selective memories

Mr. Boston Bartenders Guide

1974 was a great year for cocktails.

“IS HISTORY IMPORTANT?” My preoccupation with this philosophical question started when a crazy ex-boyfriend hunted me down so we could “reconnect.” After I successfully avoided him for seven years, he cornered me in the periodical section of the public library, and yes, he actually cried. He argued in non-library tones that we should revisit our time together; our relationship the most beautiful year of his life, he said. Clearly, I thought, history is a construct, viewed through the biases of the reminiscer.

I politely declined his reconnection request. I’m not convinced that history is important, and my ex is a strong justification for never looking back. When I’m playing Trivial Pursuit, you won’t find a yellow pie wedge in my game piece. Geek though I am, history was my worst subject in school. In fifth grade, I failed my first test ever in world history. I bombed the American history AP exam in high school. I seem to be incapable of memorizing dates and historical events (though I remember in vivid detail Romeo’s naked buttocks in the 1968 film Romeo and Juliet, which we watched during tenth grade lit class).

My history angst stretches into the arena of cocktails. For the love of Dale*, I can never remember where classic drinks came from, who made them, and why. The elitist worship of old-school cocktails drives me crazy with its snobbery of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” that many bartenders try to impose on today’s drinks. I’m not interested in either shaking raw eggs into cocktails or glorifying the disgusting herbal liqueurs sold during Prohibition in pharmacies as “medicine.” Some cocktails are best forgotten, like my ex-boyfriend.

But family heritage is my notable exception. Be it stories or objects, I saved everything my parents ever gave me, like the pair of red knee socks with white hearts my mom bought for me twenty-five years ago. Though they’ve faded and the elastic is long-gone, causing them to bunch around my ankles and slide into my shoes, I still wear them every February 14th.

When Leah and I opened the Lounge, my parents passed on to us their 1974 Mr. Boston Bartenders Guide (53rd printing).  I flipped through the classics, but what caught my eye were the handwritten recipes penciled inside the back cover. Tequila sunrise. Daiquiri. In my dad’s script, Margaritas: Fill a blender halfway with tequila and the rest of the way with half triple sec and half either limeade or pop. And then there was my mother’s favorite drink, recorded in her slanty handwriting: Apricot Sour.  Reading the recipe, I could taste it in memory, its tart flavor known to me from eating the liquor-soaked maraschino cherry left at the bottom of her glass.

Apricot Sour

1 ½ ounce apricot brandy

1 ounce orange juice

¾ ounce lemon juice

a few drops of maraschino cherry juice

maraschino cherry

Fill a Collins glass with ice. Add brandy and juices. Stir. Garnish with maraschino cherry.

-Amelia Sauter

*Dale DeGroff, a master mixologist credited for the revival of classic cocktails.



angstgiving meal

Teeth not required.

MY MOTHER SAID IT WOULD JUST BE THE FOUR OF US. Usually on Thanksgiving, Leah and I end up at Leah’s parents’ house. Or we end up staying home and Leah makes turkey meatballs and mashes every type of root vegetable she can locate at Wegmans. This year, I wanted to spend Thanksgiving with my parents for the first time in about ten years.

I asked Leah if she was interested in joining me. “Who’s going to be there?” she asked tentatively. Leah did not like holidays, and she did not like people, which meant she only attended events where Vicodin was on the menu. My parents served wine, port and whiskey which she deemed acceptable substitutes.

Creating holiday traditions with Leah is like trying to convince a seven-year-old boy to take a bath. Okay, I have no idea what it is like to convince a kid to bathe. But I do know what it is like to try to talk my girlfriend into doing something festive that she thinks is fundamentally stupid. But with some pushy coaxing, she finally tries whatever activity I want, like carving a pumpkin or decorating a Christmas tree, and in the end she loves it. The next year we start all over again with her grumpy refusal to partake in celebrations without a kick in the ass.

On Thanksgiving day this year, an hour or two into wine-inspired conversation with my parents, the doorbell rang.

“Well, that’s a lot of ice cream for five of us,” my mom said, taking their friend Jim’s grocery bag. On cue, the phone rang. Judy had decided to come early with her husband and two young boys to have dinner at my parents instead of at her in-laws. The turkey was taking too long and the boys were getting hungry. Just the four of us was morphing into just the nine of us. I refilled Leah’s wine glass.

A few minutes later, I was sipping wine in the kitchen with my sister as her kids ran around. “I loved your memoir essays,” she said to me. “Thanks for sending them. I like your creative take on things, especially that rum incident when you were fourteen.”

I asked her what she meant.

“You know, everyone remembers things differently,” she said. “And you were drunk.”

My mom chimed in. “And you get to use creative license and make up stuff, since it’s your memoir.”

I was pleasantly surprised that they supported my “creative take” when it included things they had said and done, but their support also made me uneasy, because, well, I thought the memory was fact when I wrote it. I prodded my sister to share her version of the evening.

Judy recalled that she did not say she was going to tell my parents I was drunk on the night she picked me up at the roller skating rink. She claimed she never told them, that she said to me that night in the car as I threw up into a Styrofoam cup, “I’m not going to tell them, you are.”

I asked my mother how she found out. “Your sister had us paged at the movie theater,” she said. “We came home and she asked us to wait until morning to confront you. She was very protective over you.”

My sister? Protective? “I thought you wanted to see me get in trouble,” I said to Judy. “You were so competitive.”

“I was not competitive,” Judy said.

“Yes, you were,” I said.

“No, YOU were.”

“But you told me how competitive you felt in high school.”

“No, you told me YOU were competitive,” she said. “That’s so funny you remember it that way.”

“You’re kidding, right?” I said. I turned to my mother who was stirring the gravy and asked if she had ungrounded me early because she was worried about my mental health, which was what I had assumed because I was so miserable after I got caught.

She said no, that she and my father did talk to me that night while I was drunk, a conversation I have no recollection of, and in the heat of the moment they grounded me for a month “because that’s the kind of thing you do when you’re mad.” They recognized later that two weeks would be sufficient and reasonable for the offense.

“What about the rum cake?” I asked my mom. Suffering from a tortuous hangover and the dry heaves, I had to serve rum cake at the church rectory the day after my drunken escapade. “Did you call the cook and tell her to make rum cake?”

That, my mother said, was divine intervention.

-Amelia Sauter