In kinder, gentler times, there was a man who came around on his truck to deliver what I liked to call the two Sisters of Soda: Mio and Brio. Mio was clear and fizzy and I loved her. I didn’t really know Brio. I was taught that after you suck on the siphon tube to get a good gulp of red wine flowing into an empty rye bottle, that Mio may be added to the top third of a glass. She turns wine into the consistency of magic where sips give way to quench. The lessons of the cantina are magnificent. I saw it done countless times and when I tried it myself, I became enchanted and, when I became enchanted, my eyes opened to a different reality and I saw things I never saw before.
The truck the old Mio man drove through the neighbourhood was pure fantasy. It was a hybrid machine, somehow ancient and rare to see on the roads. It was not a van. It was not an English cola truck, modern and functionally designed for an economy of scale. It vaguely resembled, somehow, the horse and cart of my childhood. The horse delivered milk door to door in metal carriers that jingled ‘good morning’ when they were delivered. Each day, like clockwork, the horse would have a bowel movement on the road, just outside our porch. This drove my father crazy for some reason. Through a trick of light, the Mio truck transformed into a jerry-built magical wagon, identified immediately by its distinctive squeak of brakes and the tinkling jilt of glass shivering.
The Mio man was thin to the point of gauntness, what they call sinewy: the kind of fellow who looked old and young at the same time. Old by the wrinkles of his Mediterranean brown skin and a squint that seemed to search the far side of some wise and ancient place: young by the stop-and-start urgency of his schedule. I watched him come up the street. The truck pounced to a halt in front of my father-in-law’s house. The bottles tinkled. He sucked on a cigarette, hopped nimbly to the pavement and faced his truck with intent. To the side he went and slats clattered up in a metallic rush. In one fluid motion his arms lifted, he pivoted and before I knew it, two six packs of Sisters wobbled with resolve, door-side to the left, like flowers on stems in a noon-ward breeze.
We always smiled at one another. It was thrilling to see him up close in the shade. We seemed to enjoy the unspoken kinship that men have. Everything is assessed quickly through the eyes when both of you smoke. For one, glorious moment, we held each other’s gaze and shared the inner grin of silly testosterone. “Life is too short.” He said to me with a nod. “So make the best of it,” I replied. Our password complete, he gathered up the empties with his long arms. He pivoted again and threw the bottles with a measured softness into the wagon. Slats clattered shut and as if on steps of air, he hopped back in his cab. His body returned immediately to the rhythm of repetitive work. The gears groaned and I watched him lurch from house to house in a motion that, for all the world, looked like a bee pollinating.
I flicked my butt out into to the gutter, pivoted and returned to the house to take the bottles into the cantina. I placed them on warm wooden shelves, beside demijohns of glorious red wine, that gleamed moistly and stared like horse’s eyes. I knew, soon, it would be time to eat.
In kindler, gentler times, I ate lunch with them in the downstairs kitchen. It was common knowledge at the table that the Mio glass was mine – I was touched by that – for all the others had broken. Simple inclusion opens a most sublime intimacy into belonging.
My Mio glass is clear and holds exactly eight ounces. There are green stripes on it, painted on a slant and the effect is like a barber’s pole, twisting to eternity. On one “side,” a white oval proudly commemorates “20thANNIVERSARY 1959-1979,” while four interlocking fizzy bubbles emerge from a red Canadian maple leaf. Around the horizon, a second green-bordered oval frames the red-font “MIO” letters. They are painted over a white background, with a clean, red script declaring that this is a “Quality Beverage.” Below that, a thin banner in standard font proudly asserts the company name. It is a poignant notion that a simple icon might sublimely represent a micro-culture of immigrant living. I am witness to an unseen majesty, slightly out of view, that projects pride, respect and unassailable being. I suppose, like anything in the light, you have to squint to see it.
The red rye bottle stands full-to-the-brim on a small, practical plate to avoid tablecloth stains. The bottle belongs to our family and, while anyone can pour, it seems curious that only the men do it. I pour for him; I pour for her, against funny protests of volume; and I pour easily for me. The Mio, sometimes, called the gassosa, ‘rounds’ the spirits and the last glass is wonderfully drained in one go. I do it, the way I have been taught. There is time to rest, maybe play scopa and then it is time to go home.
In time, the way it goes, both my ancient contadini died and the Mio glass came home with me. One day it was broken by a little boy and I could barely pick up the pieces. Life is too short.
In kinder, gentler times, we searched for years, high and low, in every “second-time-around” and antique joint within a two-hundred-mile radius. It all came to naught. None of the relatives had any glasses left. Days turned into a long mourning of acceptance until a wife, immersed in the stop-and-start of full-life living, remembered, in the funny twist of love, the slow, green, Mobius motion of the Mio glass. Like a detective on a case, she called the company’s head office and spoke to an old man from a generation that knew the past. No, they stopped making the glass in 1979, but if she called back in a week… he thought he might have a set of four tucked away in his basement. She called back in a week and he found the glasses; she explained my enchantment and he insisted that she have them for free. She made plans to go into the city to pick them up, but the man generously asked her where she lived. He said his friend came from there and would drop them off at the front porch in a few days. By then, I had quit smoking but by chance I was out front, checking the flowers, when a squeal of brakes caused me to look to the road. A man hopped out as if stepping through air and in a rush, handed me a small box. “These are for you,” he said, pivoted, and then leapt back into his truck. I watched him go, opened the box and hid myself to cry.
Glenn Carley is the author of the urban opera, Polenta at Midnight: Tales of Gusto and Enchantment in North York (Véhicule Press, 2007), and a contributor to the anthology Italian-Canadians at Table (Guernica, 2013). His creative non-fiction, Good Enough From Here, will be published by Rock’s Mills Press (Fall 2019). He resides in Bolton, Ontario, with his family (Gcarley@rogers.com).