“Everyone come downstairs and sit on the couch, please. I have some big news to tell you,” my mom yelled from the small, dim-lighted kitchen.
During the summer of 2017, my mom gathered my siblings and me into our big, sunny living room. With a smile on her face, she said, “We are buying a mountain house in Blowing Rock.” My siblings and I burst out with delight and soft, little giggles escaped our cheerful souls; however, my mother expressed a sense of nervousness as she watched us. After a few moments of naive joy, we learned of some awful, devastating news. My mother decided that she needed to sell our big, old home in Coudersport, a house that passed through generations of Heimel families. The expressions on our faces changed; now smiles faded and three miserable, furrowed faces stared eye-to-eye with my mother.
For me, losing the Coudersport family home not only meant I lost a house but also I felt as if I lost a part of my family. In the small town of Coudersport, my big, loud family would come together to laugh. Walking through Coudersport, I saw big maple and oak trees along the long, rocky roads. Friendly, active animals skittered in the deep green, freshly-cut grass. I saw young, jolly children riding pale pink, metal bikes. My beautiful, kind godmother took care of me like a bear to its cub when we visited Coudersport. Old, friendly neighbors helped cook with my godmother while my cheerful family chatted amongst themselves out on her back porch like birds chirping on a summer day. My godmother showed everyone kindness like a nurse to her patients. Beautifully, she sang hymns in church; however, she never admitted that she sang the best. While I sat on the hard, cold counter and munched on gooey, warm homemade brownies that filled my mouth with their overwhelming chocolatey taste, strangers stopped by and chatted with my godmother. Everywhere my godmother went, she showed others kindness. She taught me to always show kindness back, even if others refuse to show me the same. In Coudersport, everyone was connected as a community and knew each other very well. This small, unknown town taught me that your blood does not always make you family.
Late in the summer of 2017, my family and I began our terrible, long journey to the small town. My whole family and our large, fluffy dog piled into my mom’s black minivan at the crack of dawn. As we pulled out of the driveway with our limbs all cramped together, we looked like a car full of clowns ready for a big day at the circus. The long ten-hour trip consisted of many pit stops, numerous complaints, and countless times of hearing the phrase, “Are we there yet?” Throughout those painful hours, my dog breathed out his hot, smelly breath all over us like a dragon ready to conquer his enemy with his fire breath. Holding my breath did not prevent the fishy smell from entering my nasal airways. Finally, after what felt like an neverending, difficult drive, we arrived in Coudersport. As we drove across the green, metal bridge, I saw the bright, familiar faces of the citizens. We passed the colorless, boxy houses that all looked alike. Suddenly, it caught my attention. With the sun gleaming on its detailed patterns, my eyes gazed over the bright yellow, wooden house. It stood out like a black sheep amongst its herd. We arrived home. After hopping out of my black, metal car, I leaped into the grass. The damp, deep green blades of grass were a comfort to my bare feet. Fresh garden herbs filled the air with their scents. I swung on my childhood swingset, gripping the frayed, rough ropes holding me up from a painful fall. My feet glided across the sky like a plane heading towards its destination. As the plane landed, my feet did as well. They carried me over to the white, brick house next door. My body burst through the door and was greeted by a tight, warm hug. Backing away, my eyes gazed towards a smiling face. “Hello GG!” I exclaimed.
“Hey, Kiddo! How was your trip? Your Uncle Jer and I made some cookies for you and your siblings.” GG, my godmother, passionately vocalized. After a few minutes of chatting, we headed to the car to unpack our numerous belongings. GG’s soft, wrinkled hand held mine as we crossed the yard like a child crossing the street. Our family unpacked our big, heavy items; however, my brother watched the dog like a hawk watching its prey. The last time my dog played in the yard, he escaped. GG still had the same kind heart she had the last time we saw her. She used to take me to the lake in Coudersport where we would play in the cold, dark blue waters and eat flavorful, circular popsicles. The popsicles filled our mouths with bursts of cherry, blue raspberry, and lime. At the lake, we watched the young, colorful birds and the gentle, small salamanders swim like we were scientists observing our discoveries. GG loved nature and its beauty. She let me braid her long, blonde locks and paint her smooth, dainty fingernails. GG’s title of “godmother” truly suited her. She watched over me while I swung on the swings and played in the cold, clear water of the town pool. She also use to take me on fun, long train rides; however, I became ill from the ride once so we never went again. GG always made sure I was safe, like Cinderella’s fairy godmother.
