From Scrapbook of My Years As a Zealot, published by Arsenal Pulp Press in 2008.
When my oldest sister Ruth gave up cola, six months before deciding to move to Israel to live in a kibbutz in Jordan Valley, she made Jana and me give up cola, too. Forever and ever, Amen. Ruth preaching to Jana and me about the Angel Moroni when she turned seventeen and became a Mormon for almost two months; during that summer, she was the strictest convert ever. Then she discovered communism. Then when she got married, she converted to motherhood, and her prayers focussed on absorbent recyclable diapers.
I was eight years old, and hadn’t met my best-friend-to-be Vera yet. I loved the way pop made my nose hurt the first time I tried it. Ruth, old enough to act like my mother, was strict, so that summer I drank my cola in the backseat of our dad’s station wagon parked in the alley. No one surprised me there. Back then, no one, not even our mother, could drive except our dad. He’d just bought our first television, black-and-white, and our mom only let me watch fifteen minutes of The Friendly Giant on the mornings I stayed home sick. But once our father had settled down to watch Ironside and read a million newspapers from Europe, once he’d angled his coffee mug against the lip of the card table he used as a desk, I’d sneak his car keys from his jacket hanging upstairs. And I’d sneak a glass bottle from where I hid them inside my winter boots. When I’d drained the bottle down to its cola dregs, I climbed into the front seat and rehearsed steering. Our father grew up in rural Croatia, where kids drove rural roads on their own by the time they were eight. He’d let us grab the wheel on straight highways, despite our mother’s “Ach, no!” So in the back alley, I’d hunker down in the parked car and shake the wheel so-so-slightly, yet rapidly, like real driving in the cartoons.
I pretended to drive and I drank a brown- flavoured pop that Ruth insisted was forbidden. No one could see me. No one knew. Except God.