I grew up in the Middle West where nice people didn't drink. When we moved East, since my husband was an engineer, we quickly found ourselves in social circles where drinking was common practice. I was much impressed when we were guests at a bridge foursome with the sophistication of the bottle of wine which accompanied our game, and when I reciprocated the hospitality, I bought a bottle of wine myself. Being ignorant of the varieties, I chose muscatel because I like the rhythm of the word.
This was during the war years and was also the winter of the big snow in northern New York State where we lived. The night our friends were to come was stormy and cold. We had managed by then to get coal for the furnace and even a telephone, but the dessert I planned to serve was sugarless because of rationing. My husband found a few pieces of kindling when he snowshoed out to explore the garage of the house we had just bought, and we laid a fire in the fireplace in anticipation of our guests' arrival. The bottle of muscatel was chilling in the refrigerator.
By nine o'clock when they had not arrived, I decided that lateness alone could not account for their absence. By ten o'clock I gave up expecting them and, in anger and frustration, went to the refrigerator, got out the bottle of wine, poured a drinking glass full, and drank it down without stopping at all. It was potent wine. I felt dizzy almost immediately and then as it began to take effect, the world began to rotate, leaving me behind all the while. I managed to make it upstairs to my bed where I lay down and hung on to the bed, hoping to maintain myself through the mad wheeling.
Then I got sick. I staggered helplessly from the bed with my housewife's instinct still functioning vaguely, trying to make the bathroom, but I didn't have a chance. I kept going, however, streaming the mess in a trail from my bed to the toilet. There I spent the remainder of the night, retching and reeling in turn and together.
The next morning I remembered that we were supposed to be taken into membership in the downtown Presbyterian Church. When our first child was born, I had felt so keenly the lack of organized religion in my life that I had joined a church, hoping others could give him a religious training I did not feel qualified to do. I crossed my fingers, child that I was, when I said I believed in Jesus Christ, and we were duly accepted. This present ceremony was a transfer of membership, but arranging it had been complicated.
"I think we should go ahead," I told my husband. "I still feel terrible, but there's nothing left in my stomach to retch, and I'm sure I'll be all right."
So we went down to the church. Much to our surprise, we were greeted by the usher upon our arrival and escorted to the very front pew of the high-vaulted, plush church. New members were honored with front seats in anticipation of the ceremony of acceptance. No sooner was I seated than I realized my error in coming. This was Communion Sunday and, there on tables right under my nose, were tiers and tiers of grape juice, ensconced in those lovely little glasses that flare from the top of heavy little bottoms.
I tried. "It's just a matter of mind over matter," I told myself . "I won't be sick again. I won't. I won't. I won't," but my matter was stronger than my mind. That grape juice was too close a relative of the muscatel to deceive my nostrils, and I got sicker and sicker and sicker. I saw a door back of the vestry, and I made for it, not even caring where it led just so it was out of that place with all those people and all that grape juice. Fortunately, it led outside back of the church where I retched again in blissful solitude. I waited in the car while my husband went through the simple acceptance ceremony for both of us.
I don't understand why churches are so important to me. I have never even tried to bend my convictions according to their will. "You can't live your religion in a vacuum," I have said to my husband, and I keep right on going to church, silent when I disagree with the dogma, but quite active in the opportunities for interaction of thought which occur in this medium. We didn't stay with the big church long, finding a small neighborhood group soon that better met our needs. If I could understand what I gain from this, I might understand something important for others as well as myself, but I don't. I just keep going to church, no longer claiming even to myself that it's for the children.