I don’t usually read much about the Victorians, but when I do, it almost always ends with “OMG, how are the Brits still living?” Between the lead paint, leaching, opium dens and a whole host of other awkwardly dangerous things, it’s kind of surprising there’s anyone left at all. They even used uranium in their glass kitchenware, and though the internet assures me it’s entirely safe, it’s still not a substance I’d readily want around my orange juice. Maybe I’m just boring, but having a glowing juicer isn’t high on my priority list.
It kind of makes me wonder how many Victorians juiced their own juice anyway. If I could afford that sort of fancy, I’d likely also have had someone to squeeze my oranges. And then what would I do? Send someone down to the kitchen to bring back the juicer so I could show my friends, and say things like “Honest to God, it does grapefruits as well.” Maybe. If there was a den nearby I’d happened to frequent, or if I was just more amicably sociable.
Sometimes I wonder what seemingly innocuous substances of today are going to turn out to be awkwardly lethal or dangerous. If I were a betting person I’d maybe guess coffee, chocolate or perhaps caffeine in general, because admittedly that would be pretty awkward, given their popularity. I’ve always been a huge fan of chocolate, but I do feel grumpier about the world’s imperfections after I’ve had it. It could just be my personality, though I don’t think I’ve ever known a contented person who is also caffeinated. Then again, I don’t know many happy people so it could also just be a coincidence. I speak mostly of chocolate because I was never much into coffee.
There was a time when I would’ve given anything to be able to drink coffee. When I was young it seemed like coffee drinking was the quintessential step into womanhood. Mother, grandmother, aunties, Nana, all would have very grown-up conversations together over cups of delicious-smelling coffee, while I was forced to be content with juice or worse…white milk.
The only place I would have considered voluntarily accepting milk was at Nana’s house, because the only other option available to me was an overly-bright, liquefied sweet-tart-substance that was “the juice for children” there. Then and only then did milk seem like it might be a viable option, though it was never chosen. Somehow I always convinced myself that maybe this day, with this color, the juice might be appealing. It never was.
Beverage options didn’t usually fare much better at home either, where at meal times white milk was mostly non-negotiable. I managed an allergy for a few years, but that just saw the usual milk replaced with soy milk, along with less cheese and ice cream, so it wasn’t really a victory.
At Grandpa’s house, though, things got infinitely better. There, the milk was a tasty, neon-pink strawberry and served with a crazy straw, or sometimes there was no milk at all but rather a “black cow” or a root beer float. My grandfather was really proud of his float-making skills, and would explain the instructions every time he made them: Small amount of pop first, then French vanilla ice cream (be sure to check for specks), finished off with more pop on top and a really long spoon. It was the pinnacle of childhood drinks.
Looking back, it’s funny to think he came out as the most exciting of the parents in this regard. I’m pretty sure he was the main architect of the “children must drink milk” policy. I don’t consider myself any worse for it, so it’s not something I can really be indignant about. Its implementation did, however, make for this fancy plot concerning the age of the offering person relative to the overall beverage quality, which, while time’s held constant, more or less looks like this:
The graph might be slightly unfair as things weren’t always as bad as I make them, and there were exceptions to the dominating dairy (during holidays, at restaurants, or when served pizza or grilled food). Like most graphs, it’s more about the overall trends than the individual circumstances.
There was a point when the graph could have shifted from a bell to more of a plateau. At Nana’s funeral, when I was twelve, my mom let me have my first cup of coffee in remembrance. The aunties made a big deal of it; I felt super grown-up and important, but the taste was awful. I could have maybe thought deeply here about expectation and actuality, or one’s perspective and desire, but I didn’t. I just remember thinking, “If this stuff is addictive and too bad to be served to children, there’s really no point in forcing myself to like something that’s not good for me, just so I can feel grown-up.”
And that was more or less the last cup of coffee I’ve had, with a few exceptions. I was soon old enough to choose my own dinner beverage and ended up swapping milk for cranberry juice. When later I’d meet Mr. Omar who’s a compulsive tea drinker, I’d consider tea, eventually deciding on the naturally caffeine-free rooibos as my adult drink of choice. When I’m out I keep it somber, but at home it gets topped with homemade whipped cream, and I have to say, I’m happy I didn’t settle. This is perhaps too demanding an interpretation for a warm beverage, but it is very much me. It says where I’ve been and who I’ve loved, with a bit of Nana’s brightness and more than a little of Grandpa’s flair. And maybe also just a tad bit of fancy.