I was a nostalgic little bastard, long before I was old enough to actually be nostalgic about anything. For example: evenings when there was nothing of interest on television—no Dukes, no Incredible Hulk—I would study my parents’ wedding album.
They were married in 1967, in a chapel the size of a boxcar. How young they were in the photos! Were those people in the photos the same sour pair I saw in the kitchen in the mornings, wearing bathrobes and bickering over coffee? They were. In the photos, they looked optimistic and hopeful; they looked simple, beautiful, unburdened; they looked like movie stars. They looked like two people in love—in love with each other, in love with that particular moment. They looked like people with great futures in front of them.
The wedding photos featured an absurdly oversized bottle of liquor. The bottle was at least two and a half feet tall. It was a novelty item, a symbol that said, Today is a day to indulge ourselves. Even as a kid I understood the role of the bottle. It sat at the front of the banquet hall, on the head table, as if it were a guest of honour.
The gargantuan bottle of Seagram’s 7—it was the size of a fire extinguisher—looked like an artifact from a fairy tale.
My mother and father had traveled from that glamorous day in 1967, all the way to this moment, to this trailer (yes, we lived in a trailer). And they’d brought the bottle of Seagram’s 7 with them. The bottle, now empty, sat in the corner of the living room. I dusted the bottle on Saturday mornings, which was cleaning day. While dusting, I pulled the cap from the top of the bottle and gave it a good sniff. I could smell 1967 on the underside of the cap. It was a sweet, forbidden, adult smell. It was a smell from a time before I was born.
My family got into the habit of depositing stray pennies in the bottle. Every night my father would come home and empty his pockets. He’d scatter his change across the coffee table. My mother would pick through the change, separating the pennies. Then she’d drop the pennies into the bottle one by one: plink, plink, plink. Down they fell through the neck of the bottle, coming to a rest on the bed of pennies below.
The bottle filled over the years. What were we going to do with all that money? I asked. (It seemed like a lot of money in 1978.) Once it was full, I was told, we’d take a grand trip together, maybe to Disney World. “We’ll really treat ourselves!” they promised. “We’ll go someplace magical! Because saving money,” they said, “is important. You have to save. You have to have goals. Otherwise, you’ll never get anywhere in life.”
I left for college when I was 18. I completely forgot about the bottle. I was struggling in the classroom, in part because I’d fallen hopelessly in love with a girl who wasn’t interested in me.
My father lost his job. I came home over the holidays and found him alone in the house. He sat on the floor in front of the TV watching gameshows. He wore Bermuda shorts, even though it was December. He had streaks of grey on the sides of his head which I didn’t remember him having before. Without ceremony, he had upended the Seagram’s 7 bottle. He spilled pennies across the braided living room rug.
Over the course of my father’s unemployment—eight weeks—he painstakingly rolled the pennies each day into thick paper tubes that he’d gotten from the bank.
A few weeks later, I called home from college one Sunday afternoon. My mother reported that the final total was $58.