Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Wine & Spirits, demon rum and sin

I have been thinking a good deal about sin lately whilst pushing my cart up and down the aisles of our rapidly evolving old/new Hy-Vee --- focused now that some of the plastic has come down on the southeast corner of the big addition where the liquor department, to be euphoniously christened Wine & Spirits, will be.

This department will have its own entrance and, if I'm not mistaken, its own sign; customers probably will be able to select, check out and pay without wading through regular grocery lines. It will be the first time in some years that Chariton has had something resembling a liquor store although there has been a liquor department at Hy-Vee for some time.

But I keep wondering if that big sign will compel some of our harder-shell Christian neighbors to avoid the appearance of evil by driving to Fareways in Osceola, Knoxville or Indianola, where groceries still are available sans apertifs and one is less likely to be observed in the booze aisles at Walmart.

When I was a kid, liquor in Iowa still was a major sin --- and I've never quite gotten over that. It was a little hard for me just prior to Christmas, for example, to go through the grocery line at a peak shopping hour with the bottle of rum needed for my fruitcakes. Dear god, I thought, they'll think I'm going to go home and drink this.

Not that I don't drink --- in moderation. But it's not an everyday occurrance. The last time I actually had someone here who accepted the offer of a drink, I'd forgotten where the liquor was, having moved it from under the kitchen sink to the storage compartment below an end table in the living room. I've been trying to have a gin and tonic, which I enjoy, for two years. The gin (and a high-quality gin it is) has been around for 20 years. So I bought tonic water and a lime, then forgot. The lime shriveled and by now, the tonic water's gone flat. I'll try again come summer.

I first tasted the hard stuff in the French Quarter of New Orleans, where liquor laws were not enforced; and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where one could drink legally at age 18. Not impressed. But determined to keep trying, my first full bottle (Scotch, which I still don't like but feel that I should) came from the old state liquor store on West Court Avenue.

Remember those stores, dating from a time when the state was determined to corner the market on sin and it was illegal to sell liquor by the drink? You walked into an area bounded by counters with bottles visible in the distance and a huge sign on the wall listing what was available. You picked what you wanted, filled out a paper order, handed it to the clerk and he or she went into the stacks to retrieve it.

The only public wineries, selling awful sticky sweet stuff, were in the Amana Colonies, operating with special dispensation because of tourist potential.

By the time I'd moved to Forest City, shoppers were allowed to move up and down the aisles themselves with carts or baskets, if needed. Some years later, Iowa went out of the liquor store business (while keeping a firm grip on wholesale); free-standing liquor stores sprang up and outfits like Hy-Vee began opening their own wine and liquor departments.

For a time, however, grocers and the big-boxers were forced by law to throw sheets over their beer displays and close off the liquor aisles on Sunday --- a nod to the old Christian tradition of sinning at will during the week but trying extra hard to avoid the appearance thereof on the Sabbath.

I'm willing to bet more time was spent in the Iowa Legislature then debating liquor laws than has been expended more recently debating same-sex marriage. Similar decibel levels, too.

Methodists were forbidden by canon law then to consume alcoholic beverages (every sip  was officially a sin), but Episcopalians have always been allowed to drink. Now Methodists can drink, but --- unlike Episcopalians --- still are forbidden to marry same-sex couples in their churches. Life sure is funny.

Which reminds me, there's been a box of cheap white wine in the refrigerator for at least two months. I wonder how it's doing. Think I'll try a glass with lunch and see.

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