My first memories of her are from around age four or five. She was a silver-haired, horn-rimmed glasses wearing, stooped over old lady who always had a smile on her face, especially for children. She couldn’t really get around very well at her age, so we usually came to her. We didn’t mind. We were just happy she wasn’t dead yet.
Her name was Bessie, and she was the crone who started a life-long addiction for quite a few children.
She was also my great-grandmother.
My cousins and I would gather regularly at her small, tidy house when we were visiting Gran and Pappy, who, conveniently enough, lived right next door to Bessie (maybe they were junkies, too). Back then, you didn’t need to knock because… well, mainly because Bessie pretty much wouldn’t have heard you if you did. One of us would be designated to find the old woman while the rest of us gathered around her kitchen table to wait.
There wasn’t much talking while we waited, just a lot of nervous fidgeting, gangling feet kicking chair legs, and loudly exhaled breaths. We all knew why we were there, knew what we craved, so there was really no need for any banal chitchat. It was far more comfortable (and safe) for us to sit in silence rather than discuss the addiction that drove us. All we wanted was our fix. And good, old Bessie never failed to provide.
We’d jump up as she entered the room, each of us trying to be first and favorite of the day. All smiles and giggles, we hid our dependence well. But she knew. Oh, yeah. That old broad was hip to our habit, and encouraged it every chance she got. You could see it in her eyes, the vulture lurking within that sweet, old grandmotherly figure. She’d wait until our eyes were glassy and wild, until our tongues were dry as sandpaper, until sweat poured from our young, nubile bodies. She’d wait until we were ready to drop to the floor and beg. Only then would she parcel out the good stuff. Only then would she feed the fire that burned within her little drones.
Oh, it was a shameful time for us kids, and some of us (me) never received the necessary therapy to lead a normal life. To this day, whenever I come near the stuff, I can feel my mouth water and my mind go blank. It’s a sickness. And my great-grandma Bessie is the needle that infected me with the virus that has no cure.
To this day, I can still see her smiling as we waited. I can see her bring out the goods and evenly pour a portion for all of her diminutive, devoted urchins. I can see our grubby little paws as we greedily reached for our share of the wealth. I can feel my hands closing around a cool, slippery, cylindrical object, and my mouth smacking in anticipation. And I can taste the ice-cold, over-sweet, amber liquid flowing over my ecstatic taste buds and down my parched throat, until it finally came to rest as a freezing knot of sugary goodness in my tummy.
There’s nothing like it in the known universe. A brisk, filled-to-the-brim glass of sweet tea on a hot summer day, or any day for that matter. I’m still hooked. And in addition to discovering that sweet tea is my heroin, I learned something further: old people get a kick out of screwin’ with kids. It’s how they get their rocks off.
Thanks a lot, Bessie. I miss your diabolical old ass.