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December 24th, 2009:

Whiskey Handed ‘Round in Tumblers

We’ve just gotten back Midnight Mass…for small values of “Midnight.” Very small values. Ok, ok, I know…I’m not a night person. For me and for today, midnight comes at 4:00 PM. I like to be awake when I worship; inflicting my dreams on God would be cruelty to deity: A few nights ago I dreamed of three life-size crowns of thorns, each of which had three little legs, and the whole group was chasing some poor guy up a steep hill. God’s been there and done that; no need to put Him through it again.

And on the CD player is Golden Bough doing a very English sort of Christmas Carol that also mentions Midnight Mass: “Christmas Comes But Once a Year.” (The link is to the Clancy Brothers cover, but it has the lyrics.) The song describes the sort of feasting I can barely imagine, especially the line describing “Whiskey handed round in tumblers…”


Maybe “tumbler” means something different these days, or to us Yanks. When I was a kid a “tumbler” was what I also called a “jelly glass”: a tall, fairly narrow glass that we had because we bought jelly in it at Certified, and after we cleaned out the jelly (which was a week or so’s worth of PBJ school lunches) we had a glass. These probably held a pint or maybe a little less; perhaps 12 ounces at very least. They were our everyday drinking glasses, and we used them until we got a little jittery and broke them, one by one.

Jelly no longer comes in useful glasses, but there was a time about twenty-five years ago when peanut butter did. I don’t remember the brand, but we bought our peanut butter in glass jars that held about 14 fluid ounces, and after we finished the peanut butter, we washed out the jars and kept them for everyday drinking glasses. We went through a lot of peanut butter in those days, and before we decided that enough was enough, we had twelve glasses in the cabinet.

Then either the peanut butter went away, or we did. (That may have been when we moved to Arizona.) And over the years, I have downed an enormous amount of Diet Mountain Dew in those glasses. One by one, I’ve gotten jittery and dropped them, and there are now only six. (The half-life of a dozen peanut butter jars used as Mountain Dew glasses is evidently twenty-five years.)

Regardless of what was originally in the glass, 12 or 14 ounces seems like an astonishing amount of whiskey to put away at one meal. I have a bottle of Evan Williams Bourbon Whiskey Egg Nog in the fridge, and typically drink about 50 ml in an evening, which is plenty. Given that it’s a 15% cordial, my limit (for 86-proof whiskey, at least) is about .15 X 2.3 X 50, or 17 ml. A hard drinker I am evidently not. (And clearly, not English.)

Or maybe “handed ’round in tumblers” means what my friends used to do with a joint back in the 70s: Pass it from person to person, with each person taking a draw and then passing it on. Or maybe people really do drink 14 ounces of whiskey at one sitting. Again, I boggle.

Doesn’t matter. We’re about to sit down to a feast of smoked turkey slices, cranberry sauce, and a loaf of home-made apple-pecan bread that Jimi Henton gave us for Christmas. I opened a bottle of Whitewater Hill Sweetheart Red, and poured each of us a glass that might be a full 100 ml. We may go a little nuts later on and have some of the Evan Williams, handed around in (one) peanut-butter jar. I may eat my two allotted slices of Jimi’s bread and then cut a third. Hey, Christmas comes but once a year!