Oma and Gin - Not a Good Mix
SUMMER PEOPLE LIKED TO DRINK. That’s all there is to say. It is the stone-cold truth and I’m not talking about sipping the sweet, mountain-borne spring water that streamed from our taps. Nope. They were partial to anything that had a proof number on its label. Bourbon, Scotch, rye, rum, gin, vodka, port, sherry, as well as beer and ale all flowed freely on the cool porches and just about everywhere else at The Maples.
All of that imbibing made for interesting, and occasionally, heated conversation about everything, including politics and religion, any time of the day or night. But mainly the sampling of spirits occurred during evening card games with, naturally, gin rummy being the most popular.
We never had a state liquor license so we couldn’t sell anyone a drink but there was nothing wrong with serving a guest anything they brought with them. On more than one occasion when the old man picked up guests at the train station in Brattleboro, the new arrival would inquire about the availability of spirits. Then Dad would explain about The Maples’ lack of a liquor license, and the freedom of guests to indulge in his or her own tastes. This inevitably led to a request to stop at ye old local schnapps shoppe to purchase an adequate supply. So he did.
About the only time booze wasn’t poured was during breakfast and that was not a hard and fast rule. There were occasions when morning came a tad too early for a previously inebriated guest, and the customary two aspirins or plop-plop-fizz-fizz of an Alka-Seltzer just didn’t do the trick. That’s when the liquored lamentations went out for something called the “hair of the dog.”
When you are six years old, everything is very literal, especially words, and the subtlety of nuance and alternate meaning is yet to be appreciated. Or at least, that’s the way it was with me. True, I knew the phrase “get lost” really didn’t mean wandering out into the forest never to be seen again. Geeze, any kid knew that. But hair of the dog was something I took at face, or fur, value.
The first time I heard the phrase, it was softly uttered by a certain Mr. Dom LaGigglia of Jersey City, New Jersey, on the dining porch and he was gripping the tablecloth with one hand while clutching the water glass I had just put down with his other paw. My mother was in the process of placing a plate of scrambled eggs and toast in front of him and, from his reaction to it, one would have thought it was a bowl of underdone newt eyes.
“Please, Marion, no food. Not this morning. What I really need is some hair of the dog,” he moaned with more than a little urgency.
“What you need is a cup of hot coffee,” his wife Yvonne said without much sympathy. “Just bring him some coffee, he’ll be fine,” she instructed Mom.
“No, no, that won’t work,” he stated firmly as he continued to hold onto the tablecloth as if it were a lifeline he dare not release.
“I told you to take it easy last night, but you wouldn’t listen. Oh no, mister I-can-drink-anyone-under-the-table just had to keep at it,” Yvonne said with a tightness in her voice.
My mother looked at me and tilted her head toward the kitchen. I knew that look and that tilt. It always meant for me to scram because something was happening that she didn’t want me to hear.
“Just a little hair of the dog will fix everything,” he pleaded, looking at my mom, a trembling smile at the corner of his mouth.
“Hair of the dog? Why would anyone want that?” I thought to myself. I’d gotten dog hair in my mouth on a few occasions, usually when I was combing my dog, Rover, or giving him a hug, and it was nasty stuff. Wanting some at the breakfast table was a mystery to me. “Shall I get Rover?” I asked. Before Mom could answer, big Dom burst into laughter.
“Yvonne, honey, do you hear that? The kid thinks I want to bite his dog,” he howled.
“No,” my mother said firmly, “just take this back to the kitchen,” and she handed me Dom’s plate.
“What’s going on out there?” the old man asked and, seeing the plate of eggs on my tray, he added, “Who doesn’t like the eggs?”
“It’s Mr. LaGigglia and he wants some of Rover’s hair,” I said as I slid the plate onto the counter.
He looked at me as if I had just sprouted a second head covered with those newt eyes. “What are you talking about?”
Just then my mother came into the kitchen and he turned his inquisition to her. “What is he talking about? There’s dog hair in someone’s food? That dog has to stay outside when we have people here,” he said inspecting the plate of eggs for any trace of Rover’s coat.
