(I am reprising this post in the spirit of remembering Gertrude Pomerantz at her optimal level of Gertrudeness. I have heard this is some people’s favorite post.)
Thinking back on my English pub experiences reminded me of a drinking story dating from the same era that involved my mother. I had not known my mother to be much of a drinker. In fact, I had never witnessed her drinking anything.
Then, one day, it all changed.
While living in London, I came home for a visit, landing in New York City on my way back to Toronto. My mother met me in New York, and immediately took me to buy clothes she could stomach seeing me wear. When the wardrobe shopping was over, we went out to a restaurant for lunch.
I’m twenty-two years old. I have reached the legal drinking age, plus I had partaken of “bitter” (room temperature English beer) every night at The Horse And Groom for months. My mother, however, has never seen me drink.
We order lunch. Along with my lunch, I bon vivantishly request a frosty glass of American beer. The waiter returns with an ice-cold lager in a tall, tapering glass, setting it down directly in front of me. Excited by the prospect of a beer that is actually cold, I pick up the glass, and I draw it to my lips.
I am hardly oblivious to the moment, or, more appropriately, “The Moment.” For the very first time, ever, Earl Raymond Pomerantz will be imbibing an alcoholic beverage in front of his mother.
As I’m about to enjoy my first sip, my mother, who since I’d ordered the drink had said nothing, suddenly breaks her silence.
“You know,” she says, with a studied nonchalance, “I haven’t tasted beer in maybe twenty-five years. Let me have a little sip.”
I hesitate, confused. My mother, whom I have never once seen drinking beer, suddenly wants a taste of my beer. Then I think, maybe this is her idea of how this “moment” is supposed to play out.
Rite of passage. Mother and sonny-boy. Sharing a beer.
Okay, then. “Milestone Moment.” Here we go.
I pass the beer to my mother. She takes the glass, raises it to her lips, and she starts to drink.
I’m looking at her. Watching this thing happen. My eyes are getting bigger. As I sit there, witnessing my Jewish mother, downing the beer in one long uninterrupted chug.
She drains my glass of its very last drop.
She then places the now totally empty glass back in front of me, punctuating her actions with a nod, and a single reverberating word:
Only later did I realize the meaning of the event that had just occurred.
Gertrude Pomerantz had fulfilled her maternal obligation.
She has swallowed the poison for her son.