Wednesdays For My Wife: My Bottle Collection

Everybody collects stuff when they’re a kid. Postcards, trading cards (baseball, football, hockey, The Man From UNCLE, Beatles etc.), records, books, bottle caps, coins and stamps are all typical things for the average kid to want to collect. But, as you probably have figured out by now, I wasn’t exactly what you’d call a typical kid. What did I collect?

Liquor bottles.

Why? To be honest, I really have no idea, but I think I wanted to project the image of a charming, suave and debonair international playboy, completely with a well-stocked bar in his “bachelor pad.” I mean, this was the late Sixties, and James Bond, Napoleon Solo, “Broadway” Joe Namath, Hugh Hefner et al. were always in the public eye and imagination, especially the imaginations of twelve-year-old boys.

Charming, suave and debonair international playboy John Holton, age twelve.

Of course, I was about as charming, suave and debonair as Jethro Bodine. But that didn’t stop me.

Anyway, any time a liquor bottle was drained in my house, I would take it to my room (at times after fishing it out of the garbage), clean it up and set it on my nightstand. After a few months, I had amassed quite a collection. But something was missing: all the bottles were empty. I decided they had to be filled up with something. Water would do for the clear liquids (e.g. gin) and for the tinted bottles (e.g. vermouth, Cutty Sark), but I had to come up with an idea for the bourbon bottles.

After giving it about 30 seconds of thought, I hit on the perfect solution: iced tea! (We lived up north, so it was unsweetened iced tea, from a jar.)

Twenty minutes later, I had a well-stocked bar, complete with partially-filled liquor bottles. At some point, I also decided I needed mixers, so I would add empty ginger ale and tonic water bottles to the mix. And I saw it looked authentic, and I was happy. It was Playboy After Dark in my room overlooking the alley behind Arthur Avenue.

For a couple of weeks, anyway, until mold started to form on the surface of the tea in a couple of the bourbon bottles. When that happened, I would shake the bottle and the mold would disintegrate, and all would be well again.

Mom did a good job of holding her tongue until one day, when she went into my room and saw that my bottle collection more closely resembled a bootleg penicillin-making facility than the well-stocked bar of a charming, suave and debonair international playboy, and made me get rid of it. I guess she also talked to one of her friends, who complained that her son (a classmate of mine) had been over to my house, saw my collection, and decided to build one of his own, at least until she saw it and told him to get rid of it.

My days as a charming, suave and debonair international playboy were at an end.



Mint For Juleps (A Family Story)


Time for another family story. The Kentucky Derby ran last Saturday, as you might know, and it reminded Mary to ask me to write this story that I got from Grandma Holton years ago.

I never knew Grandpa Holton; he died in 1939, when my dad was seven. He died of a heart attack while playing bridge one evening. The story goes that Grandma bid two no-trump… Just kidding. I don’t know what Grandma bid, but it’s true that he died while playing bridge with Grandma and a couple of friends. So, I never met him. One day I was curious to know something about him, so I asked Grandma. She told me this story.

Grandpa was based in Cincinnati, and his territory covered a good portion of Kentucky, including Louisville. It happened that he was in Louisville the week before the Kentucky Derby, and as all my drinking friends know, the race is associated with the mint julep, a drink made with bourbon (what else?), simple syrup, and mint. They sell a lot of mint juleps on Derby Day, so you need plenty of mint.

Anyway, Grandpa and a client were in a tavern having lunch one day, and a Black gentleman walks in with a huge bushel basket of mint leaves. He and the tavern owner, who was also the bartender, started haggling over the price of the mint. The guy wanted five dollars (let’s say) for the mint, the bartender wouldn’t go any higher than three. This goes on for some time, all within earshot of my grandfather and his client. Finally negotiations break off, and the guy is leaving. Grandpa called him over.

“How much do you want for the mint?” he asked.

“Five dollars,” the Black gentleman said.

My grandfather took out his wallet and handed the guy five dollars, and was now the proud owner of a big bushel of mint leaves.

He and his friend proceeded to have a great time with the mint, putting it in their hair, throwing it at each other, all while the bartender watched, fuming that these two guys had bought a huge bushel of mint that he needed. They paid their bill and walked out of the restaurant, carrying the mint with them.

I wish I had had the chance to meet Grandpa Holton. I think we have a lot in common.

Writer’s Workshop: Brunch at Grandma’s

This is another mashup, with the regular Writer’s Workshop combining with Wednesdays for my Wife, because Mary suggested this.


