In Grandma’s apartment above the liquor store, the cut-glass water glasses sparkled entrancingly in the orange glow of the pulsating neon sign.
We four cousins drink Kirsch’s orange soda at the kids’ table down at the end of the living room—a wobbly bridge table, laid tonight like the grown-ups’, with a real cloth of magenta and chartreuse flowers on white, fragrant from the Chinese laundry down the block. We had clamored, as always, for the seat next to Uncle Al, a gap-toothed, balding old guy of 35, always with a day’s growth of beard, a tender touch, and a pocketful of Indian nuts to share. His joyfulness makes a cozy buffer against the loud, humorless chatter of the rest of the adults. From my seat, I see sparkling cut-glass dishes filled with celery, radishes, and olives stuffed with a droopy red worm of pimento. I am entranced by the deep burgundy water glasses, spiritual somehow as they glow in the reflected orange light of the neon “Wines & Liquors” sign pulsating right outside the window at the level of the El, one flight above the store, where my grandparents live.
Many times I had fallen asleep to the rhythm of this visual mantra, smelled the mothballs in the broad-bosomed embrace of my grandmother, breathed in the shmear of chicken fat from her hand as it caressed her special girl’s cheek. I was the oldest of the four grandchildren and had spent a lot of time in The Store.
Nana and Poppy.
I adored my Nana and feared my distant, foreign Poppy for his bristly moustache, his funny way of speaking English, and the cocoon of Pall Mall smoke around him. Like those goblets, the cigarettes came in a burgundy packet with a seal that, as I remember, made me think of royalty.