Even if my family and I were not in Coudersport, GG still remained her kind, caring self. She is a talented, independent realtor for the citizens of Coudersport. Before selling a house, sometimes GG would clean the house if she thought it was not clean enough. With her kind gesture, the house was more likely to sell and at a higher price. One time, she sold a house to a large, poor Amish family with six small, energetic children and one baby on the way. My godmother felt sympathy for them and went out of her way to give the family eight shiny, new pots and pans to help them. Often, she offered to paint strangers’ homes for free. GG enjoys long, eventful adventures and always welcomes others to join her. Because of her friendly, fun personality GG has, she makes everyone feel welcome and brings together the town of Coudersport. Here, in this small, obsecure town, residents not only come together as a community but also as a fun, large family.
Coudersport brought my family together and created a space of love and kindness. Although my family does not visit the little, obsecure town anymore, it still remains a very important place in my life. It showed me that blood does not make you family, but that the bond and love between one another do. Because of its example, I have chosen to live life through kindness. I try my best to show others kindness because of the impact GG’s kindness has had on my family and others in the town. Coudersport shows what a caring community looks like. Small towns where people treat one another like family can influence someone to express kindness and love to others. Although we no longer visit, Coudersport will always be my home away from home.
As a kid, the world was wide,
And full of wonder to explore,
Each day was filled with endless possibilities and we would stare with wide eyes,
And adventures to adore.
The world was filled with magic,
In every nook and cranny to be found,
The tiniest things held the greatest wonder,
And left us spellbound.
Running through the sprinklers and irrigation,
Rode bikes with reckless abandon,
We lived in a world of imagination,
Our minds forever expanding, as we grew with our best companions.
We laughed and played without a care,
For as kids, we knew how to have fun,
And lived in the moment, free from despair,
And to live life until the day was done.
Oh, to be a kid once more,
To live in a world without a chore,
But though we may grow old and wise,
Our inner child forever thrives.
Aug. 13, 2022
I know you aren’t dead,
but your ghost lingers
in my mind,
in my heart,
& everywhere we made memories together.
I see those blurred moments that we shared, slowly starting to fade.
I can’t say that your departure hurts,
but it does leave me haunted.
Sept. 18, 2022
I wish I had adequate words
to describe the hole
I felt in my heart
maybe you filled it
maybe you left it bigger
all I know is that each
time you cross my mind,
I feel it again
deeply than the
Dec. 3, 2022
I hold a different air around me when I know you’re back home.
What was once happy is now curious, both of what happened & if you still care.
The curiosity overwhelms me most days.
May 15, 2023
I’d rather be no one to you than to feel your cold glance
because then that would mean I never felt your warmth before feeling your winter.
My gaze loves to fall upon you,
how I wonder what your glance feels like.
The dynamic duo. Ever since the very beginning. Gifted to me by my late grandmother, they were bright pink and blue, with fluffy wool all over them. Now they’re both gray and no longer covered in that comforting cloth. They symbolized youth, now they symbolize aging. When they were first gifted to me they were fully stuffed with cotton stuffing and plastic beads, making them rattle for a baby and soft enough that they wouldn’t injure anybody when it was swung around. When they would get a hole, I would run crying to my mother to fix them, and she would perform “surgery” on them in order to make them feel better again. I would be so happy when they came back to me perfectly again. I could barely go a few hours without them, so my mother would often have to perform this “surgery” when I was asleep. They were my favorite things in the world, there wasn’t a way to separate us.
