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I’ve never known my mother to drink a whole lot. A beer here, a margarita there, but as a kid, I can’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 — we’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.

We’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 I’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. She’d been examining the labels, and all of a sudden, turned to me with an idea.

“What 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! Wasn’t eating bread and cheese as a whole meal something that ze French did?

“Okay,†I replied enthusiastically, “But 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.

“Maybe a Merlot?†she thought out loud, reaching for a bottle that seemed familiar.

I glanced at the bottle she reached for, and wasn’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.

“What about these?†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.

“Beaujolais-Villages,†she read. “That could work. I think I like Beaujolais.â€

“Let’s try that,†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 we’d had our fill, my mother hurried me up to my room to finish my homework. “I wouldn’t have let you have so much wine if I’d known you still had work to do!†she said.

“I’m fine, Momma,†I told her, “I have just a little bit of wine left. Can I take it upstairs and sip on it while I do my homework?â€

“Alright,†she agreed, “But just make sure you’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 night’s problems. My small glass of wine rested by the side of my book, and as I worked through the problems, I’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.

I’ve always wondered what my math teacher must’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 “√+. Great Job.â€

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