July 09, 2009
I am a huge fan of fermentation. There are few things I enjoy more than a glass of red wine in the evening. Especially merlot. Yeah, that’s right I said it. Despite the best efforts of the writers of the movie Sideways, I am still in love with the “M” word. Give me a glass with a nice bowl to roll it around in and I am one happy chick. And while I am not an addict, I have come to look forward to this experience with at least some measure of regularity. For me, the hardest part of pregnancy is not the back pain, difficulty of sleep – or even the labor. No, it is the necessity to cut back from that sublime burgundy in the glass.
Unlike most of my peers within the conservative Evangelical church in which I grew up, I was not taught by my parents that the drinking of alcohol is a sin. Rather, my training was of a more subtle nature. It wasn’t that drinking alcohol itself was a sin – unless of course it crossed over to drunkenness, at which point it ranked fairly high in the seven deadliest. It was more that drinking in front of somebody else who might be inclined to have a problem with it was.
This is a nuance that I would not expect the average person who did not grow up under these circumstances to readily understand, so suffice it to say that my comfort factor with drinking was almost nil.
It probably goes without saying that alcohol was a scarcity at my house growing up. My parents reserved the drinking of alcohol for situations in which a cultural discomfort needed to be avoided.Specifically, this meant that while drinking socially at parties was a no-no on account of the possibility that it might encourage some weak soul to tip the scales toward the inclination to don a lampshade, drinking with foreigners in the privacy of one’s home or overseas was an acceptable – and even necessary – activity. Because, presumably, foreigners would be irreparably offended should one explain that one doesn’t drink. And how could a person be an example for Christ if one begins the conversation off by offending one’s conversationalists?
Armed with that inscrutable logic, I was 15 when I first tasted alcohol. I had only recently celebrated my birthday when my family went on a grand family vacation to the United Kingdom. It was Chevy Chase in a rented car with suitcases strapped to the top and the whole works. We had just spent a harrowing couple of days with Dad negotiating the left side of the street when we stopped by the grace of God in one piece at Stratford-Upon-Avon, home of Shakespeare and a boy named Shandy.
Now, Shandy and his friends were cute, and my two sisters and I found an excuse to pal around with them for the better part of one of the days we were there. I owe them for a wealth of cultural knowledge, including the facts that one should never speak to a Brit about their “pants” unless one intends to get in them, that the “fanny packs” we all wore were the funniest damn things they had ever heard of, and that the word “spunk” spoken loudly in public could get you arrested.
When my sisters and I arrived back late to the hostel to find Mom and Dad leaning meaningfully on their elbows out the window, we attempted to cast our minor infraction in light of having spent a valuable day gaining a cultural education. In the process, I let it drop that we had met – it was the funniest thing – a boy, some guy really, named Shandy who showed us all around the bless’d land o’ Shakespeare with his companions – and how lucky were we?
Unbelievably, it worked. Encouraged by the insight into a different culture that his girls had received, my father – the holder of a doctorate and thus the keys to higher education – completely ignored the fact that our church looked down on drinking and took it upon himself to add his own lesson: the meaning of Shandy’s name.
Unbeknownst to us Yanks, and surprisingly known to my father, a shandy just so happens to be a drink. With his nose hot on the trail of an “educational moment,” Dad marched us all, women-and-children, the very next day to the nearest pub where he promptly bought us one. To share. With the five of us huddled around a table in the heart of Merry Old England, we passed around a single pint: half beer, half lemonade. Thus, was my education initiated.
Upon return to American soil and the familiarity of our beloved church, it was tersely communicated that there were certain elements of our education that should perhaps be left out when recounting the details of our trip to friends. Kind of like the time the two of them had shlepped us off to a covert showing of the movie Ghandi, complete with alternative routes by motorcar to and from the theater, as well as an enforced black out for two hours after the movie so as not to call attention to ourselves, should there be a raid by local morality police. Not only was it a “movie,” which was one solid strike against us (movies were considered sinful, as were cussing and doing the two-step), but it was a movie about a famous Hindu. Of course, had anyone asked, Dad would have been ready with the argument that he was taking the opportunity to teach his girls a valuable lesson regarding how creative Satan could be when pressed to invent a religion, and its subsequent effects on a society.
Anyway, we kept the bender in England on the down low from our friends. As Mom and Dad had pointed out in the car on the way back from the airport, they might not understand. If they found out that we had partaken of alcohol, it might encourage them, too, to experiment and before we could blink, half of my ninth grade class at the Christian school would be living in the gutter and drinking from paper bags with one foot in the fiery lake. Did we want that kind of responsibility? Did we? Huh?
Over the years, I would watch as Mom and Dad would host various guests from Germany, Russia, and beyond. If they would bring a bottle of wine to our house as a gift, it would be opened and passed around appropriately in our long-stem water glasses, reserved just for the occasion. We did not want to cause an international incident, after all.
We were ambassadors for Christ.