Now there’s a hole in one of their hands so large you could fit your pinky finger into it. It has holes in the stomach, leg, foot, neck, and even lost an eye several times. I wake up to their beads lying around in my bed so often that I have to pick them up and put them back into the hole that gapes in their leg. I used to carry them with me when I was a little baby, but now they lay in my bed, awaiting a time when they will get to see the sun again outside my bedroom window and go on adventures with me everywhere as they did in the past. They long to get lost somewhere and have to get picked up in a dirty parking lot hours later. They long to be brought on fourteen-hour road trips and be cuddled the whole time. They long to be loved again. But now they do nothing but sit in my bed and watch as the day turns to night and the leaves fall off trees.
I never stopped loving them. I just grew up. I’m no longer the excited child that is attached at the hip, and I’m no longer the person that would spend hours teaching herself gymnastics and having dance parties daily. I no longer leave the house and am anxious to return home to them when I get back from school. I am not this child anymore.
I can no longer carry them around with me everywhere I go, leaving them places and having to return for them hours later. They’re now too fragile to be removed from the safe haven of my room, their beads leaving a soft trail behind them every time they move. But they never stopped giving me comfort. I cry into their rough gray cotton and complain about every problem I have with them, and they sit there and listen. I watch as their cotton turns dark with my tears, soaking up my pain and holding it with them so that I no longer have to. I know they care as deeply for me as I do for them. They will never leave my side, no matter how old I get; they will always mean everything to me, even if I don’t show it the same way.
You said you were my friend
Always there until the end
But then you changed the rules
Lying, words of bitterness
Replaced promises of forever
Laughing behind my back
Because you changed the rules
So all alone I faced the world
Filled with loss, confusion and grief
Depression consumed my life
Sometimes it was hard to breathe
My heart shattered
My head a mess
My world broken
My life in distress
Where do I go now?
Should I even try?
Should I just give up?
What’s wrong with me?
Will the pain ever stop?
In a cold, dark room I lay
Time keeps moving but I stay here
Tears flow but wash nothing away
I’ve lost my old self
No more cackle to joke about
No more video diaries
No more marathon facetime calls
Now you do that with them
The words still ring in my head
It feels like yesterday
But it wasn’t.
How do I let go of that cold December day?
A new hand reaches out
Sunshine breaks through
Into the darkness
Turns out it wasn’t me
It was you.
Because you changed the rules.
A silent firework
Lights the shadows of my moods
Just as oceans unfailingly rise every year, Coca-Cola continues its ongoing reign as the world’s largest plastic polluter, responsible for three million metric tons of plastic packaging in 2019 (Tigue). Meanwhile, Coca-Cola convinces consumers that the company cares about the environment, using a well-developed advertising strategy known as greenwashing. Greenwashing assures consumers that “Earth-caring” corporations “pursue” environmental initiatives when those same corporations couldn’t care less and wreak havoc on the planet. However, as companies lie about their behavior, consumers stop holding those companies responsible for their actions, and the corporations’ harmful behaviors continue. Coca-Cola surpasses talking about action in its advertisements; instead, the “green” billboard launched in the Philippines in 2011 shows Coca-Cola actively reducing air pollution. This “green” billboard promotes purchasing bottles of Coke by displaying an image of an eco-conscious Coca-Cola that appeases consumers’ worries about the corporation’s environmental impact. However, this superficial message, apparently encouraging optimism and action, is an inefficient project that falsely shifts the blame for ruining the environment onto the consumer.
The local audience of the “breathing” billboard is drivers on Epifanio de Los Santos Avenue (EDSA) in Manila, a highway in the capital of the Philippines that is infamous for heavy traffic and air pollution. The daily traffic of 360,000 vehicles contributes to Manila’s dangerous air quality, a hazard responsible for four thousand deaths annually. In early 2020, the average concentration of particulate matter exceeded the safety limit of 10 μg/m^3 by 7.6 μg/m^3 and exceeded it by 28 μg/m^3 during the peak of rush hour (“Manila Gets Its Skyline Back”). Coca-Cola’s advertisement, which specifically addresses Coca-Cola improving air pollution, targets drivers stuck in traffic, surrounded by a haze of particulate matter. Due to their surroundings, some of these drivers are inevitably concerned about pollution, so Coca-Cola’s hopeful advert is there, showing the company cares about the issue and works toward a solution. The locals are familiar with the corporation as Coca-Cola’s bottling operation in Manila is one of the largest in the world and has been producing in the Philippines since 1912 (Davao). But instead of being familiar with its detrimental effects, Coca-Cola’s propaganda manipulates them by claiming that it cares about them and their environment. Coca-Cola furthers this image by protecting local freshwater sources around the globe through a longstanding partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (Heater).
