I have an affinity for elderly white women solely based on the universal fact that my grandmother was an elderly white woman.
Carol, my grandmother, baptized me in a kitchen sink in New Orleans. I don’t believe there’s any other way to define my entrance into this world, than the kid how was spiritually ordained by faucet water and an Irish Catholic woman in the Big Easy.
St. Paul, MN 2008
Eyedea sat in the distant corner of the Glockenspiel, talking on the phone. It sounded to be a conversation between him and an old friend or someone that might’ve needed convincing on the other end of the phone. I always imagined it was a scorned lover who was easily rattled with jealousy, and Micheal was the only guy in 100 square miles that could give her the right words. Hell knows, he was the guy within 1000 square miles that had the right words, why not over the phone with a scorned lover. Alas, I retreated my wandering imagination back to the bar I was tending to.
The Glockenspiel was a German restaurant and bar resting on a gorgeous stretch of urbanity we call West 7th St. That year of bartending 8 hour shifts and making little over a hundred bucks per shift, I’d give up for nothing. The characters that walked through the door each day & night were enough to fill several comic books, horror films and hallmark movies… or just enough to fill a Vulcan’s Fire Truck.
While serving the mostly empty bar, I’d frequently call my grandmother for advice on how to make drinks. I distinctly remember being inundated with orders and someone yelled out, “I’ll take an old-fashioned!” The look on my face was that of absolute horror- relative to Clark Griswold finding out he’d receive no holiday bonus check this year, or the eternal look on Bender’s face, from Futurama. I swiftly ran to the kitchen, sat in the staircase and called Carol. She not only filled me in on how to make an Old Fashioned, we ran down the specs for a Cosmo, Gimlet, and Hot Toddy over the course of the 60 second phone call.
Once the night crowd had died down, I called her back to thank her. We chatted for a minute or so. She would go on to tell me a story of a night her and friends went out to paint the town red, and took down one too many Old Fashions while my grandfather played the trombone at a jazz gig. The sight of my grandfather performing on stage while my grandmother swayed back & forth to the tempo- well, that would be something.
Pick-a-biscuits lay strewn about a pan, disconnected from one another like shrapnel after an explosion. My mother truly put her time, energy and soul into replicating the feat of our family’s signature dessert. However, the recipe evaded her skill of kitchen in the most defiant manner. Whereas I’d usually take several pick-a-biscuits before dinner began… this time, I stole only one.
My family is made up of a hodge podge of personality and attitude. It’s taken us decades of not only understanding one another, but coming to know who we are in the same space (or dinner table) with one another. There have been holidays, or even years, I’ve distanced myself from them, and only to find myself in their arms again. Only a fool speaks for himself in the future- However, I foresee no circumstance that could drive me away from them permanently.
We sit to a long make-shift table in my sister’s living room. Her 8 month-old son, Benjamin, and my cousin’s newborn son, Cedar, take shifts crying loudly into the air. The infants’ wails bounce to and fro the walls, accompanied by clangs of dishes being passed clockwise around the table. We talk over the natural soundscape. Conversation fades to the inevitable feasting on an abundance of wild rice, squash, beets, broccoli soufle, and pick-a-biscuits… we are together, and we are filling ourselves with each other’s presence as much as the food.
By this point, there had been no mention of her. The babies mere presence might’ve stricken that subject out of discussion, but I don’t have a child, so I can’t say for sure.
She’s gone. I can’t hear her voice. She’s not at this dinner table right now telling me to get car insurance, move out of my mother’s house, asking me about the next dance (acting) job, or checking in on my relationship with my mother. Even the absence of the nagging upsets me.
This wild rice is bomb. I owe it to whoever made it, to finish it before I go to the basement and cry in the bathroom.
So, I do.
I eat the last portion of the wild rice, knowing there will definitely be a sequel between the meal and I. Don’t think I’m done with you, wild rice. We will have our time again, in a very short while. For now, I wrap my napkin, push myself up a little bit to stand away from the table- I take a few steps toward my nephew Benjamin, kiss him on the head, and walk toward the basement door.
No one notices. And that’s exactly how I wanted it.
Down the stairs, my sister and brother-in-law, have a bathroom tucked away from the television space next to the washer & dryer. It has the feel of a room from an episode of Doomsday Preppers.
I enter, close the toilet lid, sit on it, and place my head in my hands.
This is how you do this- how you handle your first Thanksgiving without your grandmother.
I blow my nose, promptly trot up the stairs and am back to the dinner table. Feeling as though a weight has been lifted, I delve back into the wild rice sequel. Again, no one notices. I prefer it that way.
The walls stretch further and further away between myself and the bodies corralling themselves into the bar. Politicians, lawyers, news anchors, business owners, 6-figures, 7-figures, 8-figures belly up to the marble bar top and kindly ask me to fill their cup. I gladly serve them.
My new-old vocation of serving alcohol couldn’t have come at a better time with the holidays around the corner and an old friend entrusting her reputation to me as I fill in a bartending role for what might’ve gone to someone else less familiar. The bar has the makings of a well kempt, but antiquated, speakeasy. My great grandfather would’ve easily frequented this place after his dance (music) gigs. I would serve him a whisky, call him a cab, and attend his next show with bells on.
It’s undetectable at this point, but what is about to strike me is going to possibly put my employment at risk and send me into an inconvenient emotional moment of catharsis.
I am of the ilk that we are not at the mercy of our minds or hearts, but that we are at the mercy of our very own authenticity. We know when we’re kidding ourselves, out-kicking our coverage, or flat out not engaging with reality. Working with Pre-K students suffering from mental illness, the first thing we establish is “we are not our illness, expectation, or even our own body”. We are who we believe we authentically are. Engage with that, and you will never let yourself down… inversely, never let anyone down as well.
The bar begins to clear. A few stragglers, regulars and couples remain at the bar. We can breathe easy for the moment and log in tips while the storm rests… and in walks my authentic moment. Someone enters the bar at sometime while I was dealing something, which is all arbitrary up until the point Louis Armstrong began singing “What A Wonderful World” over the venue’s speakers. I pause at the register, take note it’s the song played at my grandmother’s funeral and take a deep breath. Serendipity is relative. The damn song could have nearly the opposite meaning to the next man.
“What would you like?” I wrap up the someone and I’s conversation after greeting them and chatting about this balmy December weather we’re having (enter MN Nice smile here). “Y’know, I’ll have an old fashioned.” They declare.
I smile to myself. It’s what she would’ve ordered.
I gladly make the beverage, I gladly serve the beverage, and because every now and then I discover my levy isn’t perfectly capable of holding all of the feels at bay… I excuse myself to the employee bathroom downstairs.
It’s nothing like floodgates. It’s more a moment of acknowledgment. Carol would have absolutely loved this place, have been proud of the man I am right now, and easily would’ve sang along to Louis as she sipped her drink.
So, I lean against the bathroom wall with my forearm, and cry it out. Nothing loud or blubbering- just sniveling and nose-blowing.
The only downside to having a good cry is the fact that without super-charged vizine, it’s damn near impossible to cover the red in your eyes. People can see it once you get back to public. Thankfully, the lights are low, the attention is sporadic, and the laughter is loud. No one notices, and I prefer it that way.
Whether they be smiles, tears or words, I let the moments flow through me. It’s how she would’ve wanted me to process her death, and so it will be how I journey through a world without Carol.