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I Wish I Had Wine to Bottle Today…

Gun Turret

It’s Pearl Harbor Day once again. Seventy years ago America;s navy was attacked without warning by a regime drunk on visions of world dominion. Ultimately they failed, though it took one person out of every eight in the United States joining the military to make that happen, along with the efforts of allied forces around the world. The remaining 115 million people who didn’t march off to war were nonetheless conscripted as we tooled up to produce weapons and materiel for the effort. Women working jobs they’d never been considered for (and we know how that’s worked out); kids collecting pennies and working in Victory Gardens; rationing on everything from butter to tires.

It was a grim time after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, with victory not certain for years.

Fast forward to the late 70s. I was in graduate school in Utah, a state that was to all intents and purposes dry. Oh, you could get alcoholic beverages at State stores, if you could find one. The prices were very high, though, and grad school was the last bastion of indentured servitude, with students charitably described as “working poor.” Get a drink with a meal? Fuggedaboudit! If you could even find a place licensed to serve wine and liquor in the first place, you’d spend more on two drinks than on a fine steak dinner. No, those options were right out the window.


Graduate students are a clever lot, though. Federal law allows a person to make beer and wine for their own consumption, and even the theocracy in Utah couldn’t get around that. Home-brew clubs were popular on campus, as were meetings where you could swap equipment and techniques. I learned some practical biochemistry that first winter, and by the second one I had a basement full of glass carboys, bubbling gently along, with lager and bock beers in preparation and at least three kinds of wine ready to bottle.

That’s when I developed a tradition and made a friendly mistake at the same time.

I invited a few of my grad school buddies over to help me bottle beer and wine, you see. The wine was the more urgent item, so I set up siphons, clean bottles and corks, and a borrowed hand-crank corker. We were set.

Last time I did the math, a five-gallon carboy should hold 25 bottles of wine. Leaving one behind because of yeast residue, that still makes 24.  Ten carboys, 240 bottles. A lot of work, but an easy thing to count. My friends happily pitched in and we got to work. Several hours later I had a bit less than 220 bottles of wine in the rack. And nearly two dozen cleaned and ready bottles that would remain forever empty. This affair caused a major crisis of confidence in my ability to count and estimate. My friends, however, were even happier at the end of the day than when we’d begun; those that weren’t passed out on the couch or floor, sleeping off their difficult siphoning duties.

Where’d all that wine go? I never found out. I did learn something about December 7th, though. It’s a great day for Americans to get bombed.

Gold Rings

This red-letter day added an additional personal tradition, some years after graduate school. You see, it’s also the day that the beauteous Paula Jo said “Yes” to my proposal of marriage. Her dad and I had lovingly done in a bottle of Courvoisier VSOP Cognac the night before, when I’d decided I had to go into the lion’s den and get parental consent first. That brandy makes a fine bear anesthetic, it turns out, and everything was cool with her father by the time that bottle was a memory. So I asked and she agreed, and the rest is history. Imagine that; history made on Pearl Harbor Day? Bombed once again.

It’s been twenty-five years since that fateful evening; a roller-coaster ride like no other. If I’d written our adventures in a piece of fiction nobody would read it. Not realistic enough, I suppose. Schooling and careers; a red-headed daughter, with everything that implies; moving across the country and back, just to see if we could do it; houses, apartments and an abandoned ranch bunkhouse as living quarters, at various times. International trips and stay-at-home vacations. Friends and laughter, family and tragedy, all  survived experienced celebrated together. A quarter-century long partnership, and still going strong. (At least I hope she’s not giving up on me at this point.)

Ain’t it da bomb?

Pearl Harbor Memorial

While it’s a somber occasion, remembering those who gave their lives in service to our country seventy years ago, it’s also a wonderful day to remember good things, great times. And maybe to drink a bottle or two of wine. Now, whatever did I do with that old siphon…

Enjoy the (Bombs Away) Heat!


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