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The Table Wine of The American South

July 4, 2008
A while back Mirabile dictu had an entry about testing one’s memory bump, a series of flashbulb memories possibly trigged by a reminiscence effect. The test to determine if you have a memory bump (or not) can be found here.

As usual, I did not take the test. I am finding out more and more just how lazy I am. The test did divert me considerably though. When I reviewed the fifteen words, I thought about how I like to object think, and subsequently object write (when I am not too lazy to). A good friend first brought this to my attention when we were in a writing class together. She said my stories are often centered on objects. Unfortunately, object writing does not make for good plots. I’ve always had trouble with plots. In addition, I tend to like fiction that centers on character and setting development more than plot development, e.g. Bleak House.

For me, many objects work like a mind portkey, taking me to past destinations. It happens all the time and if I was serious about writing I would write each time it does happen. For instance, the other day when we were eating out at a restaurant, something about the way the lemon wedge sat on the glass of iced tea or, how the iced tea was full of ice made me think about my family’s ice situation when I was growing up. We did not have an icemaker in our refrigerator. Many families in our neighborhood did not have one either. However, it was popular to see a family with an icemaker in or on their refrigerator on television. Alternatively, to hear about how someone went over someone’s house and it was so cool because they had an icemaker. All you had to do was press the drinking glass against the lever and ice would rain down. Then there were stories about how an older brother or a neighbor’s older brother or sister moved into an apartment on the other side of town, closer to his/her job and their apartment had an icemaker in the freezer compartment of their refrigerator. No filling up ice trays, just a deep rectangle shape bucket positioned under a contraption that magically dispensed ice. We even knew one woman who told us that she could never use all of her ice, so often she would turn off the icemaker. Amazing.

On hot summer days, we would fantasise about having endless supplies of ice. During one summer when I was ten, we participated in a neighborhood park program that provided children with free lunches three times a week. A truck that used dry ice delivered the food. The driver would entertain us by dropping chunks of dry ice into water and creating smoke. Although we were intrigued, we knew, sensually, it was not the same as wet ice. At the end of the summer, we were all treated to a trip to the local amusement park. There was a ride with an Alpine sleigh theme; it was sort of like an indoor roller coaster. We rode it over and over because there were parts that went through an icy cave. The air-conditioned was so cool and refreshing that it was well worth getting hot and sweaty again and again waiting in the long line. When we could, we would cut the line.

Iced tea was our opium. Fizzy drinks, soda water, coke, pop, sodas, minerals, juices and the like were too expensive for our huge lot. The tap water alone was hard and metallic tasting. Occasionally we had Kool-aid but it required more sugar than the tea and the adults did not like it. Our tea was made by boiling loose tealeaves, straining the leaves then adding cold (not necessarily so, but from the C faucet nevertheless) tap water to dilute, and a cup of sugar (or more to taste). This was long before the sun tea rave.

Having ice for our tea was the biggest problem. Ice trays were not sufficient. Few family members would refill the water and when some did, it would take too long to make ice for the half who was not first in line for ice. The neighborhood store sold ice in a bag. It was expensive. Yet, we splurged on it when we could. Depending on who was sent to buy the ice determined if it was a good deal. My brothers who were easily distracted brought home a bag filled with half ice and half water.

The most affordable solution was to recycle plastic gallon milk jugs. After rinsing them out good, very good because no one wanted milk coated ice, we would fill them with water and place them in the freezer. On good days, my father would take the initiative and chop the ice as eagerly as an American patriarch carves the turkey on Thanksgiving Day. But many days he was not there, or was not in the mood, a mood that demanded that someone else take the reins. Why should he do it all the time, he worked hard didn’t he. What was the point in having children if not to benefit. For the rest of us, I hate to call it laziness but I’m afraid it is what it is, but more for some than others. Our mother would deprive of us iced tea before she would assert herself and most of my siblings were no better. I did have one brother who would give it a go if he was desperate enough for a cold glass of tea, but bless his heart, he was clumsy and more than likely wielding a knife would mean an injury would follow.

After finding the biggest and sharpest butcher knife available, you must grab the frozen jug by its handle. While holding the handle the whacking began. The point to whack was about half way down, below the handle. If you broke the jug above the handle then the opening would not be big enough for heavy duty chopping. One whack never did the job, it took many many whacks. Care must be taken not to splinter the plastic because the colour of the plastic was similar to the color of the ice and no one wanted plastic in their iced tea. After successfully breaking through the plastic on one side of the frozen jug, you had to move over to another side while trying to break the adjoining corner. The ice needed to be whacked as well. An arduous and risky job for a sweaty little girl who needed that glass of iced tea.

The goal was to decussate cuts deep enough to split the frozen jug into two, forming a top half and a bottom half. Not until the jug was completely split could chopping the ice begin. The bottom half chopped better than the top because the split jug formed a bowl that held the ice in place, unlike the top half that was more shallow and with jug’s mouth and handle. Here the ice pick had to be found and naturally, who ever chopped ice last did not leave it in the freezer door as the unwritten rule dictated. Wanting to stop chopping and force a large piece of ice into a smaller mouth glass was always tempting. Instant gratification. Nevertheless, she witnessed others who chopped before her executing the same thought, almost always causing their glass to shatter.

Of course, this chopping had to be done with discretion because there was a hierarchy to doling out freshly chopped ice. The mother and father had to be asked if they wanted any first, then the chopper could make her glass of iced tea next if one of the mother’s favourites were not leeching around. If so, it became, “you can chop enough for him since you are doing it already.”

  1. Hesperis permalink
    July 5, 2008 6:56 am

    What a beautiful post! Thanks.

  2. Chris permalink
    July 5, 2008 1:47 pm

    I was always considered wierd by my family because I have never liked iced tea, which was served with every dinner and supper. When we have big family get togethers now with the extended family, I always can spot where my place at the table is, just by looking for the only glass of water.

    I liked the mechanics of how you wrote this entry, K, and enjoyed the retelling of memories.

    We never had an ice machine either, we had two ice trays and woe unto anyone who popped out a few cubes without refilling the tray. The wrath of Dad would be upon you.

  3. Professor Zero permalink
    July 5, 2008 3:41 pm

    Great post!

  4. Uppity Woman Says: permalink
    July 6, 2008 10:41 pm

    I grew up on iced tea and lemonade and still need both in my fridge at all times. But at dinner, a nice wine.

    Now the Ice Machine reminded me of our first ice machine, the early model. Damned thing dropped cubes all night and took a lot of getting used to. So I remember writing a tongue-in-cheek poem, “The Epic of the Ice Machine” which cracked everybody in the family up.

    Yeah I was funny then too.

  5. Anna permalink
    July 8, 2008 10:40 pm

    Ah yes – memories of pulling out an ice tray to find only ONE cube left!

    A great “object tale,” Kitty. I was riveted.

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