I started drinking martinis at age 15.
My parents always had their "cocktail hour" when Dad got home from work, a short time when they relaxed together and reviewed their days over a stiff drink. When we were young children, we were sent to play in our rooms during this adult time but, as we grew older, we were allowed to sit in and, in our mid teens, to join in.
My parents thought it was a good idea for us to try alcoholic drinks at home so we'd know how much we could tolerate when we were out on dates or at parties. They offered us the contents of their liquor cabinet, which is the '60s was extensive, as long as we drank it with them at home. It was a wise move, too, because by the time my friends were getting all excited about high school beer blasts, that seemed like a snore to me. Ho hum, how boring is 3.2 beer when you can have a "belt" at home.
Paradoxically, growing up in the Navy and experiencing a society in which drinking alcohol was the daily norm has made me somewhat leery about it. When my Dad had too much to drink, a rare occurrence, he just got silly and liked tinkly music. My mother was a different story - she was more likely to become argumentative or to berate herself for being a lousy mom. Having witnessed a friend's mother out of control and abusive and noting how nutso people can be at cocktail parties gave me pause. A couple of people close to me became alcoholics. And seeing how insidiously alcohol takes a person over - one day you are in control and the next day, the drink has you by the throat - I have become very cautious over the years. My Dad used to laugh at me when I refused a drink before dinner, urging me with a twinkle, "Honey, you aren't protecting yourself from the forces of evil." I remained adamant.
Still, I do like a drink now and then. I'm not a member of the WCTU and I'm not a teetotaler. I love a tart gin-and-tonic with lots of lime on a hot summer evening, especially when I could have it sitting on the lanai with my parents in Hawaii. When I visit my older brother, he fixes an Old Fashioned worth drinking on a Sunday afternoon. I love a margarita when I'm having Mexican food and I've been known to enjoy a Mai Tai while sitting on the lanai of my younger brother's yacht club. I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner sometimes, usually when we go out to a restaurant where it seems more like a special occasion. We serve wine at home when we have guests or when I have prepared a dinner that just begs for it. Celebrations, in my view, simply aren't celebratory without champagne or prosecco. And I do sometimes like an aperitif.
Having read about Aperol recently somewhere on the interwebs, I decided to try it when we had dinner out with pal Sari the other evening. It came straight up in a wine glass, beautifully reddish-orange and clear. Aperol has less alcoholic content than either Lillet or Dubonnet, my usual aperitifs, somewhat calming my fears.
It was a compete surprise. It tasted like thin, cherry cough syrup going down, with an aftertaste surprisingly bitter, and tingled alarmingly on my tongue for minutes after each sip. If Dubonnet or Lillet shake my taste buds gently by the shoulder and say "Wake up, sweetie, it's time for dinner," Aperol is a little brass band of an aperitif that blows a quick "Reveille! Reveille!" for the appetite and gets it standing at attention. But, as I sipped my way through it, I found that I got used to the medicinal-bitter-tingly procession and, by the bottom of the glass, was actually looking forward to the parade of sensations.
I'm still pretty careful about my alcohol consumption and I suppose I always will be but it's nice to know there's an energizing little wakeup call for the tastebuds out there when I've a notion.