I watched the PBS series on Prohibition this week. Anne watched it too, but sometimes with her eyes closed. Ken Burns, the main documentarian, went to the same high school that Anne and I did. He graduated the year before us. His brother Ric, his collaborator on many films, graduated the year after we did, and my brother Chris and Anne’s sister Jay graduated the year after that. Such is the extent of my connection to this famous family. I liked “Prohibition”, which got me to thinking, what my family’s connection to this period was. Anne’s mother’s family grew up a stone’s throw from the Canadian border, so as children, instead of playing cops and robbers, they played rum runners and revenuers. When the Cabin’s outhouse had to be moved, because it was full, various liquor bottles were found in the hole, but I don’t know if they date back to prohibition. Yes dear friends, there will be no ounce of night soil left unturned in the pursuit of this blog. I asked my Dad, if he had stories about Prohibition or knew any stories that Mom might have told. This is what he had to say:
Yes, your great-grandfather (Mom’s mother’s father) was a lobsterman out of New Bedford. Well, any kind of fishing is hard work so he decided to try his hand at a little bit of rum running. He could see out beyond the three-mile limit ships that were sort of floating supermarkets for booze. They would sell to anyone who could get out there and he had a boat. So out he went, filled the hold of his boat and returned to the pier in New Bedford to unload. Unfortunately, the revenuers got wind of his enterprise and closed in on him. He spotted them and ran away. He wasn’t arrested, but he lost his boat.
I don’t know any stories about my father’s side of the family but on my mother’s side, in West Virginia, where she was born and grew up moon shining and brewing white lightning came as natural as breathing. These were the same people who caused the whiskey rebellion during George Washington’s administration, so there is a long history there, but I don’t know any specific details.
So, while Anne’s family members were playing rum runners, some of my family members were rum runners. One of Burns’ points was that prohibition touched everyone. I guess that was true. I chose the picture of the Arch for this post, because another great documentarian, Charles Guggenheim, once produced a film about its making. It was nominated for an Academy Award in ‘67 and is still played daily, in the museum, beneath the Arch. Called “Monument to the Dream”, I found this YouTube video of its climatic final minutes, the capstone of the film. If you look closely at my picture of the Arch, you can see a line of rust forming along one of its welds. It is not an isolated flaw and is by no means the worst. The parks service is now studying what should be done to repair this damage. I anxiously await the arrival of whatever Arch crawling caterpillar of a device that is eventually set upon the wall, to expunge the rust from this stainless steel wonder. Wait, did you say stainless? How many ounces of silver could be wrought, if we just melted down the Arch? Does this blog make me a documentarian too, or just a fool on his own little soap box?
Actually, our grandparents (Pooh’s and mine) were pretty good teetotalers.
So where do you think that the bottles came from?
I remember one visit in Ann Arbor, when both grandmothers were there, and the paternal grandmother declared, “I like beer.” I wondered if the maternal grandmother was going to be upset. I do not recall any family fireworks resulting from this difference of opinion.
I was there for that incident. As I recall it, Harry asked his mother if she wanted a beer. Grandma Fin said something like, “Oh, she wouldn’t want a beer!” Of course your other grandma did! Grandma Fin was very friendly and polite about it as I recall. And maybe your other grandma couldn’t understand her anyway. Didn’t she speak Spanish?
An analogous meeting of the grandmothers occurred at our house in Ann Arbor. High-balls were involved, but what I remember best is their discussion of their first names. Bertha, of West Virginia origins, thought her name was not as pretty as Adeline, daughter of a Massachusetts fisherman. Her logic went like this, Adeline reminded her of that old song, “Sweet Adeline”, which they both liked. While Bertha had connotations of Big Bertha, the WW I German cannon. Her slight frame certainly belied such connotations though, because as children we referred to her as Little Nanny. Consequently, Adeline earned the moniker Big Nanny, but otherwise we were such good little children. 😉
The bottles at the cabin were not in the outhouse, they were under the cabin. We did not move the cabin, but Harry was under there checking out the base logs. Obviously, it was the generation after the teetotalers who did the drinking and bottle disposal.
When I was in Europe, I finally wrote home about drinking wine–as we had been told it was safer than the water. Also, I was using the letters as a substitute for a journal and wanted a complete story.
Well, my undies aren’t exactly in a bunch, just reporting history 🙂
Now, I do remember one sweltering summer day, probably the last summer of grandma’s life when a few G2-ers set her up in a lawn chair up on the bank and slipped her a little bit of a mixed drink. She dozed off nicely.