A Creature of Habit

Jay Wilson was a man of few words and a creature of habit.   It seemed that his whole life was lived on a schedule.   He left home for work at exactly the same time every morning.   He returned home from work at exactly the same time in the afternoon.  He picked up the daily paper, "The Paducah Sun Democrat," from the yard and came in the house.    Mumbling, " 'lo', hello, he gave me a kiss on the cheek and a swat on the rear with the paper.   Sitting in the cricket chair, he read the paper, without conversation, while I finished cooking dinner.   This was his routine for years.   One day, while he came home on time, and went through the little ritual, he broke from routine.   He laid the paper in the cricket chair in the kitchen and went to the living room.   He sat down in an easy chair and started reading a magazine.   He poured over it until I announced that dinner was ready.   He put the magazine in the dark room and everything else was normal until the next afternoon.   Following the same routine as he did the day before, never turning the page of the magazine.   The page that I could see from my vantage point, the kitchen, showed a picture of a scantily clad woman, which bothered me somewhat.   I thought, "Oh Lord, midlife crisis."

I have always had respect for everyone's privacy, but this was serious stuff to me.   After the third day, the break in Jay's routine became so unsettling that I, for the moment, lost respect for his privacy.   I went to the dark room in search of what I thought would be a "Girlie" magazine.   There in the cabinet with the film and photography supplies, was the magazine.   I removed it from the cabinet and flipped through the pages, but didn't see what I was expecting to see.   The only unusual thing I saw was, pages of recipes for making every kind of wine imaginable, by the water seal method.   There are no words to describe the feeling of guilt that came over me as I, sheepishly, put the magazine back in the cabinet.   The very next day he told me about finding the recipes and of his impending wine making venture.  

Although Jay drank socially, he didn't drink that much or that often.   I wondered why he would want to make wine, but when he saw the recipes, he thought wine making might be a fun project for the summer.   He was always looking for summer projects.   As we didn't have central air conditioning, just a window unit, it was too hot to work in the dark room in the summer.   We shot pictures during the summer and waited for fall and winter to develop film, make prints and make our friends' photo Christmas cards.

Perfectionist that Jay was, he planned ahead, down to the last detail from collecting the needed equipment to procuring a permit to make wine for personal use.   In 1955, Jay wrote a letter to Col. William C. Taylor who was in the 149th infantry with him during World War II.   He was then, Kentucky Commisioner of Alcholic Beverages.   Jay inquired about getting a permit for making wine.   Col. Taylor answered, saying that a permit for making wine for personal use, I believe it was 200 gallons, could be obtained.   He applied for and was given a permit.

Our friend, Frank Sanders, the pharmacist at Nelson's Rexall Drug Store in Calvert City, saved five gallon distilled water bottles and one gallon Coca Cola syrup bottles for him.   Large rubber stoppers, short lengths of copper tubing and longer lengths of rubber tubing would be needed for each bottle.   When the equipment was ready, all he had to do was wait for the fruit to ripen to start the project.

Now our house, in Calvert Heights, was not planned to accommodate a winemaking operation.   We didn't have a basement, garage or an outside storage building.   The house was built on a solid foundation on a sloping lot.   One side of the house was high enough off the ground to store the lawn mower, tools and such.   That space was turned into a winery/wine cellar.

The water seal method is, by far, the most sanitary method of making home made wine.
The fruit was put in the bottles and boiling water was added.   The copper tube was bent and one end was put in a hole through the large stopper.   A rubber tube was put on the other end of the copper tube and put in the gallon jug, which was filled with water.   The rubber tube went to the bottom of the gallon jug.   Gasses from the fermenting fruit went through the tube into the jug and bubbled up through the water.   Nothing could get in the wine while it was fermenting, not even impure air.   The bottles and jugs were moved from the kitchen to the winery and left for nine days.   Sugar was added and it was left for another nine days or until the water in the small jug had stopped bubbling.   The fermentation process was then completed.

Jay made: strawberry, blackberry, elderberry, grape, plum, peach, cantaloupe and ginger, wine.   We were sitting at the dinner table one evening when we heard a muffled explosion, the noise made the house shake slightly.    After dinner Jay went to check on the wine.   He discovered what had caused the explosion the ginger wine had blown up.   Everything under the house was covered with it, the lawnmower, the other bottles of wine and it was dripping from the floor joists.   It was a slimey, nasty stinking mess.   When the wine had finished fermenting it was brought back to the kitchen, strained, poured into gallon jugs and sealed.   Each five gallon bottle, yielded about four gallons of wine.   It was now ready for use.

The wine was delicious, especially the blackberry and grape, it was the best I had ever tasted.   I tasted most of it, but I just couldn't muster up enough courage to taste the cantaloupe wine.  Jay shared the wine with his friends and neighbors and the rest was left in the wine cellar and almost forgotten for more than a year.

Fall brought cool weather, the wine was aging in the cellar and we could once again work in the dark room.   The magazine incident was forgotten and my creature of habit was back.   He brought the evening paper in, I got my "lo", peck on the cheek and swat on the rear.   As I prepared dinner he was back in the cricket chair, reading the paper, and all was well.


Millie Wilson © 1997

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