Pepsi, please

My oldest food memory occurred before I have memory of it.

Two older cousins, Eddie and Barbara Jeanne, had lost their parents, and were being raised by my grandparents, who lived across the street.  The town was a Norman Rockwell Indiana river town with seven steeples.  The houses were two-story frame, sitting close together on the hillsides that rose up from the river.  Adults made their living at the steel mill, the whiskey brewery, the whiskey bottle plant, the corrugated box company for whiskey bottle shipments, and the casket company.  We lived next to the casket company.

My grandmother was the matriarch of the family, and ruled from the Food Throne.  Her frame castle was immaculate, even though it had no hot running water.  Food was at the center of this micro-culture.   Dinner was a sacrament, anchored around pork chops, mashed potatoes, and green beans, with tapioca for desert.

“Air conditioning” meant sitting on the front porch, beckoning pedestrians to come up and sit a while.  Once a visitor was snared, they were taken to the kitchen table where they were presented with a fixed menu of boiled ham on a white bread, Moose Head Limburger cheese on Ritz crackers, and the drink of the house—Pepsi Cola.  There were no exceptions to the ritual—you talked; you ate.

As I said, the food memory happened before my memory of it.  We were in the kitchen—Eddie, Barbara Jeanne, Non-Mom (my moniker for my grandmother,) Pa (my bible-thumpin grandfather,) and a snared pedestrian.

I was little, hadn’t been talking long, and was unable to make many of the consonant sounds—namely, S, L, TH, and R.  This would land me in speech therapy years later, but at the time, I was “cute.”

My misshapen words (remembered by others) on that day were, “No, Eddie.  Dat (h)urt you, Eddie”

Eddie smiled a lot, and probably smiled in response to my cute plea as he raised the Pepsi Cola bottle for a swig.  The swig was swugged, and immediately spit on the floor.  Eddie “just knew.”  Then everyone “just knew.”

Somehow, while no one was looking, I had taken aim and peed in the bottle of Pepsi Cola.

There was no lasting damage, and their memory of it binds me to them.  Whenever a waiter asks, “Is Pepsi okay?” I feel an inner chuckle.