I stand in the kitchen with my mother and sisters, bare feet sticking to the hardwood floor, pressed against each other at the counter while the sun streams through the window and makes our hands glow. We slice oranges, lemons, and cucumbers, dumping them into tall transparent pitchers. The room is hot, sweltering, in fact, and we edge toward the open window in hope of a breeze. My mother, who grew up twelve miles off the coast of France and so naturally has a strong opposition to air conditioning, thinks about getting a sweater. We, her grown-up children, take ice cubes from the blue trays in the freezer, and slide them down our sticky backs. We hold them to our foreheads when she is not looking, careful not to place those ones in the pitchers.
My mother then opens a bottle called Pimm’s, and English cocktail drink; a pink concoction of gin and herbs. She divides it carefully among the pitchers and mixes it with a different soft drink in each one: lemonade, sprite, ginger ale. The drink is the color of dark tea, made with spices and citrus fruit. She accents the drink with a few sprigs of mint. My sisters and I arrange snacks onto floral trays: strawberries so ripe they can barely contain their juice, dipped in a dark chocolate and cold from the fridge, mixed nuts coated with sea salt, slices of thick French bread and smelly cheeses bought this morning from the market. Carefully, we carry all our preparations outside and across the lawn, where the five o’clock hour casts a golden glow on the table with the umbrella. We summon my father, my brother, and whatever family from England is over at the time. It is Pimm’s O’Clock.
I’ve been having a version of Pimm’s for nearly two decades now. My mother used to tint my sprite with raspberries, so that even at the tender age of four, I felt like one of the adults. Until about five years ago, Pimm’s could only be bought in Europe and at the Heathrow Duty Free, and so most of my early memories involving Pimm’s take place in a villa in the South of France, in the windy Lake District, near the beaches of St. Margaret’s Bay in Dover. In my memory, I am usually on a knee: my grandad’s, my auntie’s, my father’s. I am lulled into a dreamy comfort, seduced into silence by their own soothing chatter until, eyes drooping, I am carried upstairs. Half conscious, my cousins and I put on pajamas and are tucked into our airy, salty sheets with a kiss. The windows are open, and as I drift off to sleep, smells of coffee mingle with the laughter outside. To this day, I cannot smell coffee without thinking, deep in the recesses of my mind, that I am loved.
On the lawn, we raise our drinks to a toast, hands touching and glass clinking, the liquid spilling over and running onto the table. We sit back on cushioned chairs, in that sun’s fading light, stripped down to the bare essentials, soaking up, as you must in Buffalo, every minute of summer’s warmth. Completely unhurried, with no agenda other than to fully enjoy the food and the company, we visit each other in a way that can never be done in rushed conversation. We laugh over family memories and stories I can’t remember the original versions of: the time we went backpacking through the wilderness and it poured all four days, the time my grandad drove the tractor into the fence, the time we drove to Italy by mistake because my mother had the map upside down. We sit outside, until we are swollen from sandwiches, until our glasses are empty, until the fire flies flash around our table like strobe lights.
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