On New Year’s Eve this year, my wife bought two bottles of Sparkling Grape juice. And as I popped them open at 12:01 am on January 1, I was suddenly reminded of a memory from my childhood.
See, it wasn’t for New Year’s Eve (because when I was a kid, I don’t know if we ever saw the clock hit 11:00pm) but for some other festive reason, mom purchased a bottle of Sparkling Red Grape Juice. (Truth be told, it was probably on sale).
Anyway, at dinner that fateful evening we ended with our little glasses of Grape Juice and then Dad crammed the plug into the bottle and asked me to put it in the fridge.
Everybody remained seated at the table while I took the bottle into the kitchen. However, part way across the room, I looked at the bottle. Through the greenish glass, I saw the small amount of remaining juice sloshing around. And then, after opening the door to the fridge, before I put the bottle in, I shook it. I don’t know why. Maybe because I was a kid and didn’t know any better. Maybe because I wanted to watch it fizz in the bottle. Maybe because I secretly hoped it would do what Champagne always does in the movies: make a loud pop and then fizz and dribble out of the bottle.
I truly don’t remember what exactly I was thinking, but I DO remember watching the stuff in the bottle start to fizz and boil immediately after the shaking. I then remember looking at the little plastic plug dad had crammed into the neck of the bottle. Then–and you’ve got to understand, things were moving quickly from this point on–I remember noticing that the plug was moving—out.
At that point, it was a foot race. I shot across that room like my life depended on it. Because it did.
My little-kid-barefeet slapped the linoleum like a track star’s as I sprang across the room. Wind whipped through my hair and my eyes teared (partly because of the speed at which I ran and partly because I was scared). Using almost superhuman speed–like the Flash–I basically teleported across that room and ended up at the sink because, in my limited understanding of the situation, I believed I could contain the inevitable spill there. Sadly, no.
As I arrived at the sink, that noble, brave cap gave up the fight and exploded from the bottle with the force of a cannonball. It shot past my head, hit the ceiling with a loud thump and then shot off in another direction. I don’t know where it went because, at that point, I had other problems: immediately following the cap event was a volcanic eruption that most likely dwarfed Vesuvius.
It could only be described as an explosion. It was over in less than a second, but it was devastating. I remember standing there and looking at the curtains covered with red grape juice that looked like blood. I looked at the walls and saw them dripping with grape juice that looked like blood. I turned and saw that the floor was covered with red foam that looked like . . . blood. The cupboards were coated. The fridge was still open and was covered with juice—inside and out. And then, I looked still farther and saw my entire family staring at me.
I’ll never forget two things about my family as they sat there. First, I’ll never forget dad’s expression. It was a mixture of absolute shock, supreme sadness, and a strange delight in seeing the sheer awesomeness of the explosion. (Because no matter how old guys get, they still like explosions).
The other thing I’ll never forget is staring at the back of mom’s curly head. She didn’t turn and look at me. She just sat there–looking the other way. Hunched over. Her back was coated in grape juice. Her hair was full of it. But she didn’t turn–not at first. She just sat there. Maybe she was counting–trying to remain calm. Maybe she was recovering from the shock. Maybe she was praying. I don’t know.
All I remember thinking was that at some point, she was going to turn around and then, to paraphrase Ricky Ricardo, I was going to have a lot of ‘splaining to do.
Well, eventually, inevitably, she did turn around. The entire family watched her with bated breath, though nobody moved a muscle. Their wide eyes followed mom as she slowly turned in her chair. Finally, after an eternity, her eyes settled on me. I wiped the grape juice out of my eyes so I could see my executioner. I knew I was toast, but I wanted to go with some dignity.
However, instead of launching into a tirade I would have deserved, my mom laughed. And then, of course, the whole family laughed. Except for me. (Because I figured it was a trick).
Turns out, it wasn’t. Oh, when we got to cleaning it up (and believe me, the “WE” I refer to was largely “ME”) it wasn’t all giggles and fun. But still, mom never laid into me like I expected. It remains one of the most unexpected reactions I’ve ever experienced.
And as we turn over a New Year on the calendar, and I saw those bottles of sparkling grape juice that my wife had purchased, it made me think about that whole event. It’s funny, I don’t remember the cleaning process very clearly. I don’t remember what happened with my clothes, the curtains, how long it all took, and so on. I don’t remember the details of the horror. What I do remember is not getting figuratively killed. Which was awesome. And it made me think about my kids and my wife and the people I encounter on a daily basis. How often do those same people cause way less frustration for me than I caused for mom? And yet, how often do I fail to cut them any slack?
The things people remember will be the times of mercy and kindness, the smile that came when a scowl was expected. Moving into this year, that’s going to be one of my goals. To extend a little grace. Even when my kids are as dumb as I always was . . . .