The Pink Lady

When I was growing up, my mother’s cocktail of choice was a “pink lady.” Whenever our family went out for dinner (and those dinners-out didn’t happen often), she’d order a frothy and very rosy-hued “pink lady” while Daddy chose an “old-fashioned.”

My parents weren’t everyday drinkers. Au contraire. My mother would sometimes speak disparagingly of those who indulged overmuch in alcoholic beverages, referring to them as “shikkers.” Although Daddy may have had an occasional drink at home after a difficult day at work (probably bourbon or another kind of whiskey), Mom never did. She reserved her pursuit of alcohol for our occasional dinners-out.

One dinner spot we favored was the Fireside Restaurant in Lincolnwood, Illinois, not far from our apartment on the Far North Side of Chicago. (Ironically, the restaurant was itself destroyed by fire–reputedly by mob-related arson–a few years later.) Another place we patronized was Phil Smidt’s (which everyone pronounced like “Schmidt’s”), located just over the Indiana border.

Why did we travel to Indiana for dinner when good food was undoubtedly available to us much closer to home? And long before an interstate highway connected Chicago to Northern Indiana? I remember a prolonged and very slow trip on surface streets and maybe a small highway or two whenever we headed to Phil Smidt’s.

Perhaps we wound up there because the restaurant was a perennial favorite among the people my parents knew. Or perhaps because my father actually enjoyed driving. Yes, Daddy liked getting behind the wheel in those long-ago days before everyone had a car and the roads weren’t jam-packed with other drivers. Daddy got a kick out of driving us in every direction from our home on Sunday afternoons, when traffic was especially light. But I also remember his frustration with drivers who didn’t seem to know where they were going. He referred to them as “farmers,” implying that they were wide-eyed rural types unaccustomed to city driving.

Perhaps we headed to Indiana because my parents were overly enthusiastic about the fare offered at Phil Smidt’s. As I recall, the place was famous for fried perch and fried chicken. I usually opted for the fried chicken. (At the Fireside Restaurant, my first choice was French-fried shrimp. Dinners-out seemed to involve a lot of fried food back then, and oh, my poor arteries.)

If we were celebrating a special event, like my mother’s birthday or Mother’s Day, Mom would wear a corsage. I’ve never been especially fond of corsages, which were de rigueur during my high school prom-going days. Boys would bring their dates a corsage, and girls were expected to ooh and aah over them. But I always thought corsages were a highly artificial way to display fresh flowers, and I rejected them whenever I had a choice. I’m glad social norms have evolved to diminish the wearing of corsages like those women and girls formerly felt compelled to wear.

Mom, however, always seemed pleased to wear the corsage Daddy gave her. Her favorite flower was the gardenia, and its strong scent undoubtedly wafted its way toward her elegantly shaped nose whenever he pinned one on her dress.

The “pink lady” cocktail, which incorporates gin as its basic ingredient, first appeared early in the 20th century. Some speculate that its name was inspired by a 1911 Broadway musical whose name and whose star were both called “The Pink Lady.”   It may have become popular during Prohibition, when the gin available was so dreadful that people added flavors like grenadine to obscure its bad taste.

The cocktail evolved into a number of different varieties over the years. Mom’s frothy version, around since the 1920s, adds sweet cream to the usual recipe of gin, grenadine (which provides flavoring and the pink color), and egg white.

Apparently (and not surprisingly), the drink eventually acquired a “feminine” image, both because of its name and because its sweet and creamy content wasn’t viewed as “masculine” enough in the eyes of male critics. One bartender also speculated that the non-threatening appearance of the “pink lady” probably was a major reason why it appealed to women who had limited experience with alcohol.

No doubt Mom was one of those women.

The very name of the cocktail, the “pink lady,” fit Mom to a T. She was absolutely determined to be a “lady” in every way and to instill “lady-like” behavior in her two daughters. I was frequently admonished to repress my most rambunctious ways by being told I wasn’t being lady-like. And when I had two daughters of my own, decades later, despite my strong opposition she still repeated the same admonition. She found it hard to shift gears and approve of her granddaughters’ behaving in what she viewed as a non-lady-like way. Although her basic sweetness, like that of her favorite drink, predominated in our relationship, we did differ on issues like that one.

The appellation of “pink lady” fit Mom in another way as well. She was a redhead whose fair skin would easily flush, lending a pink hue to her appearance. Whenever she was agitated (sometimes because my sister or I provoked her)…or whenever she excitedly took pride in one of our accomplishments…and assuredly whenever she was out in the sun too long, she literally turned pink.

So here’s to you, Pink Lady. In my memory, you’ll always resemble the very pink and very sweet cocktail you preferred.

4 responses to “The Pink Lady

  1. What a lovely homage to your own “pink lady mom.” My mother never drank. She was a native Oklahoman, and Oklahoma was a dry state until 1959, the year I graduated from high school. Before then, I remember my mother, my sister and I once visiting a friend’s house for dinner before Christmas and her presenting us with egg nog with rum in it. What an exciting moment, and my first alcoholic experience, though I didn’t much like the taste of it. My mother positively twinkled and flushed as she sipped it rather timidly. My sister pretended to be blasé about it all, having gone back East to college in St Louis, where the drinking age was 18 and she mixed with others who didn’t think “having a drink” was a big deal. I thought I was being introduced to some rite of passage. I wasn’t sure where we would pass to; I just hoped not out. After 1959, my sister would occasionally bring home a bottle of pink champagne for very special occasions, and then the straw-wrapped bottle of Chianti and, of course, the small green bottle of Mateus Rose. But my Mom remained a dry adherent for most of her life.

  2. Your The Pink Lady really struck a chord with me.  I liked the way you used the pink lady drink as a link to various memories…eating out, Sunday drives, the “lady like” expectations…and of course the description of your mother.  By the way, we also went on Sunday drives where my father insisted on passing on narrow roads to oncoming traffic. I was also expected to act lady-like in public, and eating out was a special event.  I didn’t like corsages because they ruined the look of the dress, not to mention putting pinholes in it.   Why don’t you write a blog post on the various genes you inherited from each of your parents….like the writing talent.  Were both your parents smart?    P.S.  Your Pink Lady blog post was your most enjoyable yet.

  3. What a beautiful memory and what an intriguing portrait of your mother and also of your father, too. I really enjoyed reading about the family drives and the trips to Indiana to a favorite restaurant, complete with fried fare and mixed drinks. I can picture the Pink Lady lifted in a corsaged hand, its gin mitigated by the “feminine” color. (The addition of grenadine to alcohol has a long and interesting history, I think — it is also found in the French kir.) I’d like to say thanks for sharing this slice of the past – a tribute to a remarkable woman and her cocktail of choice!

  4. Very nice! –Chip

    On Tue, Feb 16, 2016 at 5:42 PM, Susan Just Writes wrote:

    > susanjustwrites posted: “When I was growing up, my mother’s cocktail of > choice was a “pink lady.” Whenever our family went out for dinner (and > those dinners-out didn’t happen often), she’d order a frothy and very > rosy-hued “pink lady” while Daddy chose an “old-fashioned.” My par” >

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