One particular year, the temperatures dipped below 50 and our breaths blew white puffs in the glow of streetlights and blinking green and gold bulbs. We had made up books with the words to carols we could sing in harmony, and we strolled along the quiet neighborhood, blasting out our Christmas cheer, ignored by all humanity. Our heads were covered with the usual assortment of Santa hats, reindeer hats, moose hats and polar bear hats and my mother’s hand-knit mittens covered our hands, but the cold seeped through our jackets and reddened our noses. We began to wonder if it was all worth it.
“Where did you get that?” I asked, my mouth dropping as wide as my frozen jaw allowed.
“It was a gift,” she smirked. “I think this is just the time to open it.” And she did, right there in the middle of the sidewalk, with red, green, yellow, and blue Christmas house lights reflecting on the brown glass. She tipped her head back and took a swallow, like a hoodlum from West Side Story. My mother! She plucked a white, embroidered hanky from her sleeve and wiped the rim, holding up the bottle. “Who’s next?”
I was probably twenty-one, and possibly still in college, and contrary to the stereotype college student, I rarely drank, and only if there was a designated driver.
But we were walking.
My hand extended toward the bottle. “Lemme have a swig,” I said, in my best gangster drawl. Surprisingly, apricot brandy was yummy out of the bottle. The hanky wiped away any deadly germs and I passed the bottle to the next person. It was like being part of the cast of “A Pocket Full of Miracles.” We sang, we sipped, we strolled, we snickered and we sang some more. What is more, we no longer cared when someone drew their drapes and doused the lights. We harmonized, giggled, crooned and guzzled, until we’d circled the block.
As I shivered outside today, listening to the lecture, and noticed the other people huddled in jackets and coats, teeth chattering and feet stamping to keep the blood circulating, I thought about that apricot brandy. It was not the place to sing Christmas carols, or tipple a toddy, but I smiled when I thought of that evening of Christmas caroling with my family and friends, and I felt the warm flush of memories.