My grandfather had a saying: “Well, the sun’s past the yardarm.” He was a World War II Navy man, and what he meant was that it was cocktail time, measured
My grandfather had a saying: “Well, the sun’s past the yardarm.” He was a World War II Navy man, and what he meant was that it was cocktail time, measured via the sun dropping past some conjured on-deck mark. These days, in our house, it’s “coptail” time, a jewel from the mouth of one of our babes. Coptails at my grandparents’ house meant a gathering at the bar, a perfect 1980s time machine made of glass shelves and mirrored walls, custom-built into a closet in their den.
Our bar’s a little more casual, part of the kitchen cabinetry, two sets of windowpaned cabinets above and two sets of drawers and doors below. But I’d be lying if I said that fixing a drink there doesn’t bring back memories of my grandparents’ house, of their ice machine that made indented “belly-button” ice cubes, of their counter-height fridge that held, for the kids, Cokes and ginger ales in squat glass bottles. Especially at a certain age (say, 12), we felt, at that bar, getting our second sodas, like kids and grown-ups at the same time.
He had a friendly rule: He’d fix your first drink, but you were free to roam thereafter. Our rule is even looser, built on that same ours-is-yours ethos. Coptail hour is a free-for-all that leaves guests sorting through our intentionally mismatched glassware: This glass is from my brother’s rehearsal dinner; that one, my father brought home from Scotland. The kids make O.J. fizzes from juice and “busy water,” another gem we’ll never part with, a mishearing of “fizzy.” Coptail time is when we put on some music, maybe lay out fruit and cheese. Coptails means that it’s time to light the grill. Sometimes we haul out the ice bucket; sometimes there’s water for single malt in a cut-crystal pitcher, a gift from a long-ago friend.
But you can be teetotaling and have this bar, or something like it, in your Carolina home. It’s not just barware that resides here. There’s also, in a julep cup, the minor league foul ball that nearly beaned my older son, then an infant, on his first true foray into the world. Up on the top shelf: Ziploc bags containing the curls from each kid’s first haircut. Hospital bracelets from each birth. Surfboard wax behind the brandy snifters we never use. In the drawers: passports and state park maps. In the cabinets below: beach lists going back 10 years; an American flag, folded correctly; the first dog’s — Old Dog’s — collar and tags.
It’s a shrine, is what it is. Shells and stones from trips we’ve taken sit on an old wooden silverware case that we use for bills and change and keys and watch batteries. If it’s important, it goes in the bar. If it’s missing, it’s probably in the bar. Just last week, while looking for the title to the van, I found a stuffed rabbit that the kids’ preschool teacher made for one of them. Our bar is where we deposit our necessary things, where we keep them, the items to which meaning has attached so irretrievably. It’s a kind of catalog of what we’ve done, where we’ve been. It’s a place — every house has one — where we can go to remind ourselves, piece by piece, of who we are.