While Coca-Cola pursues some initiatives that display well on its website, selling as many bottles of Coke as possible is Coca-Cola’s sole priority. The giant, centered silhouette immediately captures the eye of highway drivers, and the classic red Coca-Cola logo at the top left is the second image people see when they begin “reading” the ad. Consequently, the combined visual of the Coca-Cola brand on the bottle pops into people’s minds; the enticing, refreshing drink dances in their heads. Coca-Cola recognizes consumers already enjoy and purchase its product, so this advertisement addresses environmental concerns. Viewers associate the delicious Coca-Cola with expansive greenery and care for nature due to the creative medium of real plants. By utilizing these plants, Coca-Cola is seemingly aware of the world’s current environmental issues and working towards a brighter future. The panda WWF logo ensures people connect these two very different organizations that supposedly work together towards this future. This “collaborative partnership” gives Coca-Cola’s portrayal of progress credibility. The approximate symmetry of the advertisement leads the WWF and Coca-Cola logos to play the same role on opposite sides of the ad, showing how the organizations theoretically have an equal role in the billboard project. By equating these organizations, Coca-Cola places itself on the same level of environmental stewardship as the WWF. Coca-Cola also ensures anyone confused about the function of plants is informed that Coca-Cola’s altruism helps the Earth by stating the obvious: “This billboard absorbs air pollutants.” The Coca-Cola symbol lives in the most important upper section of the advert, a place representing “happiness and triumph.” The lower region, usually reserved for “heaviness, sadness, constraint, or threat,” shows action through which Coca-Cola confronts the world’s issues (Flip). Optimism, an essential part of Coca-Cola’s “live positively” campaign, replaces both the generally negative, lower section of the ad and thoughts of the harrowing impacts of pollution. Encouraging people to “live positively” associates Coca-Cola with an eco-friendly, happy, positive lifestyle (modeled by the miniature smiley face), providing people an opportunity to rid themselves of their carbon-footprint-sin by trusting in the green company of Coca-Cola. Consumers easily trust companies that tell people the lies they want to hear; consumers like snatching up products and blindly trusting that they were manufactured in an eco-friendly way.
“Coca-Cola helps save the planet with WWF.” But do YOU help the planet? Successful greenwashing shifts the responsibility of environmental stewardship from the companies creating poor air quality to the people who breathe it. According to the president of Coca-Cola Philippines, Guillermo Aponte, the “green” billboard is “a salient reminder for Filipinos to take an active hand in protecting and saving the environment” (Heater). Coca-Cola’s billboard proclaims the company “saves” the planet, so consumers are guilt-tripped into believing the planet must suffer because of them, not Coca-Cola. By making people believe they are the ones who must change their behavior, “inspiration” is merely a tool for deflection. Consumers are partially responsible as they purchase harmful products — like plastic bottles, but the corporations that create the culture and products themselves shape these purchasing decisions. Some people misguidedly think the company saves the Earth from the consumers; they are blinded from the reality that Coca-Cola does barely anything to save the planet from Coca-Cola. Finis Dunaway, an environmental history professor at Trent University, agrees,
The disconnect between the severity of the climate crisis versus so much focus on these little actions [like recycling or picking up litter], that not only distract from corporate responsibility, but also don’t seem to [make] a difference – it’s trying to encourage a feeling of empowerment, but I think it sometimes can actually be disempowering (Park).
