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ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY: Telling tales of forbidden fruit

© Another Day in the Country

“Remember Bernie?” Doug starts off his story.

His peers, sitting around the table at the exercise club, nod their heads.

These people have pretty much lived their whole lives in and around their hometown. The story is about the availability of drugs like LSD and pot at least 40 years ago in Abilene.

The guys shake their heads and laugh, remembering. I’m wide-eyed and amazed.

“How did we get on this subject?” I’m wondering.

I’d asked Gordon something about homemade wine and hadn’t gotten an answer yet. Stories take on a life of their own.

“We went to see Johnny,” my friend DeAnne interjects into the tale that’s unraveling.

“How old is he now?” Doug wants to know.

“He’s deceased,” comes back the answer.

I’m working hard, being the one person at the table who didn’t grow up in this town, to keep track of where this story is going.

Johnny evidently came into the conversation because he made homemade wine out of white grapes. That in itself was unusual for Kansas, and his wine was known for being delicious.

“I remember once, we were visiting them and he asked his wife to bring up a fruit jar full of wine from the basement,” DeAnne says. “She poured us each a big glass, and I took a sip, expecting delicious white wine, and it was awful!”

So there she sat, trying to figure out what to do. If she drank any more, she’d be sick. Yet she wanted to be polite.

The winemaker evidently noticed her reticence and asked, “So how is it?” grabbing her glass to take a sip.

And then he spat it out and hollered at his wife, “That’s not the wine; you brought up the pickle brine.”

Everyone around the table laughed.

I’ve always loved hearing stories and I still enjoy them.

When I was a child and we’d go to my Grandma and Grandpa Schubert’s house in Ramona, the adults would often congregate around the dining room table, which was still stretched across the room to accommodate everyone for dinner. The kids would head outside or upstairs to play in Grandma’s attic.

The part I liked best about being in the attic was that you could hear the grownups talking down below. The sound of their voices came up through a grate in the floor that allowed heat upstairs. We could listen to their stories, and no one knew. Their stories shaped our worldview and our sense of humor.

My other grandparents, the Ehrhardts, lived just outside of town, across from the cemetery.

Solomon Ehrhardt was a man of few words. However, if you got him going telling stories, he was quite the entertainer. The only problem for my young listening ears was that often the punch line was delivered in German.

I called my cousin Glenn the other day and asked, “Do you remember hearing the story about an old guy in Ramona who got hauled in by the sheriff for making illegal booze during Prohibition?”

“No, I never heard that one,” he answered.

I thought for sure he’d know the story because he’d grown up in Ramona.

“The only thing I remember is the punch line,” I said. “Aaach, it vas ‘yust two quarts apricots brandy!”

That story made such an impact on me that, 50 years later, upon returning to Ramona, non-drinker that I am, I went into a bar and bought a bottle of apricot brandy and put it on a shelf along with other family memorabilia like Grandpa Schubert’s shoes and Grandpa Ehrhardt’s old coin purse.

When we had our first Thanksgiving in Ramona, we invited all the local aunts and uncles, cousins and kids to come for dinner. Just like at Grandma’s house, the table was stretched to fill the living room.

After dinner, I went and found the apricot brandy and poured everybody a little sip in some old shot glasses I’d found at an antique store.

Aunt Anna, who died at 108, was still with us, and she told that story again, including the name of the man that made the brandy — whom all the oldsters remembered, but I can’t.

“A toast,” I said as we raised our glasses, “to good food, good stories, and most of all for living another day in the country.”

Last modified March 21, 2019

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