It was during the summer, perhaps after my sophomore year of school. I was young enough (perhaps immature would be a better term to use) to be pretty adventurous, but old enough to know what we were about to do was wrong.
When you’re living those “in-between” years, though, it’s hard to keep a level head, especially when you’re with a group of guys all in the same situation.
The reason I think it was about my sophomore year was because my brother would have just about been ready for seventh grade.
I’m not sure of the occasion, but I know the Alleman town elders had blocked off main street for a big whoopty-do that warm Saturday afternoon and evening. Celebrations didn’t happen very often, so I’d imagine it was a big occasion for a tiny town. It was just about that time the main street had been paved, if memory serves, so it could have been a celebration on the new concrete main street (I didn’t capitalize “main street” because that wasn’t the name — there were only four streets running north and south, five if you count the one east of the railroad tracks, and there were only three streets running east and west; nobody, as I recall, ever got lost in Alleman).
The whole town was there. In fact, most everyone living on farms in the area was there, too. One of my brother’s friends, a year older than him and a year younger than I, had brought something taboo to the gathering. I won’t use my brother’s friend’s name; for all I know he still lives in the area and could read this. I’ll just call him Charlie. I figure Charlie’s a good name because that was my grandfather’s name and he used to make homemade wine all the time.
So, anyway, my brother came running up to me and said, “Hey, Bill, Charlie made a batch of ‘raisin-ade’ and he brought it; do you want to try some?” Well, I’d never heard of ‘raisin-ade’ but my brother assured me that Charlie had made it at home and it really had a kick to it.
Well, let me tell you this: if you ever have a chance to try some “raisin-ade,” don’t. It’ll make you sicker than all get out.
Of course, none of us knew that when we lined up to taste the stuff. I don’t think anyone took more than a sip. It was horrible. I think all Charlie did was take a few raisins, soak them in water, add yeast and sugar. He probably did that whole thing the day before the celebration. It was certain that the yeast and sugar hadn’t had time to work long enough to produce a brew that tasted anything like my granddad’s homemade wine.
That didn’t stop us, though. One of my friends took a sip and spit out the horrible tasting “brew.” Another followed. As each of our friends took a drink of Charlie’s “raisin-ade” and grimaced at the taste, another one followed. We all had to see for ourselves that the stuff was no good.
So, we did. One by one, one after another, we lined up and took a sip of the stuff. One by one, we made a face and spit it out.
We had a good laugh at Charlie. We said if he had any thoughts of making more of the stuff, well, he should just forget it.
Those laughs, though, lasted only through the day-long celebration. By Sunday morning, none of us was laughing.
We were all sick. Our juvenile stomachs were no match for the yeast in Charlie’s concoction. I guess it was a good thing that the stuff tasted so bad, we all spit it out. Had we actually drunk some of the stuff, or at least more than just a little, we’d have likely ended up in a hospital room somewhere.
Of course, I didn’t let on to my mom or dad how I became ill. I wouldn’t spill the beans on a friend, even though he was my brother’s friend, not mine. As far as I know not a one of us ever told our parents how we became ill that Sunday morning. Even my brother, sick as he was, didn’t tell.
I suppose, though, they had an inkling that something was up. In a small town, it’s hard to keep secrets.
It’s been a long time — going on 60 years — since that day in the summer. But, it hasn’t been long enough to take the taste of Charlie’s “raisin-ade” completely away. I can close my eyes, think back to that time, and almost make myself sick again. I try not to think about that day, though.
That’s why I say — if someone ever offers you a sip of homemade “raisin-ade,” just tell ‘em you don’t like raisins.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News-Republican and Dallas County News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.