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The Wine Brick, a tale from the Prohibition Period
Grandpa placed the newspaper wrapped package on the dining room table, and returned to the hallway closet to hang his Panama straw. Wiping the perspiration from his jowls with a well used handkerchief, he asked me slyly, "Know what that is, Willie?"

I sure did. I'd seen one before about a year ago, seemed as though this was Grandpa's August ritual bringing home a wine brick.

"Yep," I said, "It's a wine brick, and you've got it hidden in a newspaper so Mother or the neighbors won't see it." (This was simple show-off wisdom from a ten year old.)

The year was 1928, the height of Prohibition madness. While everyone drank alcoholic beverages as far as I could see, it was considered impolite to flaunt your disregard for the unpopular law.

Grandpa loosened his tie and unhooked his stiff collar from the front stud, letting it hang like a boomerang around his neck. "Now Willie," he remonstrated, "I wasn't going to carry that on the ferry and train all the way from New York without some wrapping--too tempting a morsel for those rascals on the waterfront. Now let's get busy... er … is your Mother home?"

"She's at a club meeting, Grandpa, and you know what that means! Might even have to make our own supper," I volunteered.

"Good, we've plenty of time then lad, but let's get into the cellar just in case. It's cooler there, and we'll be out of the way."

This latter comment meant we'd be out of sight rather than out of the way. Mother only went down the cellar stairs twice a week to talk to Anna the laundress who came on Mondays and Thursdays. This was a Wednesday so we were safe. Grandpa unwrapped the brick and placed the cardboard carton, about the size of a quart of ice-cream, on a battered old Ping-Pong table.

"Willie, I've left my spectacles upstairs in my jacket pocket. Run up lad and fetch them so's I can read the rules again."

"I can read those words Grandpa, let me read it out loud," came from the eager show-off.

"Get on with it then, we'd best be cleaned up before Annie gets home." Only her father called Mother Annie, which happened to be her christened name. She was Nan to everyone else, and Annie was a closely guarded secret.

"Well," I began, "It says here: To make a refreshing grape-juice drink, dissolve contents in large pitcher of water and…."

"T'other side silly lad," came from Grandpa who was impatiently peering over my shoulder. I turned the box over, and began again:

Caution: Never mix contents in two gallons of warm water to which you have added a pinch of yeast, and one pound of sugar. If this mixture is left to stand in a cloth covered container for two weeks, an ALCOHOLIC beverage will result, which is illegal.
"Oh, aye," Grandpa said, "It's two gallons and one pound. Now I remember. Get the yeast lad, and I'll look about for the sugar and the crock."

And so we were off, a strange pair of vintners spanning some sixty years of age, mixing and stirring away as the cake of compressed and dried grapes was dissolved in the stone crock of water. Then, four hands lifting the heavy brute into a corner of the coal cellar where no one ever went in August. Next an old shirt-tail from the rag bin to cover the crock and we were through.

"Think you can remember to give it a stir or two each day Willie, when no one's about of course?"

"Oh, sure," I replied, happy to be part of this secret venture. I could already see the amazed and delighted face of my father as he savored the exquisite bouquet of our classic brew.

I think it was around the tenth day that the amazement was mine, but there was no delight to accompany it. My mid-afternoon visit to the coal bin for a quick "stir or two" turned into a quick scamper back up the stairs and a hurried call, "Grandpa, where are you... we've lost the brew and the crock's empty."

"You mean there's naught left of 'owt, lad?" he asked. In his shock he reverted to the North Yorkshire accent rarely used since his immigration twenty years before.

"Aye," I mimicked his Yorkshire drawl, "now't but coal in't bin.

"It must have been your Mother, but it’s odd. She doesn't go to cellar often. Strange she said nothing." Even though she drank wine, Mother drew the Prohibition line at making it at home.

"Wait a minute," I interrupted, "Anna must have done it. Yes, I'll bet it was Anna, she washed this morning. She's outside now getting clothes off the line. I'll ask what she did with it."

"Hold on Willie," came from the veteran of these affairs. "Best not tell her what it was, you know."

And so, it was I asked Anna if she knew what had happened to the tropical fish food I was raising in the cellar.

"Oh, so that's what that mess was, was it Billy? Well, it smelled like something gone sour, I just poured it down the drain. I'm sorry. I didn't know you wanted it. Can you make some more?"

"Not unless Grandpa brings another brick ...," I stopped but not quite in time. "Never mind, I'll feed them something else... I guess," old silver tongue concluded lamely. Anna gave me a hard look, turned to pick up the clothes basket, and said, "I should have realized that's what it was; it had a familiar smell."

I reported to Grandpa who nodded philosophically and said, "Well, those things happen, Willie. We'll have another go at it one day if all's well."

And so we put the matter from our minds, that is, until Thursday, because right after Mother left for some meeting or other, Anna came puffing into the living room. Looking straight at Grandpa she said, "I told my husband what I'd done and he insisted I bring these." She pulled out a bottle of red wine from the shopping bag that appeared to have several more in it.

"I didn't realize what it was until after Billy told me you knew about the crock. I should have recognized the smell. My husband Joe makes very good wine at home. Again, I'm sorry, and please don't tell your Mother, Billy. She might not like my bringing wine to the house."

"Goodness Anna," Grandpa said, "Put your mind at rest girl. Your secret is ours. Thank Joe for me." As Anna headed for the cellar, Grandpa cautioned me to say "naught" and to "leave matters in my hands."

At the dinner table that night, Grandpa announced a surprise. "A good friend has given me a few bottles of the best wine I've had in ages. You simply must try it." The doubt that showed on my parent's faces was tempered with tolerance for the family patriarch. But when they lifted their glasses, there was no doubt. Joe made excellent "grappa." And from the size of the wink Grandpa aimed my way, I knew I'd have a sip to check it out myself when Mother went to her next club meeting.

Author Unknown