by David Norris
My momma lived before women’s rights. Many is the time that she came home after working a long, hard day at the Kroger store, knowing she had to go back in early the next morning, and then had to cook dinner when cooking was the last thing on earth she wanted to do, when all she wanted to do was pour two fingers of good whiskey and sit in her chair and read for a little while before going to bed.
Momma liked her whiskey. In her later years she would keep a 1.5-liter of Jack Daniels beneath the sink. Ruby always drank her Jack straight with a water chaser, both glasses the same size--tumblers. She never learned to take pride in her drinking, and she always kept the bottle hidden under the sink and approached it with self-consciousness. The one time I saw her take pride in her drinking was when I took her to Reno way back in 1982. I was living in San Francisco, and she and my sister had come out to visit me. I remember her stepping off the plane wearing a bright red, long winter coat. She looked like a Virginia redbird. She had not been out of the mountains in 25 years, and it was her first trip to the West Coast.
We were sitting there at the bar at Circus Circus watching a trapeze act high over top of us, way up toward the ceiling. We had already seen the tightrope walkers. The slots were whirring and the players were stirring around us. My mother had acquired an appreciative eye for the dark-haired and olive-skinned gentleman standing behind the bar and pouring our drinks—oh, the fire in a redheaded woman. My daddy had been a dark and handsome man, although short, which I inherited from him. She learned that night that what she had been drinking all of those years was a Double Jack, Straight Up with a Sidecar. Having a name for it made it more respectable. She grinned real big, and after about three more Straight-Ups to go with that one Sidecar, we hit the slots. The waitresses started bringing us our drinks, and Mom--ever the optimist--was slamming coins into the slots and grabbing the bandit's arm before the cylinders had even stopped spinning. Hours later, when we had graduated from quarters to dollars and the drinks were coming for free, she reached deep down into her "bosom money" and leaned over to me.
"David, them quarter machines ain't shit! It's these dollar ones that's what's happening!"
She said that San Francisco was nice, but next time she would just meet me in Reno.
It’s funny how we remember our families. How far back in our minds we can go with each one. I can’t go too far back with my mother. It’s our later years I remember best. Perhaps that is because of our long estrangement. Perhaps because I’ve purposely erased some of the memories. But, when I reach back into those memories, I can see certain moments better than others.
When Momma came out to San Francisco, I had finally arrived at a point where I was ready to forgive her. By that time, I had messed my own life up enough to realize that she hadn’t done such a bad job after all. She had been faced with difficult challenges in an unforgiving time for a young and single expectant mother.
Pop was 70 when all of this took place. He was living on the hillside over on Mallow Road, a steep part of the hill in front of his house, the hillside sloping down and across the railroad tracks and on down to the river behind him. Across the river lay McAllister’s Farm, with its huge field in the distance and its big red barn, its loft filled with pigeons. The Blue Mountains rolling away into the distance. As blue as the sky, as blue as my momma’s eyes. The mountains of the Alleghenies remain in your mind once you’ve seen them. Momma used to say they looked “like the graves of giants.” I see them that way myself now.
I remember going into my mother’s bedroom one night when I was about 8 years old. She had taken a bath and smelled like flowers. She loved to lie in bed and read her books and magazines and Sunday paper. Sometimes I would lie beside her and read too. She was drinking Mogen David red wine that night. She even gave me a little sip. She was reading magazines, I don’t remember the names. Then she started crying, crying over my daddy.
That is the only time I remember ever lying beside her in bed.
I like my whisky too. I take that from my mother. Momma went from sweet red wine to gin to bourbon. From there she graduated to a more refined taste, starting out with Old Crow and moving on to Early Times and finally settling in with Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey. She always drank with two glasses the same size, both tall water tumblers. She filled one about ¾ full with water. Then she’d pour about two fingers of sour mash into the other. Momma did shooters. She downed her bourbon in one swift drink. Then she’d lift her shoulders up to her ears and let them drop as she shook her head. Momma loved her whiskey.
As I said, I inherited a genuine appreciation of good whisky from her. I drink mine neat, with a few drops of water in it to bring out the nose. I sip my whisky slow.
Want to read more of David’s writing at USADEEPSOUTH? Click these links:
Sometimes We Just Have To Let Them Go
55 Minutes Past the Hour
Harlan Martin’s 7 Turkeys
Cherry Blossoms and Our Lives
When Living Gets Hard
How I Learned To Read
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