Do you see the Bells of Victory songbook perched here on my bar? This Temperance Society hymnal belonged to my grandmother, a teetotaler from a long line of teetotalers. I'm not sure how this book came to be in my possession but I absolutely treasure it in a vaguely irrational way. In fact, I've just spent $150 having it rebound by a professional book restorer and it was worth every penny. When I fix a drink, I gaze at the book and miss my grandma.
For those of you who snoozed through the lesson on the temperance movement and prohibition, let's do a quick review. It was a fascinating chapter in our political history. You think this election was surprising? Prohibition was largely led by women who at the start of the movement didn't even have the right to vote. You think this election was divisive? Prohibition represented a battle between urban and rural values with rural values prevailing. You think this election was a referendum on immigration? Prohibition was borne out of a belief that Italian and Irish immigrants and their penchant for alcohol was undermining the American culture. You think this election was sensationalistic? Prohibition began in the states, with Kansas the first to pass the law, and Carrie Nation, a badass from Medicine Lodge, became the symbol of the movement by bursting through saloon doors swinging a hatchet at bottles and boozers. (Has anyone made a movie about her?)
Back to my grandma's songbook. In it is a charming dedication which I do enjoy reading aloud at parties. Here it is:
To the noble army of temperance workers, both men and women, together with all who love the glorious temperance cause, and are praying, hoping and trusting that the day draweth nigh when all the world will be redeemed from the curse of rum.
I don't know why she was a teetotaler. Maybe she didn't care for the taste. But at times, her life seemed to indicate that she would have benefitted from a good stiff drink: eight wild kids, a family grocery business, a flood-prone river for a backyard, and a dog named Boobie. She was an avid quilter, crafter, organ player, and writer, and when she lost her vision, wouldn't that have been the time to start nipping at the bottle?
Certainly not. Thus she remained free of the curse of rum her entire life.
That's why I fixated on this book. It is a relic of the past and while it is full of silly preachy lyrics, the pages have her fingerprints on them. Maybe she played some of these hymns on her organ. Maybe her grandmother told her about the suffragettes.
She would laugh to see it decorating my bar. She would smile at my playful ritual for remembering her. And she would tactfully look the other way as I sip my cocktail. She always did go a little easy on me.
I'll close this post today with the words of my husband's favorite hymn. It breaks his heart every time:
Your lips on my own when they printed farewell, Had never been soiled by the "beverage of hell;" They come to me now with the bacchanal sign, And the lips that touch liquor can never touch mine.
On that bacchanal note, here's some new (old) barware for serving your beverage of hell. Click on photos for shopping information:
Photos by Renn Kuhnen
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