My grandfather was missing the index finger of his right hand. It was cut clean off. As a child I’d ask him, “Abuelo, how did you lose that finger?”, to which he would reply, “I lost it chopping a coconut with a machete”.
I never believed that story. Something told me he lost his index finger in a fight. Perhaps a bar fight; the kind of fight where people say, “Sure he lost his index finger, but did you see how he left the OTHER guy?!”
Abuelo was my Superman. I spent every other weekend with my grandparents. Abuelo would stand by the door, partially gray haired and larger than life, waiting – Waiting to lift me high in his arms and greet me with kisses, as his dog, Rusty – Part Collie and part Golden Retriever barked and wagged his tail frantically. Rusty was never jealous of me. It was more like, “HEY! Put her down – I wanna say hi too, you know!!”. Then Rusty would stand, place his paws on my shoulders and lick my face endlessly.
I loved hanging with Abuelo. He was a Super on the Upper West Side and on Fridays he’d let me hang out with him. He would take me to the underbelly of his buildings, where we’d take gated elevators still operated by lever.
It was like going back in time, especially when entering basement spaces scattered with antique furniture and coin operated washer driers. These spaces smelled of oil and Downy, and to this day the combination makes me nostalgic. He would hang with his friends there and play dominoes. His friends would make jokes I’d seldom, if ever, understood. Every few minutes it seemed, grandpa would give me hugs as his friends smiled on. At these tables there was always dominoes, laughter, and the omnipresent bottles of Bacardi white and 7Up in white plastic cups; their drink of choice.
On Friday nights I’d pretend to comb his hair after dinner, and lights and TV were turned off my 9:30. I loved it there. I loved my grandparents. I loved the peace in their home, but most of all – I loved the attention.
On Sunday mornings Grandpa would shave, shower, and put on his Leisure suit (suits he still wore as early as the 1970’s and as late as 2010). His friends would then come over, and knock back several Bacardis and 7UPs in white plastic cups. At 11 AM SHARP he was off to see his children and grandchildren from a previous marriage. My position as favorite granddaughter was secure, so it never thought to bother me. Plus I had my grandma. Grandma and I would get ready for services and afterwards she’d take me home.
This went on well into my teens. At some point I got too heavy too lift, Rusty was put to sleep, and I got too old to spend my full weekends there. Everything, however, remained pretty much the same at my grandparents home. The only change may have been when they switched from rotary phones to touch tone in the late 90’s.
My grandfather continued to work well into retirement. He wasn’t one to remain idle and you could never ever tell how old he was. His face and body never belied his age. He was invincible, powerful, he was Superman.
Abuelo died this past Friday. He was 95. This was his second and final battle with stomach cancer. He died shortly following a surgery he was too old and too frail to undergo. As I type those words – Old and Frail – I can’t believe I’m typing them. Can’t believe they apply to him. Grandpa was my Superman. When he saw me, his face would light up. Always. He was the man who would lift me high, so high my head would almost touch the ceiling, but not quite. He was the man who lost his index finger in what I know in my heart, was a fight. He was the man who would flip meat in his homemade barbecue pit with one hand, and knock a drink back with the other.
He was larger, much larger than life.
And this is how I choose to remember him.
I honor his memory with his drink of choice – Bacardi white and lemon lime soda. I close my eyes and think of him. And I see him, holding that white plastic cup in his right hand. The one with the missing index finger.
Rest in peace, Abuelo…
I love you…
A sweet/tart drink, perfect for a hot summer day.
Make the lemon/lime simple syrup:
Add the cup of sugar to a small saucepan. Zest the lemons and limes right over the saucepan. Slice and juice the lemons and limes. You should have about 1 cup of juice. Add this to the saucepan, along with 1 cup of cold water. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to medium low, then simmer until the sugar has completely incorporated and the mixture takes on a syrupy consistency, about 10-15 minutes. Remove the syrup from heat and allow to cool.
Note: This simple syrup is not as sweet as other fruit based syrups. In fact, it's very tart. If you prefer a sweeter syrup, reduce the lemons or add more sugar. Personally, I loved the tartness of this syrup.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups of lemon lime syrup
Make the cocktail:
To a cocktail shaker add the lemon/lime syrup, sugar, rum, and ice. Shake for about 10 seconds and pour into a glass. Top with seltzer and garnish with limes.
Knock it back, call your grandpa. Tell him how much you love him.
Note: If you don't own a cocktail shaker, add lemon/lime syrup, sugar, and rum to a glass. Give it a good stir until incorporated. Add ice, then top with seltzer.
Makes 1 cocktail. Double or triple if you wish.