As well, a few enterprising souls dabbled in the fine art of winemaking. At least they thought they had it down to an art form. Having sampled such offerings, I could’ve downed a jar of vinegar and it would have proven a more delightful experience. I concluded homemade vino was an acquired taste, and by that I mean either your taste buds were corroded or, you were my brother.
It wasn’t my responsibility to pack brother’s school lunch, yet one day it fell to me when Mumsie was running late for our carpool—otherwise known as parent-sanctioned persecution. To say I absolutely despised the two ghouls we rode to school with is a friggin’ understatement. One might expect they grew up to be decent men. If not, one hopes life pulverized them into a greasy paste.
But I digress…
Fixing my brother’s lunch, I slapped together a peanut butter, jelly sandwich tossed in a rubbery carrot or two and whatever cookies were lying around chucking it all into his lunchbox. Dropping the butter knife into the sink I looked over at the drying rack and discovered his thermos. D*mn it! I’d forgotten to pack his apple juice--the magic elixir that kept my brother’s bowels in good working order. Now really in a rush, I ripped open the refrigerator door snatched the juice dumped it into the thermos screwed on the lid and jammed it into his lunch box. If twelve ounces of apple juice couldn’t keep him regular then it only proved my theory he was a mutant.
Once mum abandoned us at the school’s curbside, I headed for my first class of the day, Algebra—and not a subject I excelled in. Personally, I’d rather have stuck a fork in my neck than to solve the equation for X. Kill me now. Still, by the time I went to lunch my day had gone nominally better than brother, who had fallen asleep somewhere between science and math class. When the teacher couldn’t rouse him, she called in the school-nurse to assess the situation. Fortunately for him, he wasn’t sick. Unfortunately for the nurse, once she unstuck his head from the desktop, she was almost knocked out by the fumes wafting on his breath. Brother was totally bombed.
Eventually, someone phoned Mumsie and the wrath of WCSS descended upon the school like a hammer strike on an anvil. Furious, she demanded to know who in the hell fed her FAVORITE child alcohol!
Quite right, excellent question! Off with their heads!
Once brother awoke from his boozy lunch, he handed over his thermos and the blame landed squarely on me. Wasn’t my best day for sure. However, in my defense the apple cider, water and homemade wine were all clumped together in old Paul Mason glass carafes. To the untrained eye the apple wine and apple cider looked similar and very easy to mistake especially when in a hurry.
Later, at home and once my hearing returned after sitting through the parental-unit's tag-team, screech-fest vocalized at a decibel level still hovering over Lake Antoine, I skulked off to find my brother. There, in his room, I found him draped across the bed boneless, a tad green and looking like something the cat horked up. Curious, I asked him when he first realized he was drinking the homemade vino.
“Oh, right away,” was his answer. I then asked why he continued to drink that God awful swill and he said, “Cuz it was good.”
all content & images property of L. Campbell
*My taste for alcohol had been established fairly early thanks to my grandmother. Grams, was the very definition of a woman before her time—and not only for her relaxed attitude towards booze and teens.
Born in 1915, Grams excelled in all sports especially softball, basketball, cross country skiing and in her later years was a terror on the links. She owned and operated Eva’s Beauty Salon for over 60 years and introduced Merle Norman beauty products to our area. In her 80’s she took an interest in art and became an award-wining portraiture artist of Native American peoples. Needless to say, the woman was unique, a force to be reckoned with, and about as maternal as the Tin Man.
As she grew older, she was unable to keep up her house (she lived right next door—yep, you read that right). My Dad, ever the good son made the tough decision to relinquish his basement workshop, otherwise known as the "WHY THE F**K DID I EVER GET MARRIED AND HAVE KIDS?!" scream space, instead of shipping off the grand dame to assisted living.
So, Grams sold her house, pocketed the cash and generously allowed Dad to foot the bill for renovations to his man-cave; furnishing her with a rent-free, all utilities included, fully equipped apartment with a private entrance. Never the traditionalist, Grams insisted on keeping Dad’s built-in wet bar as the focal point of her living room. And like any well-stocked tavern the shelves over-flowed with enough hooch to float a blue whale.
Not one for dispensing kisses and band aids (honestly, you had a better chance of squeezing maternal warmth from a block of ice) her brand of comfort held an edge. She was more apt to tell you to grow up, quit with the tears or, rub some dirt on it you'll be fine.
However, when I reached my teens, Grams decided I was old enough to benefit from her personal philosophy. According to her (and no doubt her entire Greatest Generation) there could never be anything bad enough in life, two fingers of booze couldn't solve.
~General malaise? Corbys, hands down.
~Head cold? Sambuca with a flaming coffee bean was your fixer.
~Females troubles? Jägermeister numbed your womanly parts into next week.
~Sinus congestion? Flu? Toothache? Whisky, Whisky, Whisky.
~Family brawl? Hartley’s Brandy before and after.
~Need some Zen time? Italian Red.
Thanks to Grams, I had tasted everything from homemade wine to top shelf liquor. I’ve little doubt this is the reason swigging a bottle of Boones Farm in the bushes with friends and any raccoons happening by didn't appeal to me. And truly, it just wasn’t worth having our names run to ground by the mother collective who somehow, were able to track our movements long before GPS and cell phones came to fruition.
Inevitably, my misdeeds would reach Mumsie and in turn activate the launch sequence on Worst-Case-Scenario-Suzie's catastrophe lecture. I would then be regaled with one horrendous event after another ready to befall me, if I so much as ingested a capful of Listerine. Honestly, I’d rather have been beaten with a bag of oranges than sit through that ear assault. I had to laugh though. Mum continually worried her girls ran the backroads with friends boozing it up, when below stairs, her mother-in-law was teaching my sister and I the finer points of drinking.
Now, with all the hard stuff readily accessible one might conclude I would be a raging drunk by the time I'd turned twenty. Not so, as the granddaughter and daughter of tavern owners the veil of mystique surrounding alcohol had never existed. How could it, when all I need do was skip downstairs and belly up to Grams' bar whenever the mood struck.
In the years since, I often wondered if it was her intention to demystify drinking one measured shot at a time. But then I decided she wasn't quite that insightful. Eventually, I reached the logical conclusion that my early introduction to wine and liquor was typical of Italian life growing up Nort’ side.
The picture of Grams top left, was taken at my sister’s graduation party. All the old great aunts—Grams sisters, were upstairs in her kitchen baking the traditional Italian delicacies like fried ribbon cookies known as, Farfellette, Biscotti (twice baked cookies) and the thin, crisp waffle cookie, Pizzelle. My grandmother and great aunts were known far and wide as the best traditional Italian cooks—those grand old ladies never left the kitchen that day (no doubt there were cocktails keeping them fueled) while Grams awaited the onslaught of party-goers that day.
*all content & images property of L. Campbell
Until I made friends beyond my Italian neighborhood, I had no idea Crème de Cocoa liqueur wasn’t actually a topping for ice cream—Gnocchi never made it on the menu at the first Thanksgiving dinner—or that the end of a loaf of bread is only known as the 'Culo' in an Italian household. Intrigued? Then kick back with a glass of vino and take a glimpse into my life growing up Nort’ side.