Where I write

Where I write

September 3, 2013

The Old Man and the Daiquiri

That year after my mother died, my father made it a habit to take my younger brother and myself to a Chinese restaurant every Saturday night. The restaurant was in a nearby town near my childhood home in Illinois, though I can't recall where.

We were a sad little threesome, steeped in grief and unable to express to one another all the pain and sorrow we felt. We hadn't been able to talk about my mother's cancer, and we didn't have the emotional tools to discuss her death, either. The drive to the resturant on a two lane forested and winding road felt much too long, too dark, and I don't know if there was conversation. I imagine we just drove, looking forward to the busy resturant.

The Saturday night Chinese dinner was a time to forget for awhile the sadness at our house. We ate fragrant rice dotted with crunchy vegetables, noodles in rich sauces, strong tea. Together we sat in the darkened restaurant with the thick carpet and tacky decorations surrounded by people who laughed and talked and were "normal" unlike the three of us who were shell-shocked by illness, loss and sorrow. The staff at the restaurant knew us, and always seemed pleased to have us there. I don't remember details, just the feeling of being wanted. The restaurant was an oasis, a place to act as if we were a family, even if there was an empty seat at the table, and a gaping hole in our hearts.

After the dinner, I would go out partying with my friends. There were many times my father and brother dined alone.  I was too busy with my life to be bothered with making a commitment to the dinner. If it suited my mood I'd go, if something better came up, I would brush them off. My brother always went with my dad.  I was young and didn't realize at the time that one day I would wish I would have gone to every Saturday night Chinese dinner, but we all have those kind of regrets, of wishing we knew then what we know now.

 When I did make time, I went not because I wanted to spend time with my father and brother, but because it was a free meal  and my father let me order a cocktail.

I always ordered a daiquiri. Frozen. I would sit in the darkened restaurant, exotic and delicious scents swirling around me, listening to the happy chatter of the people at the nearby tables, sipping the cold and tart daiquiri, and for awhile I could forget being sad, and believe that somehow life would go on without my mother. Why I ordered a daiquiri I don't know, but I recently learned I was in good company with my liking of daiquiris.

Ernest Hemingway had a fondness for daiquiris. Here he is sipping a cool one. There is a story that he was walking down a Havana street and needed to go to the bathroom. He stopped at a bar called the Floridita.

He told the bartender to make him a daiquiri but hold the sugar and double the rum. Sounds like Hemingway, doesn't it? He liked his liquor. Anyway,  they have memorialized him at this same Cuban restaurant.

There's a bronze statute of him at the end of the bar at the Floridita which makes me think it would be worth a trip to Cuba just to have my photo taken beside Ernest who liked to write and to drink. I can relate.

 Memories can haunt us, but without them who would we be? Hemingway died in a sad way, but that's just one memory of him. From this photo below he looks like he had a lot of good times hanging out at the Floridita drinking with his buddies at the bar. (That's Spencer Tracy to his left. His wife on the right.)  I wonder what stories they were all telling each other.

We all have stories. Some sad. Some happy. I couldn't find that Chinese restaurant my father took us if you asked me. Perhaps it still exists, or maybe it has closed, but it will always have a place in my heart. For sure, there is no bronze statute of the three of us, but I have my memories put into words which honor my life.

 Life is like a puzzle and we all have both the dark and light pieces that make the picture complete.


Anonymous said...

This is a really beautiful post. You may not have made it every Saturday night, but you did make it to more than a few. Those memories will sustain you for a lifetime and those you love will remember, too. Your Saturday nights are what Friday nights are to me and my family. Each one is precious.

tracy mears said...

Wow Susanne, this is my favorite post of all time...ever...of anybody's. Brave writing girl. And really well done with the flow and the amazing choice of photos. At first I as I read and scrolled thought your Dad looked a lot like Hemingway....keep reading Tracy, I am such an idiot!!