My First Coca ColaI have always heard the 1950’s referred to as “a simpler time”, but there was nothing simple about our lives back in the summer of 1950 when I was twelve years old. We lived on a rural farm in Southern Indiana. While indoor plumbing was available we still had an outhouse. The garden that sustained us constantly needed tending and preserving what it produced before it rotted was full time work. Our cow, Bessie, needed milking every morning, put out to pasture during the day and brought back to the barn each evening. The chickens needed to be fed and their eggs collected. Hot water for dishes and baths had to be heated in pots on the stove. Laundry was scrubbed on a washboard, ran through a clothes ringer and hung on the clothes line to dry. Even though summer meant work I was grateful for school to be out. Each day the walk to school down Bartholomew County’s old dirt roads was made longer by my two younger brothers. Those stupid boys were always stopping and trying to catch frogs or picking up turtles. It wouldn’t have taken us over an hour to get to school if they didn’t dilly dally so much. That summer Daddy was gone again as usual. I can’t remember if he was traveling around the world or down in Kentucky betting money our family desperately needed on the horses. Daddy often had to be reminded that he had a wife and children. He mostly lived the life of a single man. He wore store bought clothes and drove a car. Once or twice a year he showed back up on our farm in rural Indiana when he had nothing else better to do. We kids were always excited to see him when he did come around. He brought us the most wonderful souvenirs from places we could only dream of visiting. For days on end we would sit around Daddy listening to stories of where he had been and about people he had met. Then one morning we would wake up and Daddy would be gone again.Momma never seemed to notice much when Daddy did come home. The priorities in her life were God, family and work. I’m still not sure how Daddy ever did fit into her life. He never mentioned God, even we kids didn’t consider him “real” family and we all knew Daddy didn’t work to help support us. Daddy worked to support himself. Momma on the other hand worked long hours to support our family. She cleaned house for some fancy lady up in Indianapolis. Each day at 5am she left the house and walked to the bus stop out on the highway to catch the bus to the big city. Reading her bible on the bus passed the time and Momma carried it with her everywhere she went. Most evenings it was seven o’clock before she got home. Being the only girl in the family I was the fill in Momma while Momma was gone and my two younger brothers kept me busy. Jim was eleven. Momma got pregnant with him right after I was born and three months out of the year we are the same age. To my advantage he didn’t turn my same age until September so the entire summer I was his older sister and he had to listen to what I told him to do. Jim was a chubby little bugger and all he did was eat. Eat and poop. Every time we headed out anywhere he had to poop. On the walk to school he would say, “Janyce, wait up! I gotta poop!”On the walk to church he would say, “Janyce, wait up! I gotta poop!”On the way to go swimming in the creek he would say, “Janyce, wait up! I gotta poop!”Finally one day I asked him, “I don’t get it. What about having to go poop makes you unable to walk very fast? Why do I have to walk slower because you have to poop?”“When I gotta poop really bad I start prairie doggin’, “ he said.“Prairie whating?” I asked afraid of what his answer could be.“Prairie dogging!” he said in frustration. “You know, how a prairie dog just barely sticks his head up out of his hole and then pulls it back in again real quick?”I looked at him in disgust. “Great, now every time you holler at me to wait up I’m going to think of a turd playing peek a boo with your butt hole!”I learned my lesson on asking that boy questions. From that day on I just watched over him, made sure he didn’t get into trouble and let the rest be between him and Mother Nature. Our youngest brother Jon was seven and acted like a three year old. He was Momma’s baby and her favorite. Momma said she loved us all the same and I believe she did, but she treated Jon like he could do no wrong. The boy still pissed his pants at least once a day and when I told Momma about it she would just smile at him and say, “Now, Jon you need to try harder to make it to the outhouse.”I wanted to tell Momma that little rat didn’t even try to get up and go to the outhouse. He just sat there and pissed himself like a fool with no sense. I was the first to admit that walking a hundred feet down a path to a dry rotted outhouse just to pee was inconvenient, not to mention smelly. Shit percolating in 95 degree heat in a hole in the ground for weeks on end doesn’t titillate the nose. It smells like hot, nasty, shit. Really, what seven year old wanted to shut themselves in a hot, stinking box with wasps flying around just to go pee? It took the maturity of not being able to sit in pee soaked clothes to motivate a person to go to the outhouse.Momma even had me in charge of feeding the boys. Each morning I would put their breakfast on the table. Many days that didn’t even go right.