little more than a good soda, and was always eager to try out the newest creation of some local fountain, even as she helped out at her family’s own. An inquisitive and clever child, perhaps it was only a matter of time before she invented her own unique version.

Looking back from our vantage point, we might say that Patty was fortunate to be so young during the beginnings of today’s classic sodas. For instance, by 1888, Coca-Cola was on the rise, one of today’s most recognized brands worldwide. But it was during a chance visit with relatives in Waco, Texas in 1896 that Patty encountered another of today’s classic sodas, and one whose taste simply amazed her: Dr. Pepper. No one knew then much more than we do now about what flavor Dr. Pepper is exactly, but Patty knew she adored it. So much so, in fact, that later that year, aged 12, she had formulated her own unique soda, similar in taste to Dr. Pepper yet with a flavor all its own. (Although we must assume that she had been experimenting years before this. Dr. Pepper simply provided the inspiration and motivation for her own signature creation.)

Her father, Edward Fallow, was all too happy and proud to offer it in the family store. In those early days, local people knew it simply as Patty’s Sweet Soda Pop. And as Patty completed her schooling and continued to help out in the store, Patty’s Sweet Soda Pop achieved a level of local fame and recognition. Thus in the city which, decades earlier, had held the first women’s rights convention, a young woman’s ingenuity and passion had provided a local favorite among sugary, carbonated soft drinks.

Foundations

But where was Patty’s Sweet Soda Pop headed? For the time being, it remained an exclusive of the family drugstore, even as Miss Fallow completed her education and took on a full-time role in the store. But before long, Dr. Pepper made its national debut at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, and suddenly, Miss Fallow’s simmering business ambitions came to a head. If her favorite soda could reach such heights, perhaps her Sweet Soda Pop could too. She began to feel determined to make it happen.

Alas, the early 20th century was not a time of equality and opportunities for women, and Miss Fallow’s father was not inclined to pursue Patty’s Sweet Soda Pop himself. And it was not even just prevailing attitudes of the day about women and their roles in life that Mr. Fallow had in mind. Patty’s mother, Theresa, had died of tuberculosis when Patty was just 5 years old, leaving Patty an only child and Mr. Fallow a widower. The family drugstore had always been a successful yet nevertheless small-scale business, and as Patty’s surviving grandparents began to ail, it was up to her and Mr. Fallow to assume much of their care. Launching a soda brewing and bottling operation, while not impossible or inconceivable, simply was not something Mr. Fallow was comfortable doing, financially and otherwise.

Life went on though, and as Patty’s Sweet Soda Pop likewise continued on a local favorite, Miss Fallow eventually found herself falling in love. The lucky man was one Thurston Keller, recently arrived at Seneca Falls from New York City, and at the “late” age of 25, on a crisp autumn day in 1909, Miss Fallow became Mrs. Keller. And suddenly, the future of Miss Fallow the soda seemed so much more expansive. For Mr. Keller, while by no means wealthy, nonetheless had steady and respectable income as a carpenter. More importantly, he had been active in the American Federation of Labor, and both knew and approved of the Women’s Trade Union League, which had formed at an AFL convention back in 1903. In short, he advocated for better and fairer working conditions, and when it came to labor at least, gender made no difference to him.

Patty’s status as a woman in relation to business was no longer an issue for her, though one obstacle still remained. Mr. Keller was all too happy to see Mrs. Keller go forth with Miss Fallow soda (not Mrs. Keller soda; he and Patty both felt that the soda deserved the Fallow name), as long as she could still keep house and support their upcoming family while doing so. But the thing was, while carbonated soft drinks had already been around for decades, the notion of bottling them for storage and sale even in one locality, much less for national distribution, was fairly new. (The technology for sealing the bottles even, and producing them in large quantities, was fairly new.) While some like Coca-Cola and indeed, Dr. Pepper, had been well on their way, the great majority remained local drinks, many not even regional. And alas, many never even survived for long. What particular market was there for Miss Fallow? No matter how good it tasted, why should it sell better than any of the many other sodas of the time? And how would it go, trying to take it to the national level?

Then a tragedy of global proportions began, and in a funny way, it went on to provide the special market that Miss Fallow needed. Not long after the birth of the Kellers’ third and last child, in 1914, World War I began in Europe. Though America would not enter the war until 1917, from the beginning, the sending of aid and supplies to the Allies began to re-shape the labor force. As demand for labor began to grow, suddenly women were in increasing demand for work outside the home. And, once America actually entered the war and many men went off to fight, suddenly women were taking on jobs traditionally reserved for men, including factory work and virtually every type of job imaginable. While the Kellers were fortunate that Mr. Keller was already too old for the draft, early on, Mrs. Keller astutely realized that the newly-working women, taking on new tasks and picking up skills previously unknown to them, might just be attracted to Miss Fallow soda.

Miss Fallow Rising

So in 1915, Patty and Mr. Keller started Fallow Brew Works, working side-by-side to brew, bottle, and distribute Miss Fallow regionally, and achieved what seemed like the beginning of a rising soda. With a marketing campaign tailored to the newly-working women, throughout New York and the surrounding states, Miss Fallow began to sell respectably well. “Step It Up!”, proclaimed one slogan; “Do More!”, said another. And just “Achieve!”, was one more. Of course, in those days no soda was far removed from soda’s medicinal beginnings, and Miss Fallow was no exception. While homemaking had never been easy or simple, many women nonetheless found their new “men’s” jobs challenging, at least until they became accustomed to them. And a cold bottle of Miss Fallow seemed just what they needed.

Once the war ended in 1918 and women began returning to their traditional work, of course many continued to purchase Miss Fallow, for them and their families alike. In this way, despite the focused marketing, men began to favor Miss Fallow too. In fact, it is said that when congressmen were debating and approving the women’s suffrage amendment to the Constitution in 1919, more than a few had bottles of Miss Fallow with them. And then of course, sadly there were the women whose husbands had died in the war, who now found themselves heads-of-household, struggling alone to raise a family in a society still very much male-centric. Miss Fallow remained at least one small comfort to them, and a reminder of all their own hard work and achievements during the war.

Yet in spite of all this, Miss Fallow remained a regional brew, and was not really excelling in terms of profit or further advancement. While Patty still longed to see Miss Fallow succeed at the national level, Mr. Keller wished to see more income from Fallow Brew Works, and so Patty came up with a rather novel plan. Expanding their labor force in 1923, the Kellers moved to Rochester and started the Fallow Pop Co., a spin-off of Fallow Brew Works. The idea was that, for a fee, Fallow Brew Works would now begin bottling and distributing various third-party sodas in addition to Miss Fallow, while the Kellers would oversee everything as the Fallow Pop Co. Patty loved this arrangement, as her pride in Miss Fallow had never diminished her love of all soda, and now she could play a part in bringing lots of sodas to lots of people. Regardless, throughout the ’20s, this arrangement helped boost profits, even as Miss Fallow remained a steady regional favorite.

Days of Darkness

But then came the day, and the decade, that dashed so many, many hopes and dreams. It was October 29th, 1929, and what was to become known as the Great Depression was upon everyone. The Kellers lost all their savings from the bank, and to make matters even worse, Mr. Keller quickly found himself receiving few carpentry jobs. Their children, youngest now 16, found themselves unable to find supplemental work beyond the family business. And naturally, Miss Fallow itself took a big hit, between companies pulling out of Fallow Brew Works, and just rapidly-declining sales in general. With so many people so short on cash, to say the absolute least, Miss Fallow, like sodas in general, began to feel more like a luxury than anything substantial.

Then came tragedy of a more personal nature to Patty, when her aging father, now 70, lost the drugstore in 1933. It had been in decline for years, particularly as various other ones were rising to become regional and national chains, and the little business it had still had was now gone. Of course, Mr. Fallow had lost most of his savings too, and perhaps it was all simply too much for him. He only lived for three weeks from the day he lost the store, succumbing to a nasty flu that quickly turned into pneumonia.

Their savings, her father, Thurston’s carpentry jobs, perhaps her children’s futures even … it was a very dark time for Patty. Yet Miss Fallow endured despite the sharp drop in sales, and even as the Kellers were forced to scale back their plans for the company, it nonetheless remained their lifeline. And now Patty, her children all grown, found the humanitarian within her stirring. With the meager savings the Kellers had re-established, while their children volunteered in soup lines and such, Patty began giving bottles of it away to people in need, throughout Rochester and surrounding areas. Keeping in mind the perceived medicinal qualities of soda, the sight of Patty coming along with Miss Fallow became quite a welcomed and uplifting one, to all those she served.

Resolutions

As it turned out, in fact, Patty would focus the rest of her life on helping and serving others. Miss Fallow never achieved the level of recognition the Kellers had hoped for, although all those people Patty had served during the Depression remained quite loyal to the brand. Business can be a funny thing … and so can war. Recovery began in earnest in 1942 once the United States had entered World War II, just as a new generation of women found themselves called to beyond the home. Yet when it came to Miss Fallow, something that had once been there, was now gone. Sales did not appreciably pick back up, and even the newly-working women, many whose own mothers had once favored Miss Fallow during a war, never really went for it. (Though regardless, Fallow Brew Works begin canning their sodas in addition to bottling them, Miss Fallow included.)

