Last summer I discovered an awesome Mint Julep recipe. I bought my bourbon and the ingredients to make the homemade mint syrup. I got fresh mint from a friend’s garden. I carefully made the syrup. Once it was all done and ready to add to the bourbon, I followed the instructions – muddling and squishing mint leaves in my crystal glass. Adding in the crushed ice and syrup and finally the bourbon.
Then I took that first sip – and was transported back in time to my childhood.
When I was a kid in Kansas, probably about 6, maybe 7, years old, my family would take a drive on Sundays. Every Sunday. All the cousins vied for a place in my Uncle John’s convertible. It was red, but I don’t remember the make all these decades later.
We packed into several cars actually. The times I remember, my mom was in the back seat and I was perched up on the backseat top with the cousins who had managed to get into the convertible. Most of the kids did, I think. And top down, of course. This was the elite group and not just because of the convertible. It was because Uncle John would tell stories – spooky stories that sent delighted shivers down our spines and small hands groping for mothers’ hands – just in case.
We drove down old, lonely country roads and Uncle John would laughing let little ones have a sip of his large glass of bourbon and coke. Tiny sips, we promised. His laugh was warm and deep. That glass seemed bottomless in this era of 1959-1960. This was a time before open containers and such. A time when family grew together and three generations enjoyed a simple drive through the country.
Uncle John was a consummate storyteller. Our favorite was “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. Never mind that the original story took place in New York. His version took place right there in Kansas. In fact, it was right there! On that very road we traveled! Narrow, two lane roads through heavy woods on either side. Trees leaning in and blanking out starry skies. Fireflies glimpsed, then gone in a flash. Warm summer nights, with a beautiful mother’s arm pressed firmly against a child’s leg. We could almost hear the hoof beats of a horse, didn’t we? Just under the soft roar of the car?
I remember those nights in the taste of smoky bourbon. Those stolen sips of bourbon and coke. More bourbon than coke, most likely. I don’t know what prompted me to make Mint Juleps last summer. But I’m glad I did. I found a time machine that took me back to a time when my mother was alive and young. A time when a story was more impressive than any blockbuster movie could hope to be. A time when family was all. And stories were everything.
The nights are warm, now. And I’ve got my time machine all fired up. Ready to take me back to the warm, starry nights of another century, another life and another place.