A “Wednesday For My Wife” Story for #1LinerWeds

Chicago-Style Chicken Vesuvio. Source: Proud Italian Cook

Mary loves this story about my father, and asked me to tell it, and since it also fits the qualifications for One-Liner Wednesday (or it can be made to fit), here it is.

Dad inherited his mother’s stomach. She developed such bad ulcers after her husband died that she ended up having most of her stomach removed. Dad never required surgery for his ulcers, but was cautioned to watch the spicy food and alcohol and not to eat to excess to prevent painful repercussions. This was advice he usually followed.

One night, he and Mom went out to dinner with some friends to an Italian restaurant. Dad was in a particularly good mood, and according to Mom, went overboard: two or three Martinis before dinner, antipasto, Chicken Vesuvio (which, as the name implies, contains a lot of spices, particularly garlic), several glasses of Chianti with dinner, coffee and several shots of B&B (Benedictine and Brandy) after dinner, and a dessert that contained fresh fruit.

Needless to say, within an hour of arriving home, the Chicken Vesuvio (and everything else) erupted, and Dad spent a good half hour in the bathroom heaving his guts out. Having flushed a good portion of the feast he had eaten down the toilet, he stumbled into the bedroom, and said to Mom (whose nickname was Bunny),

Now Bunny, you know I shouldn’t eat fresh fruit!

Long after Dad died, Mom told that story and laughed as hard as she must have that night.

One-Liner Wednesday is brought to you each week at this time by Linda Hill and this station. Now a word about Fresca, from the Coca-Cola Company. It can make a beautiful difference in you!

My First Chicago Election (Wednesdays for My Wife)

We hear so much about voter fraud and possible interference by foreign countries in US elections these days, sometimes I wonder if we shouldn’t go back to the old voting machines we used until the 1980’s.

Old voting machine. (source: Vintage Ad Browser)

When I first started voting in the Seventies, we used voting machines similar to the one shown in the picture. After getting past the phalanx of election judges, you would step into the machine and pull a red handle to close the curtain so no one could see who you were voting for. You then had a series of levers to pull. Easiest to do was to pull the big levers on one side for the two major parties (Republican and Democratic) and open the curtain, which would then register your vote as a straight ticket for that party. If you wanted to split your vote, you could flip the levers for each individual candidate, then open the curtain and have your votes recorded, more or less the way you cast them. And, if you didn’t like any of the candidates, you would have a little door that allowed you to write in the person of your choice.

I tell you all this so you’ll understand this story, about my first time voting in Chicago.

I was working third shift at Newly Weds Foods at the time, about a year after Mary and I were married. I got off work at seven on Election Day and stopped to vote before I went home, at about seven-thirty. Among the election judges were Vi, the lady who lived downstairs from us, who was British and had been a war bride, and Bernice, a lady who lived a couple of doors down from us and was a good neighbor, but not exactly the most pleasant person to deal with. She was the typical nosy neighbor who listened to the police scanner to find out if anything was going on nearby, and was always peeking out her window.

I went through the whole rigamaole of identifying myself, signing an affadavit that said that I was who I said I was (not that all that matters in Chicago), got checked off in the book, then Bernice directed me to one of the voting machines. I pulled the red lever to close the curtain, and set about casting my ballot. I got to the race for 12th ward alderman, and had no idea about either of the guys running, so I opened the little write-in door, wrote “John Holton” in #3 pencil in the space provided, closed the little door, and pulled the red lever to open the curtain and record my vote. Having thusly performed my civic duty, I went home and went to bed.

That evening, I was about to leave for work, and I heard all this laughing and heavy footsteps coming up the back stairs. It was Vi, home from a day of being an election judge. Evidently, when they saw that a write-in vote had been cast, they had to figure out how to get the paper out of the machine. Bernice was the lucky person who got to take the roll of paper out, and she managed to practically wrap herself up in it. Since the paper advanced a foot or so every time someone voted, and since our precinct had a good turnout, and since I had voted so early in the day, it took them forever to find where I had written myself in.

Needless to say, Bernice was not happy (or rather, especially grumpy) the next time she saw me. “What the hell were you doin’, votin’ for yerself? Don’t ever do that again, ya hear me?”

We changed to punch cards after that, unfortunately. I was really looking forward to writing Bernice in for Cook County Recorder of Deeds…


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.