Copyright
Sam Elmore

LITTLE OL' WINEMAKER---ME


There was only one place in our house that was off-limits to us kids; the pantry where Papa kept his shotgun shells, where Mama's and Papa's winter clothes were hung up; and where the few keepsakes Mama had left were stored, wrapped in protective layers of old sheets. We understood the off-limits ban, and the reason behind it.

We were brought up, from scratch, with knowledge of gun safety, and what to keep away from, and knowing what was (more importantly, what was NOT) ours to be messin' around with. Papa didn't have the money to buy shotgun shells by the case; nor even a box of twenty-five. As he put it, he didn't have two nickels to rub together. So, he bought (or traded for) shells a few at a time. This was back when a box of twenty-five shells might cost no more than three dollars. But, as Papa said, if you don't have three dollars, they might as well cost a hundred dollars per shell. So, the storage closet was off-limits.

(Enter the lil ol' winemaker.....me).

In retrospect, I could easily (and honestly) blame this whole thing on Uncle Joe Dodson, who made his own home-brew. Even while his home-brew was still "green", Uncle Joe was prone to coax Papa out to the back of his house, where he kept it stashed. (Papa called it "6-day beer").

Every time we saw them saunter out to the back, us kids would duck-walk under the porch, watching every move they made and hanging onto every word, while they sampled the latest batch of green beer. One of those "eaves-dropped" conversations stuck firmly in my mind; the one where Uncle Joe told Papa his private recipe for home-made wine.

I couldn't wait to get back home and try it out. After our day-long visit, as soon as Papa drove the wagon into our yard, I bailed out and proceeded to collect the necessary stuff (on the sly, of course). One gallon-size Mason jug, with a galvanized screw-top lid and a red rubber gasket (check); steal about 6 cups of sugar (check); keep an eye out to make sure big brother and the others don't find out what I'm doing (check and double check).

Gather about a gallon of elderberries from behind the hog pen (check). Put the elderberries in gallon jug; mash 'em down real good, 'til all the sugar fits in there (check, check); put on the galvanized lid, and screw that joker down real tight(?) (Check, and complete).

Now, then.....where to hide the jug until it turns into wine. That's the hardest part, because there ain't an inch of hidey-hole on this whole place that Baucum and Barge don't stick their noses into every few minutes.

Whoa.....wait a minute. Where is it that's safer'n Fort Knox? Where even big sister Jack don't ever go? Where Papa and Mama don't even go, unless it's a hard winter or huntin' season? Besides, it's July now, and it just takes a month or two to make wine.....(don't it? Uncle Joe wasn't real clear about that part.)

I waited 'til everybody was out doing something that kept them away from the house for a few minutes, then I hot-footed-it down the hall, yanked open the door to the forbidden closet, parted the winter coats, and set the jug on top of a box of some kind, way back in the corner. I re-arranged the coats like they was before, closed the door, and skee-daddled.

I promised myself that I was not gonna go back there nosing around to see how the wine was doing. Naw, sir. Just leave 'er be, like a settin' hen on a nest, for the required two months (give-or-take my memory of what Uncle Joe'd actually said; and, give-or-take the relative sobriety of Uncle Joe when he said it, after thoroughly taste-testing his home-made brew.)

Nine days later, just after dark, we were all in the kitchen eating supper when that jug exploded. It scared the dickens out of everybody when it went off. The instant it blew, I knew exactly what it was. I didn't join in on the "WHAT-in-the-WORLD?"-type questions that followed.....I knew I was a goner, as soon as it blew up.

They all went runnin' up the hall. Mama sent one of the other kids back to get the coal-oil lamp off the table, leavin' me settin' there in the dark; waitin' for Papa to come back and kill me.

The whole affair was reduced to a tolerable level, when Mama ordered everybody to put a 'qui-eet-usÓ on it. Time enough to sort it out in the daytime, she said, when they could see what they were doing.

It was the longest (and the shortest) night of my life, knowing what I was faced with, come sun-up. When daylight finally arrived, Mama took everything out of the closet and carried it out on the front porch for inspection.

Inventory of rern't stuff:
1 - black, cloth, winter coat.....(Mama's only winter coat).
1 - red-plaid, lined, mackinaw.....(Papa's only winter coat).
8 - Peters High Velocity, 12 gauge shells, #6 shot.....swelled up like they 4 gauge (the shell cases were made out of paper, back in them days).
11 - .410 shells.....swelled up big as 12 gauge.
1 - pair of women's Sunday shoes, Mama's only pair of dress shoes (they were patent leather.....'til that wine got 'em).
1 - lace shawl, hand-made by Mama's Grand-maw.....(it was for lookin' at, time-to-time; not for wearin'. It had once been white, then it aged to pearl color, then aged some more to a sort-of a wheat color.....now it was dark purple (at least, the splotches were dark purple).

Awww.....the whole list of keepsakes, and pictures, and relics could be wrote down here, but it would serve no purpose.

Only one other item of stuff that was rern't needs to be listed:
1- hind-end, eight years old (the lil' ol' winemaker's only hind-end.)