Grandma Holton and I, circa 1972 (Photo: Fabulous Auntie Jill)

I talk about Grandma Holton a lot here, mostly because she was such a great person and loved me, and, when Mary joined the family, her as well. She was just that kind of person. After Dad died, Mom considered moving us to California, but decided not to, because she didn’t want to leave Grandma. And I’m happy she felt that way.

Once, Grandma invited Mary and me over for brunch. When we got to her apartment, she and her sister Florence invited us back to the dining room, where she had laid out a spread, complete with ham steak, eggs, coffee cake, hash browns, toast, coffee, and, because she knew Mary liked tomatoes, sliced tomatoes. Now, Grandma and Florence were older women, and many years before Grandma had terrible ulcers and had three-quarters of her stomach removed, so neither of them ate too much. However, there must have been enough food for a battalion there. When I say there were sliced tomatoes, I think Grandma had bought the two biggest tomatoes at the store and sliced both of them. The ham steak was the size I used to buy for Mom and the three of us boys, and there was enough coffee cake to put a person into hypoglycemic shock.

Grandma said, “You two get started, I have to get the coffee. And remember, I don’t want any leftovers!”

Mary poked me after the two ladies had gone into the kitchen. “I’ll work on the tomatoes, you work on the ham.” She knew by then that, when Grandma was cooking and asked if you wanted more, you didn’t say, “No thank you, Grandma, I’m full,” you said “I surrender!”

About an hour later, we finished, and had done a good job of not leaving any leftovers. I was feeling a little bloated, and I’m sure Mary was as well. That’s when Grandma said, “Johnny, I have one egg left. Can I hard-boil it for you?”

I love hard-boiled eggs, and Grandma was the only person I knew who could (or would) make them, but I was stuffed. “Grandma, really, I’m stuffed…”

“Please, Johnny, I have one egg left, and we won’t eat it. Won’t you have it?”

How could I refuse? “Sure, I’d love it.”

She went to the kitchen and put the egg on to boil and came back, and we sat and talked and had a wonderful time. All of a sudden, out in the kitchen, we hear


It startled all of us, even Grandma, who was quite hard of hearing. She sprang from her chair and trotted out to the kitchen. A minute later, we hear her cackling, and she came back into the room with the pieces of the egg.

“I’m sorry, John, but we were having such a good time talking I completely forgot about your egg!”

It’s memories like this that make me realize how much I miss her. They don’t make ’em like Grandma anymore.

Overheard At The Movies #1LinerWeds

In 2006, I really wanted to see Casino Royale with Daniel Craig as the new 007, and Mary said that she’d go with me, provided I accompanied her to a “chick flick” of her choice. Her choice was The Lake House, starring Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but we had seen the two stars in Speed, and I liked that. So we went to a “bargain matinee” (remember when they had those, and they were actually a bargain?). There weren’t that many other people in the theater, but two of them were a teen couple. I guess he asked her out, she said she wanted to see it, and he reluctantly agreed.

We spent the next two hours trying to understand the movie. A lot of it was filmed in Chicago, so we knew a lot of the landmarks, and the stars were good. On the other hand, the plot, which involved two people separated by a number of years communicating through letters left in the mailbox at the lake house he had built years before and she now owned, was hard to keep up with and, by the end, Mary had a headache and I had absolutely no clue what the movie was about.

As we’re getting ready to leave, the teens walk past us, and the girl says

You’re such a boy!

I wish I had heard the rest of THAT conversation…


One-Liner Wednesday is sponsored each week by Linda Hill, who has the rules and pingbacks on her blog.


And this is also an entry for Wednesdays for My Wife!

A Bizarre Bus Ride


Talking about buses the other day reminded Mary of a bus trip she took when we lived in Chicago. It’s one of our favorite stories.

One day, Mary got on the bus to go downtown, and saw a man sitting on one of the front seats beside a pile of newspapers. “Don’t touch my newspapers! Those are my newspapers!”

She thought, “okayyyy,” and found a seat a safe distance away from him.

She watched him, and noticed that he’d pick up his stack of newspapers and move with them to an empty seat before every stop along the way, and when a new crowd of people got on the bus, he’d repeat, “Don’t touch my newspapers! Those are my newspapers!” It was a fairly long ride downtown, and soon everyone on the bus was watching him as this drama unfolded.

Finally, at one of the stops in the Loop, the man gets up and gets off the bus.


Leaving his newspapers on one of the seats.

As Mary (and probably everyone else on the bus) was thinking it, a woman said, “Hey! He forgot his newspapers!”