I remember getting new flowery dresses and wearing them to church on Easter Sunday. I remember attending the local ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker every winter. We’d pile into their Cadillac, they’d play 1940s hits on cassette, and my grandpa would sing along as he drove, while my grandma let me sneak sprays of her Norell perfume and swipes of pale pink Estée Lauder lipstick from her purse. I loved all this, loved everything my mom had hated growing up. The whole family used to take one look at me and say, “I guess it skipped a generation.”
I’m no longer so keen on church or “proper” ladylike behavior. I tend to avoid makeup that comes in subtle shades, or that can’t be picked up at the drugstore. I do wish we still had that old black 1986 Cadillac in the family, but there’s one legacy from my grandparents that I’ve been able to hold onto with no trouble: my absolute adoration for dirty martinis.
My grandma rarely drank outside of fine restaurants, hotel bars, and functions that I probably shouldn’t have accompanied her to, given my age. But one way or another, I always ended up sitting beside her, swinging my short legs, while she ordered a martini. Dry, extra olives, always made with gin. When the drink arrived, she’d discreetly pluck out the plastic sword (why it was always a plastic sword, I don’t know) and hand me the olives, one by one.
So, that’s how I developed a taste for gin around age four. Later on, my first real experience with alcohol was a bottle of gin I “borrowed” from my grandma’s pantry. I mixed a little into a glass of cranberry juice and was so underwhelmed by the experience that I didn’t drink again for years, until I started dating an occasional drinker.
I began ordering martinis in restaurants for the nostalgia factor. I started with sweet, fruity ones, thinking they’d be better for a new drinker, but I couldn’t see the appeal. I tried saying “just a plain martini, please” and kept ending up with vodka and lemon. At last, I literally had to Google “martini with olives and gin” to figure out how to phrase my request, and even then, I ran into stumbling blocks.
Waiter: Would you like that on the rocks, or up?
Me: Up? What is up? *looks at the ceiling*
After drinking so many martinis that weren’t quite what I’d wanted, I was afraid that the real thing would be underwhelming, or even worse, undrinkable. As it turns out, while I may no longer agree with my grandparents’ standards of quality in other areas, I believe wholeheartedly that very good liquor makes for a very good drink.
I may not have grown up to be what my grandparents desired or expected, but I still toast them when I have my favorite drink. There’s nothing wrong with sometimes just being what I imagine my grandma envisioned: someone who dances slow, lets her partner lead, allows her long, painted nails tap out the beat of the music against the curve of her martini glass.
(I doubt my grandma quite pictured the rainbow glitter on my nails, or the transmasculine partner in whose arms my nonbinary self rests, but I’ll be a proper lady in my own way, thank you much.)