As the story goes, when I was a very little girl, I marched over to grandmother as she relaxed in her easy chair, and lifted her water glass off the side table. I took a sloppy, toddler swig. And then my face scrunched up at the betrayal as I announced “This isn’t water!”. My late grandmother was an alcoholic and the glass she kept beside her held gin.
These days, I regularly sit in an online gathering with a bunch of really knowledgeable theologians and try to absorb concepts and re-familarize myself with the vocabulary of academia. Each week we start by sharing where we’re at and what we’re drinking. When it’s my turn, I hoist my late grandmother’s gin glass in a toast as I announce my beverage of choice. It may fizzy water or or ginger ale, Perhaps a really nice single malt scotch. Maybe throwback Rusty Nail or perfect margarita. No gin so far.
And it doesn’t matter, because my late grandmother’s gin glass holds more than just a beverage.
I sorted a houseful of my grandparent’s lives a few years back. Creditors were calling and time was short, the house had to be fixed and and sold as quickly as possible.
The kitchen cupboards held only a few glasses, mismatched remainders of the sets that had dropped and shattered on the linoleum over the years. I found my late grandmother’s gin glass hidden way in the back. Lots of grandma’s things had been pushed to the back corners in the years after her death. Granddad’s favorite items migrated to the front of cupboards, drawers and closets while the memory of her quietly disappeared.
I hardly knew any of my extended family when I was young – we moved to the other side of the country and rarely traveled or visited family. Back then long distance calls were charged by the minute. On holidays we’d assembly line call relatives. We literally stood in a line, oldest to youngest, fidgeting awkwardly near the kitchen wall phone. The script never changed. “Hi, this is [insert name] Happy [insert holiday] Here’s [insert next child’s name] Bye.” When the kids were done, dad had a turn, and then mom would reclaim the handset and shoo us away while she finished the “conversation”. No time or money for news or small talk, that could go in a letter.
I wonder if it was as excruciating for our distant family then as the memory is for me now?
In my teens I moved a few time zones over, to the one where all my grandparents lived. There was nonni and grandpa, my Italian grandparents. And grandpop Harold, my dad’s father. And grandma Paula and step-granddad Glenn. And we all got to know each other and be family. For that alone, I consider myself the luckiest of all six of us kids.
I’m in a liminal space these days. (guess I am picking up a bit of that academic-speak!). Not just returning to school, but attending seminary, answering this call, planning beyond career and into vocation. And I’m moving a thousand or so miles to do so, disrupting the rhythm of our life and our retirement plans and our vacations and our future.
And it all comes together in my late grandmother’s gin glass. It collects and combines and contains, in twelve little ounces,just what matters.
That glass holds love and gratitude, fear and pain and tragedy. Alcoholism, despair, regret swirl around with hope and joy and and faith join to fill my late grandma’s gin glass to the brim.
And judgement leaks out.
The car may packed to the gills, but there’s a spot for my late grandmother’s gin glass.
I’m aware that the glass in question is a just a vintage old-fashioned glass. For decades she filled it with gin or vodka. I prefer gin, so there you go. Whatever I pour, I’ll be drinking it from my late grandmother’s gin glass.