Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Ethyl Alcohol- The Lighter Side of Christmas

Gloria in excelsis Deo...et gratias ago tibi Deo! Indeed, thank you God for seeing me through the service playing gauntlet that is the birth of Thy Son. Three separate Masses, 2 different sermons-I am now prepared to contemplate the Christmas question...which has much to do with another kind of post. One thing bears mentioning now: sentimentality. As I sat behind the console plunking away at the swooning chromatic strains of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" I was swept up in raptures. The little baby wrapped in swaddling clothes is an appealing image. And the picture only grows in glory when coupled with the finest ethnic piety. Fr. Benedict Groeschel once told us a scenario where he felt the Spirit in such a way: Discerning God's call, young Mr. Peter Groeschel wondered around NYC and North Jersey visiting various religious houses, hoping he might find one that seemed to work. Sure enough, after finding all the orderly Germans and hot-tempered Irish he could handle, he came across some earthy Italian Capuchins. He described them as loud, blunt, and a bit crazy- it appealed to his self-described "sense of humor of an old Jewish lady from Jersey City." He loved it. He also attended Christmas Mass at their chapel where they erected the traditional ornate creche- sans Jesus, of course. At midnight Jesus made his appearance like He, Himself, could not have imagined. (No, this one takes ingenuity straight from the heart of post-Romantic Sicily). As the choir piously chortled the toothache-sweet Gesu Bambino (courtesy of master Pietro Yon from those glory days at St. Patrick's Cathedral) the tiny, chubby, rosy-cheeked plaster Christ Child descended from the rafters, dangling precariously from a thread of a wire. Upon the arrival of the airborne bambino, John the Divine surely stammered in astonishment as he watched from the heavens- never had the "Word become Flesh" like that. Conveniently, the parish in which I play has excellent rafters, like a ski-lodge, but we didn't have any Sicilian Capuchins to throw up there! Nope, my Christmas entertainment had more to do with hippies- like my uncle. (Uncle Tony is awesome but sometimes drug-use hurts the brain, for decades.) So, after all the music duties were done I proceeded to the family Christmas Lunch. On the maternal side the 7 kids take turns hosting the annual feast. Because it was Uncle Tony's turn and his house is essentially an environmentally-friendly lean-to, he hosted lunch in a small, 3 room, vacant apartment which he owns... in a nearby town...always full of meth labs. Uncle Tony doesn't mess around with that kind of stuff but he makes his own booze, which is also an adventure of epic proportions. (Wine, I should say...to my knowledge). Things got off to a great start. Grandma found some prayer in a small devotional book which she decided 30-plus people should pray. Accordingly, she copied it, by hand, over 30 times onto separate sheets of legal-pad paper. She's 84 but she knows of zerox machines. It defies explanation. I'm almost positive this incident now joins the ranks of other significant mysteries, such as the Incarnation- I think the timing on this one was a sign! Once the meal began the Bud-Light appeared (because this is Nebraska). Soon after the Coronas followed, Uncle Tony swearing by these with limes in hand- and of course his homemade "wines." Some interesting observations on these "wines:" the bottles are labeled with various innocuous titles like "chokecherry," "pear," and "apple" but the immediate acerbic tinge seems to say this your generic unleaded gasoline with food coloring; initially, the ephemeral sweetness tingles the tongue but soon this gives way to a vicious bite which sends rottweilers running. It needs a chaser- I'll take some of that pomegranate 7-up. Yum! But more scientific analysis was needed. Ah yes, the 'cup test!' Notice how that 80-proof brandy is slowly warping that paper cup; Also note how that homemade "wine" burns through that cup like chemical warfare is going out of style. Yet, I live- a testament to resilient genes. My cousin, who is a chemist at an ethanol plant, toyed with the idea of taking a vile and running a scan to determine alcohol content. And then he said he went to the "Upstream Brewery" in Omaha. Describing it, he said: "It was alright, but they didn't have normal beers there- just that microbrewery stuff." The cousin in cowboy duds tacked on a bit, "Yeah, I can't hardly stand Sam Adams, way too rich." Oh, that's right, Bud-Light country. Someday an old German farmer who brews a killer stout will win the Powerball. He will give it to the Husker Athletic Department and suddenly all of "Husker Nation" will drink that ale like it was the Fountain of Youth. Too bad Ponce de Leon didn't find it first! At least I'm sure he saw his share of kitschy Iberian Jesuses.

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