Monday, April 11, 2005

Cocktails

I had an interesting sensory flashback this evening.


We had a rare night out...dinner party with friends of my MIL. How did we get invited to a party where the average age was 75? Apparently, my MIL's friend Helen really likes me. Go figure!


I don't seem to spend much time around adults these days, so I feel rather uncouth in social situations; but this little gathering was warm and comfortable. What set off the sensory flashback I mentioned above? The smell of Helen's cocktail.


John doesn't drink and I very rarely do. My MIL doesn't drink. Heck, most of my husband's family doesn't drink...so I haven't been exposed to social drinking in a very long time. That smell...


I was catapulted back in time to around age 11 or 12. I was in a sunshine yellow kitchen helping my mother get ready for dinner. My Dad had been home from work for about an hour and was already two beers into his nightly routine. My mother calls into the family room where he is watching the nightly news, "Bob? Make me a whiskey sour?"


And so began "cocktail hour" at the Rogers house. My Dad would open the high up cabinet and pull down various bottles of top shelf liquor...vermouth, gin, whiskey, martini mix, sours...his tall stainless steel shaker, the funny looking strainer that looked like a coiled spring, shot glass from our vacation in Cape Cod, and the little red book.


The little red book was leather bound and had a gold embossed figure of a very dapper looking fellow in a top hat. It was Dad's Pocket Bartender. He would crack the well worn spine and mumble measurements to himself; "...two fingers...three fingers..." and he would look rather like a mad scientist mixing up some evil potion.


I would hover nearby and watch him dump the shot glasses full of liquid into his shaker with a fist full of crushed ice. I loved the sound the shaker would make as the liquid and ice would all slosh and rattle together. With that look of concentration on Dad's face, I knew he was counting to himself. Just so many shakes, a quick pass through the strainer and I was ON DUTY! "Rebecca, get me theolives..."


I would race to the refrigerator, pull the squat jar of green olives out of the door, grab a toothpick from the dispenser next to the stove and rush them over to my Dad. He would carefully spear three and then swish the olive laden toothpick in his newly shaken martini. I would watch his face as he took that first sip. He would grin and say, "Ah...perfect!" Then I would watch as he began a new procedure to mix my mother's drink.


If my mother was busy at the stove or puttering around elsewhere, I would get to do the all important taste test. A tiny sip and I would proclaim my mother's drink "perfect". I would go back to setting the table, but I would keep an eye on my Dad's martini glass as he would chat with Mom about current events, politics, work...


When his drink was all gone, those olives were MINE, if I asked quickly enough. How I loved the tang of those olives marinated in gin and vermouth.


And so this ritual was repeated, five days a week, for many years. I'm not sure when my parents decided to stop having cocktail hour. I think I was in my later years of high school. Slowly the mixed drinks stopped being mixed and all they had in the evening was beer for Dad and wine for Mom. 


Something was lost...that sense that my parents were adept in the social graces. That air of cool, polite, and refined drunkenness that only people who were adults in the 50s and 60s seem to have mastered.


Oddly, I have a craving for a Manhattan...two maraschino cherries please.


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