first posted 12 Nov 2013
I may have mentioned that I grew up on the nort’ side of a small Midwestern town, and my neighborhood was mainly composed of Italians.
A lot of the people who lived there were known by nicknames such as–Cub, Butts, Fluff, Kiki, Scaramouche and Torpedo. With those monikers floating around you can imagine life was a bit unpredictable on our end of town, but that’s the way we liked it.
Most of the Nort’ Siders were keen gardeners and many items such as tomatoes, jams, herbs, eggs, honey and even grapes were grown/raised and traded back and forth between friends and neighbors. You pretty much got what you needed without having to slap down good money for picked over leavings at the market.
As well, a few enterprising souls dabbled in the fine art of wine-making, or at least they thought they had it down to an art form–having sampled a few in my day, I could’ve downed a bottle of vinegar for my troubles and it would have been a more delightful experience. After experimenting with various flavors, I came to the conclusion homemade wine was an acquired taste–and by that I mean either your taste buds would have to be paralyzed to enjoy such offerings, or, you were my brother—and here’s why.
It really wasn’t my job to pack Reno’s school lunch, but it fell to me one day when Mumsie was running late for the school car pool, otherwise known as, parent-sanctioned oppression. To say I absolutely loathed the two boys I rode to school with is a big, fat, friggin’ understatement! Anyway, I slapped together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, scrounged a rubbery carrot or two and whatever cookies were lying around and dumped it in his lunchbox—there, made with love. I brought the knife to the sink and in the drying rack I noticed Reno’s thermos. Crap. I’d forgotten to pack his drink—the magic elixir called apple juice that kept my little brother’s bowels in good working order. Now ticked off and in an even bigger rush, I ripped open the refrigerator door, grabbed the juice and filled his thermos. If twelve ounces of apple juice didn’t keep him regular then he was a mutant and nothing would help.
When we pulled up to the curb (a block away from the school since my sister refused to be seen climbing out of our blue station wagon), I headed for my first class of the day–Algebra. Personally, I’d rather have been beaten with a bag of oranges than try to find out what X equaled. Still, by the time I was ready for lunch my day had gone nominally better than my brother, who had fallen asleep in the back of the classroom and could not be roused. The school nurse was called in to assess the situation. Fortunately for Reno, he wasn’t sick—unfortunate for the nurse though when she was almost incapacitated by the alcohol on my brother’s breath. Seems the Graham Cracker Kid was drunk!
An aside here–fast forward this scenario present day and my parents would have been hauled in for child neglect and the brother bundled off to a foster home.
Anyway, once home, Mumsie was in a tizz, and quite right, too, wanting to know who in the hell fed her baby alcohol–and once Reno awoke from his refreshing noonday nap, he handed over his thermos and the blame landed squarely on me. In my defense, the apple cider, water and homemade wine were all grouped in a clump, all sitting in reusable Paul Mason glass carafes–very easy to mistake. After a tongue-lashing from both parents, I skulked off to find my brother and get answers. I found him in his room doing homework and asked when did he realize he wasn’t drinking apple cider? “Right away,” was his answer. Taken aback, I then asked why had he continued to drain the thermos, and he said, “cuz it was good.”
Old School Italian
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