It was in 1883, a year remarkable for me in one way – I went on a journey that took me to meet the woman who would start me on an incredible career; if only I had realised it then.
My name is John Pemberton of Atlanta. I am by trade a pharmacist.
In 1883 I went on holiday to Gainsville where an Aunt of mine was living. She was somewhat advanced in years and rather poorly, so at my father’s pleading I went to visit and spend some time with her. My aunt loved going to the lakeside for a picnic, something she had not been able to do by herself for some years. So whenever possible, she and I would take a rented cary and horse andgo exploring to find pretty spots for our picnics.
One sunny day, she and I set out in the cart I had hired, picnic basket packed and ready. We found a lovely quiet spot and I spread the blankets and cushions to make her comfortable. For such an elderly woman she really enjoyed sitting there on the ground.
I was lying dozing in the sun when I heard my aunt talking to someone. I roused myself and saw she was talking to an elderly black woman, possibly her own age. They were pouring something from a bottle the woman carried, into the beautiful glasses I had brought for my aunt and I to drink our lemonade.
My aunt introduced us. Mrs Lulubelle was tiny and wizened, quite well dressed for the weather with stout shoes and a cotton dress and apron. Her bonnet was one of those cotton ones that I have seen women wet to keep themselves cool.
Mrs Lulubelle was talking about the liquid in the bottle. A tonic from an old African tradition. The nut imported from Africa had been planted around here and when processed gave a tasty drink.
I too drank some at her urging, and felt invigorated as well as somehow restored to a younger age. My aunt had become quite sprightly and she and Mrs Lulubelle went for a walk together.
I have to confess I finished off the contents of the bottle, and when the two of them returned I apologised, saying it was the best think I had ever drunk. She smiled and said I was always welcome to visit.
On the way home, my aunt explained how many years earlier, on one of her lakeside walks, she had discovered Mrs Lulubelle who had tripped and hurt her ankle. She had helped Mrs Lulubelle home and for several days had visited her, taking food and other comforts.
An odd friendship had sprung up between the two rather different women. Their common bond being the love of all things in nature. But for some years, now my aunt was frail, they had not seen each other.
Two days later there was a dreadful storm, trees uprooted, houses flattened. The community in Gainsville were kindly and helped each other sort out what was worth saving, sharing their less damaged homes with those who had been made homeless by the storm.
Two nights later there was a quiet tapping at the kitchen door. When I went to see, there was Mrs Lulubelle, with two sacks, just standing at the door. I quickly let her in. She was shivering and my aunt put her to bed in the sewing room.
The next day the two of them were sitting comfortable in the kitchen, going over some details of how to live together.
I left the following day as my business needed my presence.
About eighteen months later I received a telegram from my aunt, begging me to visit.
When I arrived I discovered my aunt was well and fit, but Mrs Lulubelle was by now bed-ridden and not well at all. She refused to see a doctor.
Late that night I woke, sensing something was not right. I walked through the dark house, carrying my bedside candle. There were noises from Mrs Lulubelle’s room, so I tapped on the door and entered.
She was obviously nearing her end, her breathing rasping and difficult. My aunt sat next to her, holding her hand.
She looked at me and tried to smile. “I’m going John” she whispered, but I want to leave your aunt with my recipe for your favourite kola-drink.
I went to the drawing room and fetched a pen, ink and some paper.
I settled down on the floor, candle giving enough light to write.
Mrs Lulubelle whispered “My Kola drink is very special, it has extracts from the African Cola nut, and from the leaves of the cocoa plant. The recipe is… “and she dictated the ingredients, how to prepare them and combine them.
When I left a few days later after Mrs Lulubelle’s funeral, my aunt put a piece of paper in my pocket, she said, I’ll never find these ingredients on my own. Maybe you can use the recipe.
I made up my first batch in the summer of 1886, and sold it at my drugstore. My book-keeper, Frank Robinson liked it so much he gave it a name and wrote the label by hand.
It cost too much to make in large quantities, but as its popularity increased, a neighbour Asa Candler approached me with a proposition to buy the recipe and make it more famous.
The rest is open history, all except the recipe which we have kept secret.
Disclaimer: Some of the names are real, almost all of the rest is fiction.