By Wm. Axley Allen © 1983-2012
Issue: December, 1983
“Caleb, I seen you do some stupid things over the last 65 years but this takes the cake!”
“Now you just hold on a minute, Henry, it weren’t my fault. What was I supposed to do? The sheriff wanted to see that pig ‘fore he bought it. After all, I did have an ad in the paper to sell pigs and whose idea was it to feed them pigs all that left over slop from our brandy still? Yours, you old goat!”
“Old goat! Old goat! Why Caleb, I didn’t have no idea you were going to take the sheriff on a tour of the hog pen. You could a told ‘em you done sold ‘em all, but no you take ‘em by the hand and lead ‘em right straight to the hog pen.”
“Look here, Henry, it was your idea to feed that stuff to them pigs. They’ll eat all the evidence, you said. Well, they ate it all right, but that pig pen smelled like the inside of a brandy keg and there weren’t a one of them pigs that could stand up. After the sheriff quit laughing, he guessed he’d never seen a happier bunch of pigs in his life. Why, the runt was passed out flat on his back smack in the middle of the feed trough. Pigs ain’t supposed to sleep on their backs, Henry, case you never noticed! That sure was a smart idea of yours, Henry. They eat all the evidence but it got ‘em too drunk to squeal. In between his laughing fits, the sheriff even asked me what “proof” hams these brandy-pigs turn out.”
“I know you didn’t no more mean to get caught than I did, Caleb, so let’s just forget it. Besides, it’s bad enough facing a year not having a brandy coffee lace during the holidays without fussing with you.”
“Yea, I know what you mean, Henry.”
The two old friends sat on either side of the old wood cook stove and both were so despondent that their rocking chairs were motionless. The only sound breaking the silence of Caleb’s kitchen was the steady ticking of an old mantle clock. It was Christmas Eve and cold outside but the room was warm as the two old friends sat holding their coffee cups while contemplating their mutual problem.
Finally Henry broke the silence, “You know what my own son told me Caleb? He said he was ashamed of me. Said he couldn’t hardly look his congregation in the eye. Asked me how I thought it looked for a minister’s father to get caught bootlegging. I told ‘em we weren’t bootlegging but just running off a little brandy for our Christmas coffee laces. I told ‘em we sure didn’t mean to embarrass him by getting caught, besides, if he’d ever get down off his high horse and taste some of our brandy, he’d be proud. You know, Caleb, he just looked at me, shook his head, got in his car and drove off without even saying bye. Caleb, you’d think me and you had robbed a bank or killed somebody.”
“Yea, I know what you mean Henry, all my youngsters are acting up the same way,” replied Caleb.
“Caleb, you know what gets me more’n getting caught by the law and more’n the kids all being bent out of shape and more’n us being the laughing stock of three counties?”
“What’s that?” answered Caleb.
“Well,” Henry replied, “This here is going to be the first Christmas in nigh on to 50 years that you and me ain’t had us some pure apple brandy for our Christmas coffee laces. Caleb, you don’t even act like missing our Christmas lace even bothers you. Don’t you see it’s a tradition and this year our tradition will end after 50 years? Why, it’s sad, Caleb. Where’s your heart? Don’t you see an era is passing? This year we lose our coffee laces and next year, Lord knows what else it will be, til finally, we’ll just be two old men without a say in our own lives. No sir, Caleb, this is an awful sad Christmas for me, our first one ever, to miss our coffee lace on Christmas morn.” His voice trailed off and silence once again filled the warm farm house kitchen. Finally, Caleb, who had been staring at the Christmas tree standing in the corner beyond the fireplace, began to speak. “Henry, you ‘member that tater bin that Pa dug over there in that corner?”
“Yea,’ said Henry, “It had a trap door that was ‘bout where the tree is standing. It was covered when you had the new floor put down.”
“Henry,” said Caleb, “Like always you’re about half right. If you get me that little crowbar, I’ll point out where you’re half wrong.”
Seeing the twinkle in Caleb’s eye, Henry came up out of his rocking chair, made a dash for the tool shed and was back in the house on his knees in front of the Christmas tree before Caleb could get out of his chair. Henry handed Caleb the crowbar and soon the two old friends were both on their knees in front of the brightly lit tree, inspecting the floor. Slowly Caleb pried up one board and then another until he had revealed the hidden trap door beneath. Placing his finger in the “lift hole,” he slowly raised the trap door.
There under a thin layer of straw, was layer after layer of brandy filled jars. Each jar lid had a date written on it. As Henry looked into the old tater bin, his eyes moistened up and for once in his life, he was speechless.
“Every year I been holding out a jar,” Caleb explained, “Just in case something like this ever happened and to prove to you once and for all that brandy don’t have to be hot off the still to be good. This here is mellow stuff, Henry. Some of it dates back to the 30’s and it’s as smooth as water on a mill pond. Well, don’t just sit there Henry, go get us a cup of coffee and the sugar bowl. I’m in the mood for a brandy coffee lace.” Several minutes later, the two old friends were sitting in their rocking chairs again, backed up to the wood stove, looking up at the beautifully decorated tree. Each held a warm coffee lace in his hand. They sit in silence, savoring their coffee laces and their friendship. Finally, the silence was broken by twelve strikes of the old mantle clock followed by Caleb’s voice; “Merry Christmas, Henry.” “Merry Christmas, Caleb,” came his friend’s reply.