He was a big man my grandfather, and although he wasn’t fat, his presence occupied an entire room. He was tall and full of bones, and his shocking white hair grew straight up from the top of his head. The electric white of his hair matched that of his teeth, and he had the look of a man in a constant state of disbelief. When people met him, they had the feeling that he was pleasantly surprised to see them, and he usually was. He liked people generally, especially when he could bring out the bottle of Powers Whiskey to share with them.
There would be a knock on the door and the hushed voice of my grandmother wondering who it could be, and who could be out on such a stormy night. A little irritation would be in her voice as she knew well visitors would mean an excuse to bring out the bottle and a long night would be in store. I remember many such nights as these, even at a young age I fathomed these nights of laughter that were suffused with tension. I would sit in a corner as quiet as possible as not to be sent to bed, listening and watching. This night was like all the others.
The table was pulled out from the wall, and my grandmother, who was a warm-hearted and buxom woman clinked the glasses on the table in resigned generosity. Meanwhile my grandfather got the Powers from the dresser, his lean and prominent shoulders lowered an inch or two in relief, as the dismay of a night without a drink was no longer a threat. The blaring fire seemed to crackle in laughter as the whiskey was presented. The flames reflected on the golden bottle filled the room with a new magic and the old furniture took on a softer, more elegant hue.
This evening started as all such evenings did, with civility and ritual, but was soon to change to heated arguments and a falling out. To begin the bottle cap was opened in slow anticipation and a capful of the golden liquid was thrown onto the fire, as the men watched the flames hiss and nodded solemnly. This tradition of sharing your luck with the other world is long gone now, just as the language that was spoken on such nights has lost its energy and meaning.
This night as always, he sat in his usual armchair, rubbing one of its worn arms tenderly, almost lovingly, with the strong large hand that was not holding his glass. The mood changed from excited chatter to quiet reflection and then to disgruntled mutterings. My grandmother, with the perception only a long loving wife would know, hushed me over to kiss him goodnight before he grew too cantankerous. He pulled me up on his knees without an effort; he tickled me playfully and kissed me roughly on the check. And it is that, the bitter sweet smell of whiskey on his breath that stays with me forever, that same smell that lingers in my own mouth this morning. And that comforting, yet very unsettling memory of my Grandfather drinking hovers above my head like a regret.