After the 2nd Glass of Gin, Life Looks Better.

August 19, 2009

See this picture? The boy on the spotted pony is my maternal grandfather, John, when he was six years old. That’s his sister, Fida, on the horse and the two adults are his mother (Florence) and father (Samuel). My mother and I estimate this photo was snapped circa 1916.

If you look closely, you’ll notice the roof that needs mending, the crooked barbed wire, the battered bench. It was a tumultuous, unpredictable life.

The story doesn’t begin that way. His mother, Florence, was college educated (a genuine rarity back then) and taught college-level math. I cannot believe I have a math teacher in my genetic lineage, but it’s true. She was sharp as a tack, had an incendiary French temper and stood under 5 feet tall. She was fiercely independent; she scandalized Philadelphia when she had the audacity to divorce her wastrel first husband. She was quite happy on her own… until she laid eyes on Samuel Ludlam.

You might not be able to tell from the photo, but he was a handsome dude. He knew it, too. Samuel Ludlam, in the Irish way, could charm the fangs off a rattlesnake. He was a cad, a scoundrel, a whole lotta fun. And alas, in the Irish way, a drinker.

My grandmother knew this, and boy, did those two fight–passionately, viciously–but in the end, she never could resist him or turn him away. Like a moth to a flame, she went straight for the heat.

It couldn’t have been easy growing up in that household, covering your ears during the screaming, tiptoeing around broken dishes, retreating to the back of the house when the cap came off the bottle.

But despite my grandfather’s anger at his father’s drinking, his disgust at the recklessness that squandered any money they saved, my grandfather John was a chip off the old Irish block.**

Handsome, charming, changeable, witty, scallywag…drinker. And, like his daddy, he managed to find a woman indefensible against his charms. I mean, just look at her expression there, and that snap was taken after they were married a LONG time.

However, Gramma Henrietta wasn’t a fiery Frenchwoman. My grandparents rarely fought, because my grandmother, in the stoic English fashion, ignored any infractions and bad behavior. “The Ostrich,” we called her, because the minute trouble came calling, Gramma just stuck her head in the sand and pretended she never saw it.

Grandpa John was a charming boozer…until he got enough in him to get ugly. I remember him looking like this: (although that’s my sis in the picture, not me)

My mama, unfortunately, remembers spending most weekend afternoons outside, afraid to come home, not knowing which Daddy she’d arrive home to–the loveable prankster or the seething kettle.

I don’t remember much about Grandpa John. He wasn’t much of a “kid” person–he basically wanted little to do with my sister and me, and we were happy to give him a wide berth. I do remember, however, early in the evening, after the second glass of gin, his edges would soften. Suddenly, I saw a man who would chuckle at my antics and, if I was particularly entertaining, ruffle my hair. I liked early evening, that second glass of gin.

That’s the Grandpa John I choose to remember today. I’ll even throw in some gin, just to get to that place where those blue eyes sparkle and there’s a bawdy joke on the tongue. Slaince!**

**Slaince is Irish for Cheers! Apparently, there was also some English knocking around in the Ludlam genes, but you’d never know it from their behavior.

Gingered Gin and Tonic
from Bon Appetit magazine
serves 4

1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh grated peeled fresh ginger
2 cups tonic water
1 cup gin (please do not use Gilbey’s; grandpa loved it but it sucks)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
24 ice cubes
fresh ginger slices (optional)
lime wedges (optional)

Combine furst 3 ingredients in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 3 minutes. Cool syrup; then strain. (Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover. Chill.)

Mix tonic water, gin, lime juice and 1/2 cup ginger syrup in glass measuring cup. Taste, adding more syrup, if desired (reserve remaining syrup for another use). Divide ice among 4 tall glasses. Pour gin and tonic mixture over. Garnish with fresh ginger slices and lime wedges, if desired.

Sis again…alas, there are no pictures of Grandpa John and me, alone.

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