Coca-Cola’s ad targets people who think superficially, incorrectly villainizing themselves and seeing the true villain as a hero. Logical reasoning protects consumers from this disempowerment, but most consumers avoid discrediting their suppliers. They believe the corporation’s falsehoods while also fearing the implications the truth has on their purchasing choices. Simple arithmetic reveals that Coca-Cola’s priorities lay not in helping the environment. The Fukien tea plants covering the billboard absorb 46,800 pounds of carbon dioxide annually (Heater). But Coca-Cola’s emissions amounted to 5.18 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2021 (Tigue). Offsetting one year of Coca-Cola’s emissions requires over 221,367 “green” billboards. Instead of cultivating plants on a raised piece of metal, Coca-Cola could grow many more plants in the ground. Each plant has its own pot, made of recycled plastic bottles, and there is a complex, timed irrigation system in place that waters each plant —”a network of valves, pipes, tubing, and emitters” (Heater). While the high-tech systems convince consumers that Coca-Cola is a techy and efficient company of the future, whom smart, educated people should support, avoiding this unnecessary trouble and creating an expansive garden would be much more beneficial for the planet.
However, this use of space makes sense considering Coca-Cola doesn’t care about the environment outside of its advertising. The corporation’s compassion and charity vanish behind closed doors:
Coca-Cola spent $4.24 billion on advertising and marketing in 2019…while spending just $11 million that year on a program to clean up rivers polluted by plastic waste. And a leaked recording of a recent American Beverage Association conference also revealed that Coca-Cola had quietly lobbied for decades against policies like bottle bills, which aim to hold companies responsible for the plastic waste they create (Tigue).
While this advertisement is unforgettably unique, it is also extremely dangerous as it perpetuates the culture that allows companies’ continued abuse of the environment. Before Coca-Cola sponsored the recent COP27 climate conference, a letter signed by 240 environmental organizations expressed their disapproval: “The world’s largest plastics polluter…should not be allowed to buy their way out of culpability for a crisis they have caused” (Tigue). A vicious cycle exists when large companies have so much money that they silence public outcry through manipulative propaganda just to make more money, which is then used for further manipulation. Charities, like the World Wildlife Fund, face a dilemma when they want millions of dollars from Coca-Cola, but know the company’s image is damaging. Ultimately, the WWF choses funding instead of greenwashing prevention. Companies creatively deflect blame or claim that their destructive behavior isn’t the issue so they can continue profiting from it. The “solution” of recycling is another example of “industry executives promoting an idea they knew wouldn’t work…all while making billions of dollars selling the world new plastic.” Recently, chemical recycling has been condemned as a “false climate solution” (Tigue). Companies do not care if climate “solutions,” from recycling systems to billboards, are scientifically false because gaining the trust of the public solves their immediate problems. As long as Coca-Cola strategically convinces thirsty Filipinos that it cares about the Earth, the planet can burn later.
Danielle del Valle. “World Wildlife Federation.” Pinterest. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/227150374931560641. Accessed 21 2022.
Davao, Edge. “Coca-Cola Launches ‘Live Positively’ Drive.” 11 October 2010, https://edgedavao.net. Accessed 19 November 2022.
Flip. “Reading Images: A ‘Sight-Reading’ Key.” AP Language & Composition, 2 November 2022, Ravenscroft, https://drive.google.com/file/d/1FsBFumdprl6XPZFB2lQuu4MJ WpldvAHw/view. Accessed 22 November 2022. Class handout.
Heater, B. “Coca-Cola’s Green Billboard Consumes Carbon Dioxide Like So Much Sugary Soda.” Engadget, 6 July 2011, https://www.engadget.com. Accessed 19 November 2022.
“Manila Gets Its Skyline Back As Air Quality Improves amid COVID-19 Lockdown.” Mongabay, 23 April 2020, https://news.mongabay.com. Accessed 21 November 2022.
Tigue, Kristoffer. “Coke Sponsoring COP27 Is the Definition of ‘Greenwashing,’ Activists Say.” Inside Climate News, 25 October 2022, https://insideclimatenews.org. Accessed 19 November 2022.
Park, William. “How Companies Blame You for Climate Change.” BBC, 5 May 2022, https://www.bbc.com. Accessed 19 November 2022.