“Oooh! Gross!” Jon yelled as he took the first swig of his milk. “Bessie got in the onions again!”“Jim! Did Bessie push through the fence and get into the onions again?” I questioned him. “She did. I tried. Bessie wouldn’t come,” he said with indignation. “It’s because you gotta pull on her rope and lead her out of the onions you dumb ass!” I hollered back. “You can’t ask her politely to please come back to the barn. She ain’t a lady! She’s a stupid cow!”I swear that boy thought he was going to sweet talk that cow into walking back through the fence and into the barn. It was obvious that boy was never going to sweet talk anybody.“You two are going to drink it anyway!” I said as I picked up my spoon and tried my oatmeal. Ugh! It tasted like onion flavored oatmeal. “Eat your oatmeal too! We don’t have enough food to waste any!”I heard my Momma say this too many times. With Daddy not around the small amount of money that Momma made didn’t go far. The milk from the cow, eggs from our hens and what we could grow in the garden wasn’t supplemented by much store bought food. More often than not our dinner didn’t include meat. The nights that we actually had meat we were excited. “Yeah! Run over chicken!” Jon would scream when he saw a pot of boiling chicken on the stove. Only when a passing car happened to hit one of our laying chickens were we able to eat them. The dead chicken was too valuable to waste and the meat from one chicken could be stretched over several meals for a family of four. A run over chicken wasn’t roasted or fried. It had to be boiled to kill whatever happened to it before we found it. Occasionally Jim and I had to run off a buzzard or two so we could retrieve the chicken. Those buzzards had no idea who they were dealing with when it came to kids that didn’t get meat very often. One evening that summer after dinner I was trying to do dishes. Jim had brought in water and I was boiling it on the stove. I was stacking the dishes and trying to clean out the kitchen sink. Jon was fussing and Jim was antagonizing him.“You are such a baby!” Jim said as he shoved Jon into the kitchen wall.“Stop!” I yelled in frustration. As I threw my arms in the air the knife in my hand flew across the room. We all stopped and stood still as we watched the knife make its way across the room and reach its mark. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The old wood handled kitchen knife was stuck in Jim’s forehead right between his eyes. A tiny trickle of blood made its way down the bridge of Jim’s nose and dripped right off the edge onto the floor. Jim’s eyes met mine and they locked. So much was said without a word.Jon screamed, “Aaahhh!”I looked at him. “What in the hell are you screaming at? Jim’s the one with the knife in his head.” “He’s scary!” Jon stammered.Jim still hadn’t said a word. He must have been in shock. “I don’t think we should take it out.” I said calmly. “We need to get help. Jim sit down,” I said as I helped him down on the floor. Jim cooperated and took his place on the kitchen floor with his back leaning against the wall. “Jon,” I said grabbing him by the shoulders and looking him square in the eye. “I need you to stay with Jim while I go get help.”“Nooo! Nooo!” Jon said beginning to cry. “I’m not staying with him! He’s scary!” “You have to! He can’t stay alone!” I said trying to reason with him.“No, Janyce, please!” he begged. “Take me with you! Take us both with you.”“How do you expect me to do that? It is miles to the nearest neighbor’s house with a car. I can’t carry Jim and he can’t walk. Momma won’t be home for another two hours.”“The tractor,” Jon said with a look like a light bulb went off in his head. “Let’s take the tractor.”I had driven the tractor, but it wasn’t that easy to drive. Daddy always started it for me and I had only seen him do it. I had never done it myself. I knew for Jim I had to try. He wasn’t bleeding much, but he looked horrible. He was pale and his eyes were as big as quarters. “Okay,” I relented.I ran to the barn and saw the old tractor sitting there. I jumped on the seat and went over in my mind what I had saw Daddy do. I said a silent prayer and followed the steps. Nothing happened. I tried again. Nothing. This time it occurred to me that Daddy always pushed the pedal down. This time when I completed the steps the tractor fired up. I put it in gear and headed out of the barn. In front of the house I stopped the tractor, let it idle and ran into the house.“Jim! Jim!” I said loudly. “Listen to me. I need you to get up and walk outside. We have got to get you to a hospital. Jon and I are going to help you.”Jon got on one side and I got on the other. We walked slowly guiding Jim each step of the way the knife shaking in Jim’s forehead with each step. My mind was racing wondering how we were going to get Jim on the tractor. “Jim? Do you think you can climb up on the tractor?” I asked trying to see if he could understand what I was asking. “I want you to get up and sit in the seat of the tractor. I am going to sit in front of you and drive. You hold on to me.”Jim never spoke, but with our help he made his way into the seat of the tractor.