In Memory of My Mother
Back when I was in middle school, a product hit the shelves of our local Toronto groceries and corner shops that caused quite a bit of excitement: dealcoholized wine coolers. These were fizzy drinks that sold in individual cans at fifty-nine cents apiece, with each label making an enthusiastic promise that this product was MADE FROM REAL WINE!
Most important, however, was the fact that through some specialized process or other, almost all of the alcohol had been removed down to less than half a percent per can. This meant that any twelve-year-old who wanted to enjoy the piquant flavors of suspiciously cheap wine could do so legally and with no questions asked. I immediately bought all I could carry.
By nightfall, I was down to my last can, having stacked the empties on the coffee table in a pyramid of alternating red and white flavors. I had been pretending to be drunk for close to five hours, stumbling around the house, bumping into walls, and picking drawn-out fistfights with imaginary drinkers in an imaginary bar (which to memory, looked exactly like the Cantina from Star Wars). When my Mother finally got home from work, I was pretending to barf on the carpet.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Drinking wine coolersh!” I said, making sure to slur my words for the sake of verisimilitude. She picked up an empty can and stared at it.
“This is wine?”
“Yeah it’s shwine. And ish perfekly leegal, so there’sh notta damn thing you kin do about it” For my coup de grace, I guzzled the remainder of my last can and staggered backwards into the couch, shouting: “I’m sho da-runk!”
All my Mother said was: “Huh.”
The next day at school, these coolers were the only subject of conversation. Kids had stuffed their backpacks full of them. We drank them at recess. We drank them at lunch. We dangled the cans in front of our teachers defiantly as we staggered around the yard mimicking the incorrigible drunks we’d seen in movies, on TV, or in our own families.
This was the best thing that had ever happened to any of us.
Around a week later, inexplicably, I became an outcast. Class after class, I received fleeting, hateful looks from my schoolmates, and besides calling me a “dick” or a “gaylord” a handful of times, no one would speak to me.
Then, near the end of the day, our school principal, Mr. Holmeshaw– a friendly, sparky old man who was around the size and shape of a fire hydrant– approached me in the hall.
“Please congratulate your Mother for me”, he said. “What she did took a lot of courage. You must be very proud of her.”
Of course, I had no idea what he was talking about. Not until I saw the papers.
Toronto has three major newspapers: The Globe and Mail (Canada’s globally-respected, intellectual newspaper of record); The Toronto Star (think USA Today with fewer polls and pie charts); and the Toronto Sun– a tabloid rag with a conservative editorial stance, and a daily page-three spread of some or other bikini-clad titty girl feeding the camera an eighteen-year-old’s definition of sultry. It was in this paper that the headline read: “BOOZY COOLER LEFT KID REELING”.
Though not as sensationally, the other papers carried similar stories of a foolish young boy who stumbled around like an inebriate after drinking non-alcoholic wine. Should we be giving our children permission to partake in adult activities? these papers queried. Even an insubstantial amount of alcohol is still alcohol. Who will protect young boys like Josh Flaum, who simply don’t know any better?
Oh, yes, like Josh Flaum.
It seems my Mother had called a town hall meeting (no easy task in a city of five million people), and in front of a throng of legislators, corporate heads and angry parents– and despite an overwhelming fear of public speaking– she asked a lot of hard questions regarding the ethics of liquor distributors who sell wine-flavored drinks to children. Next, she voiced accusations that this was being done intentionally to offer kids early gateways to the real thing. Finally, she told my story, about how I spent my entire allowance in one quick trip to the corner store; about how I stumbled around and slurred my words, yelled at her and collapsed in a giggling heap.
“He may not have been drunk,” she told the crowd, “but he was practicing.”
Within a week, it was no longer legal for anyone under the age of eighteen to purchase wine coolers, dealcoholized or not. Within a month, the coolers were pulled from the shelves permanently. My mother was definitely on to something: it would appear that if you remove pre-pubescent dum-dums from the demographic, the number of people interested in drinking tart, fizzy, shitty wine with no alcohol in it rounds out to about zero.
So, aside from a year of relentless persecution in junior high, that was that.
I tell this story now because I realize I am probably the last person alive who remembers it. It’s been almost three years since my Mother died, and I am only beginning to understand that I will never stop missing her. If you are reading this, please know my greatest hope is that you have someone like her in your life. This is all I want for any of you: someone who cares about you enough to humiliate you; someone who hates the terrible things that you love; and someone who loves you so much, it makes the newspapers.
You were the best, Mom. Happy Birthday.