I’m lucky. My parents stayed together well into my adulthood. But no matter how old you are, when things you see as permanent are suddenly upended, it puts you off balance. You feel it in your gut.
Dazed, I wandered into the kitchen. There were the bottles. At fourteen they had seemed forbidden and magical, tiny hints of the adult world that lay ahead. Now they looked like a frat house recycling bin. They had to go. Now.
The kitchen sink filled with the fluorescent green of the crème de menthe. Adding the bright red of the grenadine made it the scene of a Christmas massacre. Then came the Kahlúa, slopping around like dirty water in a flood. Then I tipped over the bottle of Bailey’s. Nothing came out. Its contents had congealed to a solid mass, the liquid forever now the shape of its container.
Bottle after bottle went into the recycling bag. Then I spotted one I hadn’t seen before.
It looked like some kind of red wine. It was dark and rust-colored, like something from the Titanic wreckage. "VP 6, June 1991,” the label read. Below were the words “White Zinfandel.”
“Hey Dad,” I called out. “What’s the story with this wine?”
My dad shuffled into the room and took a look at the label.
“Huh. They gave me that when I left my old squadron.”
“How come you never drank it?”
“I dunno. I guess I just forgot about it.”
I wouldn’t forget about a bottle of wine for a week, let alone 25 years. How could he forget about this bottle, this gift, this piece of his past? And why was it brown?
I looked at the label again. “Please enjoy within 3 years of bottling date.”
This was not good wine. It was probably never good wine. But for some reason, I didn’t want to let it go. I wanted this one to count.
I looked at my dad. “We’re gonna drink it.”
I poked my head into the dining room where my mom was wrapping china in paper and carefully packing it into boxes.
“Hey mom, want to try some 25-year-old wine?”
“No thanks, I’ve got a Coke. Just found a corkscrew though!”
She fished it from a box and joined me and my dad in the kitchen.
The cork crumbled like a shortbread cookie. With effort I was able to coax most of the cork dust out of the bottle. I grabbed a few plastic cups and poured a small amount of “wine” into each. It was cloudy and brown, like warm iced tea with a musty smell like the cardboard box it lived in for so many years. I handed one glass to my dad and picked up the other.
“Mom, can you take a picture of this?”