My First Drink – The Great Christmas Present Massacre
Am I the only one who feels it? I can't believe that I am. there is such an air of anticipation right now and it seems to be spreading. Everywhere I go, I see more smiles on people's faces. More people wishing each other a "Merry Christmas" or even the generic "happy holidays" with a lot more meaning this year.
Maybe it's since, for the first time in many years, I truly have the Christmas Spirit. I must say, it's quite a feeling. It brings to mind the excitement and anticipation of all those wonderful Christmases when I was a kid. I have to admit that I had a bunch of wonderful Christmases when I was a boy.
I bought into Santa like you wouldn't believe and, like most young kids, Christmas Eve meant adrenaline flowing like crazy on top of a Christmas cookie sugar buzz that just wouldn't stop. You can bet this kid wasn't to sleep anytime soon. They should invent a sleeping pill for kids to be used on Christmas Eve. Nothing to strong, just something to put them to sleep despite their Santa induced insanity. A perfect solution would be something that would also make them sleep past 5 a.m. on Christmas morning.
Those were some magical Christmases, but one Christmas that stand out in my mind happened several years later when I was in my early teens. I suppose I was 13 or 14 at the time and had never encountered an adult beverage. One year at Chrismtas my chance to learn about it came about since, holiday time was the only time my parents drank hard liquor.
I don't tell you about the drinking to paint my folks as heavy drinkers. They were far from it, but on Christmas Eve, out came my dad's favorite mixer, Old Crow. Now, if you're not familiar with Old Crow, it is to fine liquor what Miley Cyrus is to nuclear physics. I don't have any idea if that brand name even exists anymore, but you could remove the paint on a battleship with it. I know, I sneaked some when I was a kid.
My curiosity got the best of me and it's my father's fault. I remember the old man drinking Old Crow right out of the bottle a couple of times. the faces he made as the cheap stuff burned it's way down caused his face to contort into a grimace, a frown and sudden exhaled breath all at once. I had to know why, if this stuff tasted so awful, he would buy it time after time. I just had to know the big secret.
An opportunity to conduct the Old Crow Taste Test came one year just before Christmas when I was about 12 or 13. My folks went out to a Christmas party and left me and my friend Pat to our own devices. As soon as my dad's 1963 Chevy Bel-Air left the driveway, I went to the old man's liquor cabinet and carefully lifted the bottle of Old Crow from it's hiding place. I had seen my dad swig right from the bottle and that was good enough for me. I imitated what I had seen my dad do and gave it a good long pull.
Suddenly, there were stars before my eyes, my throat closed up and I could only breathe in! I could only breathe in! It was terrifying and yet exciting at the same time. I just knew that my folks would come home and find me passed out on the floor! I was caught, Busted. I would be grounded until I was my age now. I thought all this through what felt like fire in my eyes, brain and throat. I was suddenly aware that I was making those faces like my dad made.
My eyes popped open wide and, suddenly I could exhale again. As I did, I could taste that cheap, vile whisky on my tongue and I began to wonder if I had done any permanent damage.
Once the burning stopped and the coughing subsided, I became aware of a warm feeling from my mouth to my stomach. Not the kind of warn feeling one gets from puppies and kittens, the kind of warm feeling one gets when one drinks from a bottle of rubbing alcohol. Naturally, with a reaction like that, I had to try another shot.
I decided to close my eyes and try it again. maybe I did it wrong. The second shot came a lot easier. My throats nerve ending were obviously stunned by the cheap hooch, so I barely felt the second shot. Ah, courage and fortitude were indeed coming from that magic bottle. I went for a third. it went even easier. the third time was the charm. This time I didn't cough or have that deep burning sensation. This was going to be great. Then inspiration hit me full force and I had the best idea of my life! I decided to go on a Christmas present search.
As an old hide-and-seek aficionado, I had a pretty good idea of where to hide things in our house. With that knowledge and three shots of Old Crow in me, I went off in quest of Christmas presents. I was successful right from the start. In my parent's closet I found a pair of boots that I had wanted. Everytime I checked a possible hiding place, I came up with a nugget. I was on a roll.
Everything was going fine and I was finding presents like mad and all was great until I realized one of the lessons of how cheap liquor can mess with you. I had lost all track of time. Between the liquor that still burned in my stomach and the effect it had on my pea sized brain, I had no idea what time it was.
I went to my parent's room and, to my horror, it was 11:50 p.m. My folks told me they would be home around midnight and now I found myself standing in the middle of the living room floor trying to decide just what to do. I knew I had only moments to return all the gifts to their hiding places. Then it dawned on me that I had a somewhat bigger problem. I was just a little bit tipsy. Well, perhaps more than a little tipsy on three shots of whiskey. Was I going to stagger when they got home? Can you just look at someone and tell they've been drinking?
I recall hazily deciding that I had better get it in gear and return the gifts to their hiding places. I had to cover my tracks and fast! Pat and I began rehiding gifts, being careful not to damage the wrapping paper or ribbons. No one must ever know that I had found my gifts. I guess I was lucky that Pat, after witnessing my reaction to the booze passed when it came his time to sample, so he was doing fine.
We had the last gift restashed under the bed when we heard the sound of my old man's Chevy in the drive. We did it! We pulled it off. All I had to do know was sit down in front of the TV and my parents would be none the wiser. I felt very superior as my parents casually asked how we spent the evening. "Just watching TV', we told them with just a hint of a question in our voices.
All was well. We had gotten away with it. My parents retired to bed without another word and the next morning nothing was said, no questions we asked and, as far as I was concerned, I got away Scott free.
Over the next few days, I saw new packages appear under the tree daily. I recognized those packages, of course, because I already knew what was in them. Still, the excitement of actually getting those presents pretty much outweighed the fact that the gift was no longer a surprise.
I've always had a gift for acting and believe you me, I acted surprised with the revelation of each new gift. "A new sweater!, I would exclaim in sincere surprise, "Just what I wanted." I played the role to the hilt and I was sure no one even suspected my night of gift crashing.
Well, all went great all day Christmas day and I was coasting into home when my dad walked in the room with a bottle of Cold Crow and two shot glasses. A shiver of terror shot through me. Was he going to ask why some of his liquor was missing? Was I about to be busted and sent away to reform school? I was too old to spank and I had no point of reference on punishment for young teens. I knew I would be grounded, but what other horrors awaited me?
My old man sat dwon next to me and said, "Merry Christmas, son." I nervously croaked out something or another that sounded like "Mer Crimus" and awaited my just punishment.The old man just looked at me and said. When you re-hide your gifts, you might want to make sure you hide them where they were originally hidden. Oh, and by the way, would you like ANOTHER shot of my whiskey?"
Merry Christmas from the winter of 1964. What a Christmas