My mother took the plate from Dad. “No, there’s nothing wrong with the eggs. It’s Dom LaGigglia and he had a little too much last night and now wants, you know, some hair of the dog. What was he drinking? I think it was whiskey,” she said as she glanced at the array of bottles at the far end of the counter. Taking a tumbler from a cabinet she poured it half-full of amber liquid and put it on my tray. “Take him this,” she instructed.
Mr. LaGigglia was still giggling, in a painful way, as I approached his table. Something told me it would be funny if I said something funny so, as I placed the glass in front of him, I whispered, “From Rover.”
It worked. He threw his head back and laughed so hard he nearly tipped over backwards. His wife reached out and grabbed his arm to steady him. “Dominic,” she screamed. “That’s rich,” he guffawed as he dabbed his eyes with a napkin and then drank the entire glass in one gulp. Coughing, he pounded his fist on the table and said to me, “Good Rover!”
I still didn’t know what the hair of a dog had to do with everything but it sure was a hit.
The man at the next table, however, was about to enlighten me.
It was Dr. Irving Mann, a physician who trained at Harvard Medical School and was the go-to guy to settle bets about anything medical.
Dr. Mann had a look of Albert Einstein about him. There was a shock of white hair that sort of wandered across his head, and he had a bushy gray mustache and wore thin, wire-rimmed glasses. “You see, Clifford, ‘hair of the dog’ is a term people use when they’ve had too much alcohol to drink and they think having more will sober them up,” he intoned in a scholarly way. “And there is some merit to that theory,” he added. “What Mr. LaGigglia requested is actually a shortened version of the original phrase that is, ‘the hair of the dog that bit you.’
“It dates to the time of Shakespeare because back then it was believed that if a person was bitten by a dog, especially a rabid dog, putting some hairs from the animal on the wound would prevent anything evil from happening, such as infection. Obviously, that was just a fable and has no actual application today.”
“Oh, fer Christ sake, can it, will ya,” big Dom bellowed. “We’re trying to have breakfast here, not attend one of your goddamn lectures,” he added pointing his finger at the doc.
Suddenly breakfast was becoming one of the late night card games when the subject of politics came up.
“But the boy wants to know,” the doctor calmly said, “and I am merely answering his question. It’s healthy.”
“I’m gonna need a pack of dogs before the morning’s done,” Dom mumbled as he put his head in his hands.
Dr. Mann continued. “Clifford, you will observe that Mr. LaGigglia is suffering from a common ailment, a hangover. It is the consequence of consuming too much alcohol, which results in poisoning by the toxic chemicals into which alcohol is converted by the body. I am sure Mr. LaGigglia is experiencing dehydration and his electrolytes, blood glucose, and B-vitamins are all, how should I say it, out of whack.
“It should be noted that the symptoms of a hangover are similar to those of withdrawal from any powerful drug, namely a throbbing headache, nausea, and possible vomiting. Have you been sick this morning, Mr. LaGigglia?” he asked leaning toward Dom.
“Yeah, sick of hearing your big mouth,” came the replay.
“It can affect the nerves, too,” the doc said with a wry smile. “But to my point; consuming more alcohol, the hair of the dog, might actually help by blunting some of the hangover symptoms. A few of my colleagues agree.”
He took a sip of ice water, dabbed his napkin in the glass and ran the wet cloth across his mouth as if to wipe away all the words he just spoke, and then got up from the table. “I hope you feel better, Mr. LaGigglia. I bid you all a good morning,” he said cheerfully and left the dining porch.
“Quack,” Dom muttered.
“Shhhhh!” His wife hissed loudly.
Well, it wasn’t often that we got a lecture from a Harvard man for breakfast, but at least I knew what the hair of the dog meant and Rover was off the hook.
This was not the first time Dr. Mann inserted his medical knowledge and opinions into events around him. While he was a good source of information to settle bar bets late at night, some of the summer people called him Dr. Buttinski, referring to his penchant for poking his proboscis into the business of others. But the truth is, he earned some respect when he resolved one particular midnight argument...
To Be Continued in Summer People.
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