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It’s a great time for drunks and gluttons. Just a few weeks after gorging on roast turkey, oyster stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole (with cream of mushroom soup and crispy fried onions out of a can) and everyone’s favorite tomato aspic gelatin salad—just a few weeks after all that—it’s time to feast again. This time on the ghost of Christmas past.
I grew up in one of those unfairly maligned single-parent homes. Unfairly maligned because I got two Thanksgiving and two Christmas celebrations complete with food and … drinks. My Leave it to Beaver friends had only one party for each holiday … without the booze.
And yes, it was the booze that left the largest mental and physical impact on my fragile child’s brain. Specifically, Glog (also called Glogg, Grog, and Gloog).
I’m no authority on Glog (rhymes with leg or glue depending on your heritage). While I’m partnered with a beautiful Swedish woman from the old country (known to locals as Pine Grove), I’ve never actually brewed the stuff nor have I drunk it except once at my father’s hotel. There are several links online where you can find recipes. I particularly like the story at simplegoodandtasty.com by Jaime Carlson. Carlson’s descriptions ring true as far my distant memories serve me.
I was in sixth grade, around 14 years of age. I lived with my mother in Nowheresville, Sacramento Valley. Two or three times a year, usually during the holidays, she would trust me to the care of the Greyhound bus driver. Off I went to Sacramento where I changed to another bus and continued on my way to Emigrant Gap. There I would spend a week or two at Nyack Lodge, my father’s hotel. It was a magical experience to travel on my own. I always took a knapsack of books to keep me company along the way. As the bus rose slowly into the Sierra the snow began to appear, glistening white, angelic yet ominous and dark in the shadows of the tall pine trees.
It was at Nyack where I had my first and last taste of Glog.
A lot of drinking went on around me as a child. Wine and beer were not what they are today. The hard stuff ruled. Not that my parents were lushes. Far from it. But neither were they Victorian teetotalers. One of my father’s duties was to tend bar at the hotel. As a kid I’d listen to my favorite songs on the jukebox and drink Seven Up. But, as I grew older, the responsibilities grew with me.
In mid-December the snow was piling up in furious drifts. My father expected me to shovel the snow along the entranceway to the bar. By the time I got to one end, it was time to work my way back again. This went on all day. People coming. People going. Drinking. Always drinking.
One night I heard my father and his partners speak about Glog. They laughed and congratulated themselves on the batch they had just made and put away for the Christmas holiday. It was stored carefully in locked cabinets under the reception desk. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but a plan began to develop in my mind unbeknownst to me.
The days went by and I shoveled snow like the dutiful son I was. My desire to taste Glog grew hideously like a demon in my brain. I had to try it.
I knew where they kept the key to the cabinets. Late one night after my usual raid of the ice cream freezer in the kitchen, I walked out to the reception desk. It was covered in the inky darkness of a moonless Sierra winter, closed for the night, unguarded. I soon found myself unconsciously reaching for the key that opened the cabinets. Without a tinge of guilt, without even a thought of the consequences, I opened the shiny shellacked pine doors.
There they were, a row of bottles filled with a philter brewed by a witch worthy of Tennyson. Naïve, unaware of what was to follow, I uncorked one bottle and took a small taste. Nothing in my life to that point prepared me for what was to follow.
The taste was golden like the sun, spiced and strong, irresistible. I poured just one more small taste for memory’s sake. My body warmed as the liquor spread through my veins. I quoted from Poe under my breath.
And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more.”
By now I was helpless to the power of the Glog, I took the bottle and walked up the service stairs to the roof. Swig after swig I downed along the way. I walked then ran “half blind in the darkness” like Janine in The Adulterous Woman by Camus. Had I actually read Camus at 14? Indulge me. I was a precocious kid.
They found me the next morning wedged in a crevice between two buildings where I’d fallen in a drunken stupor. They said I would have frozen to death were it not for a heater vent that was conveniently located right beside me.
I never drank Glog again. Trust me. I would know if I did.
“The Gods! and if I go my work is left
Unfinish’d — if I go. The Gods, who haunt
The lucid interspace of world and world,
Where never creeps a cloud, or moves a wind,
Nor ever falls the least white star of mow
Nor ever lowest roll of thunder moans,
Nor sound of human sorrow mounts to mar
Their sacred everlasting calm! and such,
Not all so fine, nor so divine a calm
Not such, nor all unlike it, man may gain
Letting his own life go. The Gods, the Godsl
If all be atoms, how then should the Gods
Being atomic not be dissoluble,
Not follow the great law? My master held
That Gods there are, for all men so believe.
I prest my footsteps into his, and meant
Surely to lead my Memmius in a train
Of fiowery clauses onward to the proof
That Gods there are, and deathless. Meant? I meant?
I have forgotten what I meant, my mind
Stumbles, and all my faculties are lamed.