Three or four times a year, my mom and I would pack up and go visit my grandmother in Arkansas.
It was a stomach-churning drive full of curves, hills, back roads and my mother’s determination to “make good time.” Starting at some obscene hour of the morning, the goal was to drive 3½ hours and arrive in time to drink coffee, have lunch and visit before driving back the same day.
I don’t recall why the punishment of driving back the same day was inflicted on us, but, at the very least, it built character. Because between the early hour, my mom’s cannonball-driving style, the high center-of-gravity small SUV and the greasy road food, I was invariably green around the gills when I arrived.
It should be noted here that my grandmother wasn’t the warm and fuzzy pie-baking variety. She was Irish and a Navy veteran who married a German who was a Navy veteran and, because of various illnesses and circumstances, basically singlehandedly raised five garrulous kids on the outskirts of Los Angeles before moving to Arkansas to retire.
She swore like she was still in the Navy and drove like she still lived in L.A. She cooked by phoning in pizza and gave me books, National Geographics and a love for the written word that conquered my parents’ dreams that I would be a doctor or a nuclear physicist or something more lucrative than anything associated with writing.
Her preferred medication for any condition short of a compound fracture was a hot toddy. Which brings me back to being green around the gills.
We would arrive, exchange pleasantries and then someone would say, “Beth doesn’t look so good.”
If I couldn’t be revived by coffee or an ice cream, the hot toddy came out. Thinking back, it’s a wonder the cup didn’t burst into flame the second heat was applied.
I was wrapped in a blanket, given my stack of books and National Geographics and my toddy, and let be in her big, quiet living room with skylights, a bright and airy contrast to our own small, busy house.
Three-quarters of the way through my toddy and halfway through my first magazine, I started drifting off, the murmur of my mom, grandmother and aunt raking everyone over the coals in the background and watching clouds drift by through the ceiling. I would wake up a few hours later, with everyone having been thoroughly discussed, feeling all brand new.
As I got older, the hot toddy was phased out for the coffee spiked with Bailey’s, unless I really was sick before exposure to the stomach-bending ride. I can’t quite re-create my grandmother’s toddy, but to this day, the slightest taste of Bailey’s brings back the memory of her voice, a slight Irish lilt with a lot of California and Navy, and the calm of her quiet, bright living room.