It All Started with A Coca-Cola (An Imperfect Story of God’s Perfect Plan)

As you may know, I’m a Georgia boy through and through. Our family roots stretch back to the early frontier days of the state, and my ancestors were some of the first settlers of middle Georgia. My grandmother’s family were peach farmers, helping to cultivate and establish the exotic, oriental fruit as a mainstay of the “Peach State.” I grew up in the county who brought forth Joanna Troutman, the “Betsy Ross of Texas,” whose needle, thread and dresses became the first “Lone Star Flag.” Famous too was Crawford County’s native son, John Stith Pemberton, a pharmacist by trade who would “teach the world to sing” with his medicinal tonic dubbed “Coca-Cola.”

Pemberton’s invention would spring from its modest beginnings in Atlanta to become a worldwide powerhouse. And while many have no idea where the sleepy, unincorporated hamlet of Knoxville, Georgia is – the trademark script of Coca-Cola is the most recognized logo in the world.

And interestingly that same famed beverage figured directly into my own life. To be honest, when I think of my life – it all started with a Coca-Cola. This is how that story goes…

One night in the late 1950s, my twenty year old mother decided to go roller skating with some of her friends. Though I’m not sure who all was with her, it is a safe bet that they were all dressed in the latest fashions of the day – just imagine an episode of “Happy Days.” There too that night was a youngish guy, who was ten years older than Lois. His name was Roy and he was sort of a celebrity (in his own thinking at least) at the Lake Joy Skating Rink. He and his younger brother, Herbert, were known to be showmen on the rink – doing flips while skating, putting matches between their teeth and bending down in contorted shapes, while racing around at breakneck speeds in order to strike the match along pinewood floor. These Houston County guys liked to show off. Though younger, Herbert was married. Roy, on the other hand, was a confirmed bachelor. At least for the time being.

I’m not sure if these fated young adults met during the round-and-rounds around the rink, but regardless, the magic of Coca-Cola is strong and the evening wasn’t over just yet.

Roy worked as an aircraft sheet metal mechanic at the nearby Robins Air Force Base. Having served his time in the US Army Air Corps, working at the Chitose Air Base in Japan when the US Air Force was born, he returned back to his homeplace in Houston County to work and serve as a Reservist with the Air Force. He helped his mother on their farm and served as a part-time member of the Warner Robins Police Department, where he would eventually obtain the rank of Sergeant. He would spend his weekends working local fairs, race tracks and community events as part of his police work. He may have even been “on duty” that night at the skating rink.

Known to family and friends as “Lois,” Delowrice Walker worked as a seamstress in a garment factory. She had married a sailor when she was barely 18, and though they remained lifelong friends, the marriage was short-lived. Military life was not easy for a young couple. She worked hard to help support her mother and younger siblings, providing “upgrades” to the family home that included installing the first indoor bathroom and a kerosene stove – which was lightyears ahead of the woodfire one her mother had coaxed meals from for decades. Lois and her siblings would go out into the world to work, but would always find ways to improve the life of their dear mother and younger siblings. As each of the ten children left the little four-room house, they never forgot the woman who stayed behind, bound by her vows to a moonshining carpenter, the hard man who was their father.

So on this night under the pine trees, just up from the spillway of the tranquil Lake Joy, Lois found herself in a predicament. The old car she had somehow managed to buy would not start when she got back to it after her night away from the cares of her world. Though she tried again and again, the car would simply not start.

Having noticed this young woman’s situation, into her life came Roy. The next half-century was about to be set in motion…

Now, I must pause to say, theirs was not a storybook romance (even with this epic beginning). They would try and try again to make a marriage work. They would love and despise. But, in my own imagination, I think that even with their fiery feuds, they really loved each other. They just couldn’t stay “in love” with each other.

Okay…back to the story. Knowing a little about mechanics, Roy offers to take a look at the car. He pops the hood and immediately realizes the problem. The battery posts are corroded. There is no way for the power from the battery to get to the starter of the car. And fate would just so have it that Roy knew a perfect solution. Enter the fabled Coca-Cola. Whether he had one on hand or whether he had to go back into the skating rink to buy one, Roy knew the carbonated soda in the Coke would counteract the acid that clung to the battery posts. As Pemberton’s magic elixir poured over the posts, the corrosion melted away. The Crawford County damsel had been rescued by an imaginative peace officer.

And so my story begins. These two are my parents. Flawed as they were (flawed as we all are), they shared good and not-so-good times, both in and out of two marriages. My sister came in the first, I came in the second. And as I said, I think they really did love each other, they just didn’t stay “in love.” They didn’t know what a real marriage should look like and had no idea how to live together in one. They were strong personalities that often bumped into each other in their orbits, but their orbits never seemed to be synchronous.

And so why share such a story? Well, I think it is to point out that God doesn’t make mistakes. That He uses things as innocuous as a Coca-Cola, corroded battery posts and young people at a local hangout to bring about His will. According to Romans 8:28, He moves in and through the ups and downs of life – through the ups and downs of relationships. No, He didn’t take delight in the problems of my parents’ relationship, but He worked in them to bring about His plan. From their two lives have sprung continuing generations of our family. And while none of us are perfect either, God is here with us – still working, still moving, still crafting His perfect masterpiece with the imperfect fabric of our lives. The Bible shows us that God can use anything and anyone to bring about His plans. And in our story, He started it all with a Coca-Cola.