Lisa and I spent part of the afternoon at Walmart with Mom & Pop. We all had a good time and accomplished what we’d set out to.
When we returned, I checked the folks back in and exchanged information with the head nurse. Then I entered Pop’s room where Lisa had a lively conversation in progress. It began something like this: Lisa complimented Mom’s pedicure and noted that Mom’s hair would be set tomorrow. She remarked that Mom would be ready to go dancing, and asked the two of them, “Do you dance?”
Yes, they said. The Waltz, and an occasional Foxtrot. That, of course, was way back when.
Then Pop got to talking about the days of The Knickerbockers, a New York City-based polka band for which he was a writer, arranger and tuba player. The Knickerbockers had gigs just about every weekend somewhere in the Tri-State area, had a tremendous following, and ultimately produced eleven record albums.
People in the crowds would buy the band a round of beers which, Pop claims, he would enjoy only one of per evening. He saw the negative effects of alcohol on his bandmates and resolved never to get that low; a little moral-to-the-story kind of thing.
That’s where I came into the room, caught a whiff of the conversation and asked, “Yeah, so are ya tellin’ drinkin’ stories again?” This is only funny because it is not really part of Pop’s personality to be funny, nor is drinking part of his current set of values. Me? I’m just a spoiler.
So I told my favorite drinking story. It was about the time I traveled to Frankfurt to meet up with my baby brother Michael, his wife, Joy, and their very young son. We traveled the Autobahn to Budapest where we met up with Pop’s family who are vintners of high repute. After several days of visiting, we had a wine tasting on the night before our return to Frankfurt.
The setting has to be experienced to be appreciated. It seems that wine is best stored inside a mountain where the environment is kept at a natural fifty-five degrees fahrenheit. Within this hollowed-out mountain is a tasting room: rock walls, floor and ceiling with a hand-hewn oaken table and benches. A large, round fishbowl was set at mid-table.
Our host brought a half-dozen bottles of wine in a metal hand basket much like those used by milkmen of old to carry milk bottles. He’d open each bottle, and pour some in a clean glass for each of us. We would admire the color of the wine against available light, bury our noses deep within the glass to catch its fragrance, slurp a little into and around our mouths to catch its flavor and expectorate into the fishbowl in the middle of the table. Then we’d cleanse our pallets, and try the next wine. This we did for several hours.
Michael, however, thought it was a waste of perfectly good wine to spit it out. So, he didn’t.
I drove back to Frankfurt the next morning.
We all enjoyed the story there in Pop’s room, and I then added to the Knickerbocker’s story by ‘fessing up that my baby sister Elizabeth and I (both single-digit midgets at the time) used to run around the beer halls while Pop worked, getting into places we didn’t belong and more than occasionally sampling the remains of a beer in an unattended glass. We loved the adventure of breaking major laws, and we never got caught.
That story was met with surprise from both Mom and Pop who thought they knew of all the scurrilous things we had done as kids. The moment passed.
Then Pop went way back in history to explain that he was born in a New Jersey city well-populated with European immigrants. His family, he said, had many occasions to feed large gatherings. Of course, beer and wine were a very natural part of each occasion.
After dinner, the plates and glasses would be gathered into the kitchen for later cleaning while the party continued in the living room. Pop confessed that his custom was to combine the remaining contents of the glasses into one, and down-the-hatch it went.
He was three.