Iâ€™ve never known my mother to drink a whole lot. A beer here, a margarita there, but as a kid, I canâ€™t recall many instances of her consuming more than one or two beverages in a single sitting. Moreover, it was rare that she ever purchased wine, which would only appear in our refrigerator when my grandmother would come to visit — weâ€™d stock up on white Zinfandel.
So it came as a surprise to me when, one evening when I was in the 9th grade, she had the impulse to browse the wine section at our grocery store. It was a warm fall evening, and my mother and I had been out running errands, with a stop at the market the last of them. We needed something for a quick dinner, as it was already getting late and I still had math homework to attend to.
Weâ€™d made it through the produce section and picked up a bag of grapes, when my mother made her detour. I knew nothing about wine at the time, save the syrupy white Zin Iâ€™d been drinking with my grandmother since an age that would make most parents blush. I stood to one side, patiently for a moment, without interest, then moved closer to see what she was looking at. Sheâ€™d been examining the labels, and all of a sudden, turned to me with an idea.
â€œWhat do you say we just have some good bread and cheese with the fruit for dinner? We could even pick out a wine to try with it.â€
What did I think? WHAT DID I THINK? I think that sounded like the most sophisticated thing that could ever happen to me! Wasnâ€™t eating bread and cheese as a whole meal something that ze French did?
â€œOkay,â€ I replied enthusiastically, â€œBut how will we know which wine to pick?â€
She turned back to the shelves, full of a dizzying array of bottles with colorful labels, most written in what felt like a secret language that neither of us could begin to understand.
â€œMaybe a Merlot?â€ she thought out loud, reaching for a bottle that seemed familiar.
I glanced at the bottle she reached for, and wasnâ€™t impressed. For those with no knowledge of wine, an attractive label, or perhaps the fancifully scrawled name of a French chateau is all we really have to go on.
â€œWhat about these?â€ I said, pointing to a shelf filled with wines produced by Louis Jadot. Something about the plain beige label and simple lettering — as well as the unintelligible French — seemed appealing.
â€œBeaujolais-Villages,â€ she read. â€œThat could work. I think I like Beaujolais.â€
â€œLetâ€™s try that,â€ I said. And we headed to the bakery and cheese counters to gather the rest of the items for our meal.
At home, we set out a wooden cutting board simply displayed with our sundries, along with some small plates and small juice glasses to drink the wine from, osteria style. I had perhaps two glasses with dinner, loving the relaxed style of eating, happy to eat half a loaf of baguette smeared with oozing brie.
Once weâ€™d had our fill, my mother hurried me up to my room to finish my homework. â€œI wouldnâ€™t have let you have so much wine if Iâ€™d known you still had work to do!â€ she said.
â€œIâ€™m fine, Momma,â€ I told her, â€œI have just a little bit of wine left. Can I take it upstairs and sip on it while I do my homework?â€
â€œAlright,â€ she agreed, â€œBut just make sure youâ€™re working.â€
I sat down at my desk and opened up my math book, pulling out sheets of notebook paper on which to work the nightâ€™s problems. My small glass of wine rested by the side of my book, and as I worked through the problems, Iâ€™d periodically take a sip.
Without warning, I felt sleepy. I sighed, and twirled my pencil between my fingers. Working math problems seemed like the least interesting thing I could possibly be devoting my time to. I doodled on the side of the page. I played a game of Solitaire on the computer. I lazily reached for my wine, then, unexpectedly, a splash of the bright red liquid dribbled down my face and all over my math homework.
I guffawed, my hand flying to my mouth in surprise. Crap. What to do?
The problems were already three-quarters of the way done, I was tired, and it was getting late. Recopying them seemed like it would be a lot of work. So I finished the few remaining problems on another sheet of paper, stapled the pages together, then packed them away in my backpack to be turned in the next day.
As I submitted them in class, the distinct odor of Beaujolais wafted up from the pages, a red stain smeared boldly across the work. I was oddly proud that I had done something as grown up as drink wine while going about my math homework, and slightly embarrassed all the same.
Iâ€™ve always wondered what my math teacher mustâ€™ve thought as she corrected my work. I like to think she approved whole-heartedly.
All that the pages said when they were returned to me was â€œâˆš+. Great Job.â€