“Jon, get on, stand right there and help me hold on to Jim,” I said pointing to the steel strut that the seat rested on.With as much ease as I could I put the tractor in gear and we were off. The old dirt road was bumpy and Jim moaned with each sudden movement. It seemed like we were on that road forever. Time stood still and I was just a twelve year old girl driving her two brothers on a tractor. One of them just happened to have a knife sticking out of his head. In the distance I could see a car. It was coming our way.“Jon! I see a car. You have to help me stop it. As it gets closer I need you to wave your arms,” I instructed him as I brought the tractor to stop.Jon began waving his arms wildly. The car came to a stop and we saw the man at the wheel. His face contorted as he tried to comprehend what he was seeing.“What the….” the man began as I interrupted him.“My brother! He needs help!” I said as I began trying to help Jim down off the tractor. “Mister you have to help us get Jim to the hospital!”“Sure, okay, okay,” he said getting out of his car and moving to open the door to the back seat. “Let’s lay him down back here.”Jon, the man and I put Jim in the backseat. I sat in the back with Jim and instructed Jon to go sit in the front. We left the tractor in the road without a second thought. The ride to Bartholomew County Hospital was in complete silence. Thoughts of my brother dying occupied my mind. When the hospital came into view I took a sigh of relief and said to Jim, “Jim! Jim! We’re at the hospital. We’re here!” He still had not said a word.The man drove us up to the emergency entrance and he ran in to get a nurse. In a blur Jim was rushed off into the hospital. Jon and I were left waiting in the lobby wondering how our brother was. Eventually I saw a police officer coming up the corridor toward Jon and me. I jumped out of my chair and ran toward the officer.“It was me! I did it! I stabbed my brother officer!” I said as I held my wrists out in front of the police man beginning to cry. “Just handcuff me now. Take me to jail.” “Oh, sweetheart!” he said as he pulled me into a hug. “I am not here to take you to jail!”“You’re not?” I said feeling relief wash over me. The gravity of what had happened that afternoon hit me and I began to sob uncontrollably. The man held on to me and just let me cry. “Let it out little girl,” he said soothingly. “I wanted to come congratulate the little girl that saved her brother’s life.”I pulled away from him and looked him in the eye. “What?”“It was your bravery that saved your brother,” he said to me. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “But it was all my fault…” I tried to say.“Jim told us everything,” he interrupted.“Jim? Jim’s talking? Is he okay?” I asked quickly.“He’s fine. A few stitches, but no permanent damage. He was even able to tell us your mother’s name. We’ve sent an officer out to your farm to get her. She should be here any minute. How about I take you down to the cafeteria and buy you a Coca Cola?” he asked with a warm smile on his face.“A Coca Cola? In a bottle?” I asked in dismay. “I’ve never had a Coca Cola.”“Then come on,” he said as he put his hand on my shoulder and began to lead me down the long hall. “Wait!” I hollered. “Jon! Jon’s never had a Coca Cola either! Can he come too?”The officer turned and looked back at Jon sitting anxiously on the edge of his seat. “Come on Jon!” he said with a wave of his hand. After a moment’s hesitation he said, “On second thought, why don’t we get three Coca Cola’s and go back to Jim’s room so he can have one too?”The hospital cafeteria was so clean and shining. It had so many things to cook with. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the big electric cooler full of Coca Colas. The nice policeman opened the cooler and got out four Coca Cola’s. At the cashier he opened up his wallet and took out money to pay for them. It was then I realized that no one besides Momma had ever bought me anything.“Thanks mister,” I said as I looked up at him with a smile. “That was real nice of you.” And I meant it.When I walked into Jim’s room I saw he had more color and his eyes were back to normal. There was no longer a knife sticking out of his forehead. The police officer walked over to him, popped the top on a Coca Cola bottle and handed it to Jim. A big smile came across his face. Jim’s smile made me know that everything was going to be okay. I went over to the bed and gave him a big hug. “Jim, I’m so glad you’re not mad at me,” I said as I buried my face in the nape of his neck.“Heck yeah I’m mad at you!” he said shoving me off him.“But you’re smiling…” I said not understanding.“I’ve never had a Coca Cola before,” Jim said taking his very first drink. The policeman then popped the top off of the other Coca Cola’s and we all took a drink.“Wow!” Jon said.“Wow!” I said not able to think of anything else better to say.“Wow!” the policeman said. “You kids sure would do a lot just to get a Coca Cola!”And we all laughed!.