I was lying on an army cot I’d found in my uncle’s scrap pile in his backyard. A light from the church across the dirt road shined through the abandoned trailer’s window. I stared at my breath and asked, “Why, God? Why are you doing this to me?”
The abandoned trailer belonged to my grandpa before he went to the old folks’ home. Now, it had no electricity, heat, or running water, and I was living in it. I was a homeless 14-year-old and I had no hope.
Four years earlier I lived in that old trailer in Crowders Mountain, NC with my grandpa. He was a crusty old man, a bootlegger who watched Westerns on a 13” black and white TV and smoked all day. The trailer was always filled with either cigarette or pipe smoke. He was an early riser—seven days a week. I’d hear his feet hit the floor every morning and the sound of him urinating in a bottle the doctor gave him. He’d sit on the side of his bed and listen to the 30-minute segment of the “Swap N’ Shop” radio show, and when it was over, he’d put on his Dickies’ pants and a white t-shirt.
His black shoes slid across the dirty trailer floor to the kitchen where he cooked himself breakfast (he never shared any food with me). He’d eat his grits, sausage, and two eggs, while sitting in his old brown chair. The only time he moved from that brown chair was when the mailman in the Army Jeep stopped at the steel mailbox at the bottom of the hill. It was all my grandpa could do to pick himself up out of that chair and carry himself down to the mailbox. He never waved at anyone passing by and he hardly ever spoke to me unless he was yelling at me to get out of his way.
Grandpa didn’t care what I did as long as I stayed out of his way. He never taught me how to patch a bike tire tube or fish in the creek at the bottom of the hill. Despite his neglect and bitterness, he did teach me one very important thing: how to work! It didn’t matter what I said to him, his answer or comment was always, “Work.” I could say, “I’m hungry,” and he would respond, “Work.” I could say, “I’m sleepy or bored,” and still he would say, “Work!”
Ironically, contrary to him teaching me how to work, he never had a real job.
There was a golf course across the road from the church. Grandpa said, “Go out there and find the lost golf balls in the bushes and creeks and sell them back to the golfers.” So I trudged across the dirt road, through the churchyard, across a back road onto the golf course, and did exactly what Grandpa told me to do. I could hardly believe I earned $10.00 the first day. Ten dollars to a ten-year-old is a lot of money.
I expanded my business by picking up aluminum cans along that back road and selling them to an old man who lived on top of the hill. Every other week, I’d bring the old man a bag of aluminum cans and he’d give me $.07 a pound for those cans. I’d spend some of my earnings from the golf balls and cans on a Coca-Cola the old man sold to me. I couldn’t wait to reach my arm down into that 1950’s icebox—half-filled with slushy ice and half with extremely cold water—and pull out an ice-cold bottle of Coca-Cola. A bottle opener, with a small container underneath it for catching bottle caps, was attached to the side of the icebox. I can still hear the sound of that bottle opening, followed immediately by its cap landing on top the other bottle caps. I can still taste that first sip of Coca-Cola on my lips. Those were the best summers of my life.
Coca-Cola has been a part of my life from the time I was 10 years old sitting on a trash bag filled with aluminum cans staring out over the golf course and taking small sips, to sharing the delicious beverage with a 75-year-old woman named Bea, who hired me to cut her grass each week when I was 16 years old and homeless. She and her husband Russell eventually allowed me to move into their home. They single-handedly changed every cell in my body. They gave me an opportunity to go to high school, pursue my college education, and move to Nashville to chase and catch my dream of writing and performing my music.
One of the first songs I wrote after I received a record deal thirteen years later was a song called, “I love you this much” inspired by my relationship with my biological dad—or lack of a relationship. He was never a part of my life. He wasn’t even at the hospital when my mother gave birth to me. The hospital staff had to write my mom’s last name which belonged to another strange man on my birth certificate—hence, the reason I go by only my first and middle name—Jimmy Wayne.
In the New York Times bestseller, Walk To Beautiful, I tell the story about meeting my dad for the first time when I was nine years old. That was one of the most unforgettable moments of my life. How could anyone be so cold to his child? I’d pondered that memory many times throughout my life; while lying on the army cot in the abandoned trailer trying to stay warm; staring at empty cardboard boxes inside and beside each trash can in the community the day after Christmas and wishing I’d gotten that toy in the picture printed on each box; wishing I could celebrate my high-school and college graduation ceremonies with him the same way the other graduates were enjoying this special time with their parents. The list of difficult and special experiences that should have been shared between a father and a son, but weren’t, go on and on. I thought about feeling sorry for myself and holding a grudge, but then a familiar voice reminded me, “If anyone had a reason to carry a grudge, it would have been My Son. Instead, He carried a cross because He loves you that much”
Coca-Cola values great stories. The brand was built on great stories from all over the world. It’s why the brand has been around for over 100 years. My story is not a political or religious story—it’s a story about love and we can all relate to that no matter where we live in this world.
Coca-Cola is printing the song title, “I Love You This Much,” on their bottles and cans. I bet the old man on the hill would be proud to know that the dirty-faced 10 year old kid is still enjoying an ice cold Coca-Cola in more ways than one now. I know Bea is in heaven saying, “Jimmy, I’m proud of you.”
I know that my dad loves me in his own weird way. I hope he’ll see one of these Coke bottles or cans in a store and read the song title on it. I hope he forgives himself because I have already forgiven him the same way I have been forgiven.
Dad, I love you this much!
Please share a Coke with someone you love and make a memory.