Grandma loved to go to Sunday brunch, and when I was a kid, her favorite brunch spot was Shoney’s. We’d drive over the drawbridge from St. Simons Island to Brunswick, Georgia, and once we had waited in line for a large enough table, all the grown ups would order coffee and tea. My older brother would order the buffet, as would I, though all I ate off it were the French toast or the pancakes.
Grandma, after studying the menu as if she might get something new, would eventually order liver and onions. Every time.
My dad, her son, must have made involuntary gagging faces after a lifetime of hiding liver in napkins, out the window, under the rug, on liver Wednesdays at home, because I finally asked Grandma one time at Shoney’s, “Grandma, do you like liver and onions?”
She flicked her hair, “Of course I do!”
Then she thought a little bit and said, “Well no, not really.”
I knew this. “Then why do you order it every time?”
She looked at me as if even she knew her answer was ridiculous and said, “Because it’s good for you.”
I looked at the congealed brown mass on her plate, smothered in soggy onions, and thought, I doubt that.
Given her utter disregard for her taste buds in honor of her “health,” her reasoning for drinking gin and milk should have come as no surprise to me. But one evening, when she settled into her chartreuse chair, she sat a rocks glass filled with a thin, milky cocktail down on a cork coaster. I had seen her with this strange drink before, and it unsettled me. Milk diluted in any way is offensive, especially to an eight year old, and yet she drank this every night.
Finally, I asked, “Grandma, what is that you’re drinking?”
“Gin and milk,” she said.
Even at my young age, I knew that combination was just wrong. “Why?” I asked.
She looked at her dewy tumbler, the milky liquid even thinner around the ice cubes, and rolled her eyes at the things she did for her health. “Well, I’m on Weight Watchers now.”
I waited for more.
“And on Weight Watchers you have to have a certain amount of milk every day.”
She looked at her sad drink on the end table, polluted with skim milk. She lifted it off the coaster, which had the words “Bottoms Up” printed in thick black ink on it, flicked her bangs out of her eyes, and said, “And I have to have a certain amount of gin every day.” And she tipped the glass into her mouth.