January 31, 2012
On one of our evening phone calls, I told Alice I was going to bring her a surprise. When I got to her apartment the next day in the company of my old friend, Gordon, she had written out a list of guesses as to what her surprise might be:Diamonds Gold Silver An inheritance Money back from a catalog order for something that didn’t fit
No, I told her. None of those.
For a minute she thought maybe Gordon was the surprise.
Wrong again. But he was the creator of it.
I reminded her that the night before on the phone I’d said she might want to take a look at Alice Hides the Hootch once again. (If you missed it, the rest of this post will probably not make sense.)
I’d printed out the story, put it in a bright red envelope, and had given it to her over the holidays as a sort of Christmas card. Now the envelope sat on the desk, next to her. She tapped the swirling gold print of Merry Christmas. “I read it again,” she said. “Like you told me to.”
This was Gordon’s cue. He leaned forward. “I also read that story around Christmastime,” he said. “Andrea shared it with me, and I really liked it because I brew beer as a hobby. Your story inspired me so I decided to name my next batch after you. And so, in your honor…”
Gordon pulled a tall brown bottle from a bag. It came from his most recent batch of home-made hootch:
He handed the bottle to Alice. She studied it for a few seconds and this was her response:
Gordon told her that he’s been brewing beer for five years, and he gives each new batch a name. Some of his labels:
“This is really beer?” she asked. “Is it going to market?”
“I only share it with friends,” Gordon said.
Alice liked the foaming beer mug on the label, but the big-bellied machine confused her. “It’s a still for making hootch,” Gordon explained. “Probably whiskey.”
He wanted to know how true Alice Hides the Hootch was, and Alice shook her head. “That Andrea! The town only had three-hundred people. Not four hundred people! My goodness! it was just a small town.”
She looked at me as if I should apologize for this wild exaggeration, and I did. Her sisters had quoted the higher number to me many times, but I’ve now searched the records and have concluded that Alice is right. It was not such a metropolis after all.
She went on to describe the trek with the wheelbarrow full of hootch, how her “little bare feet” hurried across the sun-scorched ground to the cave (more or less a hole with some boards over it), and how thrilled she’d been to get a whole quarter for her work.
We decided to drink some of Alice’s Gumption, named for her courage in standing up to the ten-year old Sammy Chester, who’d spotted her pushing the wheelbarrow and threatened to send her to prison for bootlegging unless she gave him her hard-earned quarter, which she’d refused to do.
Gordon had sent me an e-mail about how he’d been “sampling” the Gumption batch and concluded it was flavorful but not strong (i.e., low alcohol). “So Alice doesn’t need to worry about operating heavy machinery,” he wrote. We had no qualms about giving her some.
I poured three small glasses. The beer, a stout, smelled roasty and wonderful. It tasted delicious. Gordon said that the kind of barley he used was responsible for its dark color, and that barley comes in different colors and flavors, a fact neither Alice nor I knew, even though North Dakota ranks first in barley production in this country and we had both been surrounded by barley fields throughout our childhoods.
Of barley facts as related to beer, we had been oblivious. “We’re getting an education,” I said.
As we sipped, she gave me a look of guilty pleasure. “What if someone would come and catch us drinking? What do you suppose they’d do with us?”
This led her to thinking about the quarter she’d saved from the bully, Sammy Chester. “I wonder what I did with my quarter.” She decided that her little bare feet had taken her over to Littlefield’s, the mercantile. “I’d have stood in front of the candy counter and pointed to what I wanted: penny suckers and chocolate kisses.”
I told her that Gordon had left work to come and see her and that it was probably time for us to go.
“Will you get fired?” she asked him.
He reassured her that he would not be fired. “I might even get a raise.”
We took one more picture:
Then Gordon and I put on our coats and waved good-bye.
“I’m famous!” Alice called after us, raising her glass.
I wish Alice’s gumption really could be bottled. I’m considering printing out copies of the label and pasting it on my glass of orange juice every morning.
Alice has been unhappy lately as she’s faced Celia’s departure, Mr. Fickle’s onset of dementia, and all of January’s sad anniversaries, but this wonderful gift cheered her considerably. Thank you, Gordon!
More of Gordon’s beer labels: