93: Porch Swing Cocktails

93: Porch Swing Cocktails

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grand and Great

Porch Swing Cocktails

We can do no great things,
only small things with great love.

~Mother Teresa

This is not one of those “when Grandma was alive she used to...” stories you often read. No, my grandmother is alive and well and kicking at eighty-four and so, I guess you could call this one of those “let’s see if my memory is as good as hers” stories:

When I was growing up, my parents went out on Saturday nights and my grandmother babysat for me. For their big night out, Dad always wore a shirt with a very 1960s ruffled collar and puffy sleeves and had neatly trimmed sideburns. Mom dressed in a miniskirt and shiny white go-go boots. It was the only night my parents were free to go out and have some fun for themselves, but I knew I had just as much fun as they did.

My grandmother went all out for my weekly visits. Shortly after Mom and Dad dropped me off, dinner would be served. I loved her carrots. Sliced thick and never mushy, they swam in a sea of butter and melted in my mouth like candy. “Orange wheels,” I called them, which always made her laugh.

Grandma’s other specialty was a steaming platter heaped with succulent chicken and rice. Being a five-year-old boy, I was too young to know that this was the only meal of the week Grandma actually cooked anymore. With her arthritis, it was hard just to open the can of Campbell’s mushroom soup, which she stirred in the rice to give it that special “oomph.” And skinning and deboning the chicken breasts (they were cheaper that way) was a nearly Herculean effort for the little old lady who spent the rest of the week zapping Lean Cuisine dinners and sipping tea with blueberry muffins for dessert.

Grandma had a special set of dishes she’d purchased, one dish a week, at the local grocery store. They were white and covered with blue windmills and little wooden shoes. Grandma told me that she had bought them just for our special dinners, and that I was the only person she ever used them for. This always made me feel ten feet tall. (It was years later before she finally confessed that the real reason she only used them with me was that she’d skipped a few weeks down at the grocery store, and the set was incomplete.)

Dinner was usually over by the time The Lawrence Welk Show came on, and even though it was her favorite show, Grandma said she preferred spending time with her “little man.” So we’d retire to the wooden porch swing.

Grandma’s husband, my grandfather, had died years earlier. The two of them had spent countless hours in this very porch swing, rocking back and forth and admiring the Florida sunset while the neighbor children played, dogs barked and flowers bloomed. Now it was my turn to sit next to Grandma and help her while away her lonely Saturday evenings. It never felt creepy, taking my grandfather’s place in that creaky, old porch swing. To me, it just felt right.

While champagne music bubbled through the screen door from the TV, Grandma and I would sit and swing, swing and sit. Sometimes I’d draw, and she would sew. Other times, we’d just talk about the neighbors or what each of us had done that day. She’d share stories about growing up in the Great Depression until the closing strains of champagne music were corked for yet another week. Then it was time for dessert, which, in the best of all grandmotherly traditions, was something Mom would never give me at home: a bottle of Coca-Cola, the short kind that fit perfectly into a young boy’s hand, and a can of fancy mixed nuts. Grandma showed me how to drop the salty Spanish peanuts inside the bottle and watch the soda foam, then take a sip, chomping the slimy nuts and tasting the salty sweetness of the fizzy soda.

Grandma called this concoction our “porch swing cocktails,” and not only were they delicious, but they made me feel grown up. Imagine a five-year-old drinking a cocktail!

When the Cokes were gone, we’d chomp on cashews and almonds and listen to dogs bark in the distance. Grandma would light a citronella candle to ward off the mosquitoes, so big and plentiful that she called them “Florida’s State Bird”!

As the night got darker, the tempo of our rocking would gradually slow down, until our feet just dangled in the warm air. We hardly moved at all, simply enjoying the smooth ocean breeze from the beach flowing over us. Living half a block from the Atlantic Ocean, there wasn’t a night of her life that Grandma didn’t enjoy falling asleep to the sound of ocean breakers crashing against the sandy beach. She said she wouldn’t trade that sound for anything in the world....

So you see, this is not a “boy, I miss my grandmother” story. It’s a story about good times past, but still possible today. I think I’ll call Grandma and tell her it’s time for some porch swing cocktails. And even though I’m old enough now to enjoy an alcoholic drink, I’ll go buy some Cokes and nuts — and get ready for my favorite Saturday night date.

~Rusty Fischer
Chicken Soup for Every Mom’s Soul

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