Of course, the Kellers too were on their way to prosperity. Mr. Keller began receiving a good number of carpentry jobs again, while his children began splitting their time between the Fallow Pop Co., and training with him to become carpenters themselves. Meanwhile, Patty began shipping cans and bottles of Miss Fallow off to the United Service Organizations, free of charge, for what was to become their famous shows for soldiers throughout Europe and the Pacific. On more than one occasion, she even travelled to various places, to meet with the soldiers and pass out Miss Fallow in person. And once American forces had revealed to the world the horrors and tragic extent of what had been going on in German-controlled regions, so too did many survivors receive complementary Miss Fallow. For a soda that never achieved national recognition, in a way then, Miss Fallow did become global, in one of the nicest ways it could have, in fact.

Following the conclusion of the war in 1945, Patty, now 62, turned her attention to matters of the homeland. Nearly twenty years before anyone would read or hear about The Feminine Mystique, Patty, her astuteness and intelligence as sharp as ever, observed all the women once again being boxed into homemaking roles. Privileged as she had felt in being able to do all her work with Miss Fallow in addition to homemaking, she felt compelled to reach out to people about it. As Mr. Keller and her children assumed most of the management of the Fallow Pop Co. and Fallow Brew Works, Patty began visiting with housewives throughout Rochester and beyond, speaking to them about women’s roles in life. Exactly what she hoped to accomplish, even she did not really know, thought she felt that change had to begin somewhere. If even a few housewives could find some personal understanding and a little more happiness, well, that would be something.

In this way then, perhaps Patty Keller would have joined our most renowned figures in women’s history, becoming a very early activist in second-wave feminism even. The work was certainly not always easy, as many women did not appreciate Patty’s speculations, while their husbands did even less so. Patty was kicked out of a household on more than one occasion, and her family even feared that her work was beginning to tarnish the Miss Fallow brand. But she persevered, with the same determination that had seen Miss Fallow go from just a dream, to a regional favorite that had even found its way across the globe.

Sadly, on a bright sunny day in the late fall of 1950, Patty was fatally struck by a car. She had been out for a simple walk, just enjoying the life she had made for herself, and never saw it coming. The motorist felt absolutely terrible, as it had been a simple accident, a moment of distraction. But Patty Keller, at age 67, was dead, and so too, it seemed, was Miss Fallow. Her husband and kids just could not imagine carrying on with it, without Patty around and involved. Maybe if it had been selling better, this would not have been the case. But alas, the Fallow Pop Co. and Fallow Brew Works closed up shop a couple weeks after the accident. And long before then, Patty Keller, born Patty Fallow, was laid to rest on a cool autumn day, a relatively small gathering of family, friends, and loyal Miss Fallow drinkers present. Mourners said that the fallen leaves were exceptionally beautiful that day, and that this was, in fact, a reflection of the beauty that Patty had always held within herself and had always shared with the world, a beauty that had now been set free.

Epilogue

By now, Miss Fallow has not been seen in over sixty years. Most people do not even know it ever existed. But sometime around 2010, Patty’s great-great-grandchildren were going through some old family boxes … and in one of them, they came across an old family recipe, as well as a collection of sporadic journal entries. “Patty’s Sweet Soda Pop”, the recipe said, along with recollections and reflections by Great-Great-Grandma Patty herself.

As they read the long-forgotten writings, they began to see just how many sides there had been to their distant grandma. They saw the bright young girl, inventing her own unique version of something she so dearly loved. They saw the young woman, standing by her family first as a daughter, then later as a wife and finally a mother. They saw the woman embarking on a business venture, nearly seeing it through to big success, in a time when women still had limited rights and respect. Then they saw that woman begin to turn away from her seemingly grandest achievements, just to bring comfort to so many during some of America’s most terrible times, and indeed the world’s, even as she faced her own most personally-terrible times. And even to become a forerunner for the movement, the movement that would go on to bring better lives for women all over, recognizing the shared humanity of women and men alike.

They hope to bring Miss Fallow back someday, except not as Miss Fallow. Certainly not as Mrs. Keller, and … not even as Patty’s Sweet Soda Pop. For a woman who dealt with such hard times, and who dealt so fairly, so steadily, so nicely … who so readily balanced the demands and roles of daughter, mother, self, entrepreneur, businesswoman, humanitarian, activist … they feel there can only be one suitable name.

Ms. Deal

And in case they ever do manage to bring it back, they have a modern slogan, a call to all of us to make the everyday purposeful, whoever we may be.

In Life, Deal … Like Ms. Deal!

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