We had traditions in my house when I was growing up. Once a year my dad clamped a hand-cranked meat grinder to the edge of our kitchen table and made sausage. We’d pick Christmas gifts from the Sears catalog for “Santa” to “bring us.” And children in my family between 4-years-old and, say, 12 served liquor to the grown-ups.
When my dad and uncles and men we referred to as uncles got together, drinking was more or less mandatory. They’d sit around in someone’s basement, on lawn chairs in the backyard, at the kitchen table, wherever, laughing, smoking cigars. Night drinking, day drinking, holidays or not.
These were able-bodied men; they had all their limbs. No one was tooling around in a Rascal scooter. And yet, when it came time for another round of brewskies, they didn’t bother with the classic: “I’m going to the john. Anybody need a refill?” They recruited a child to fetch another round--- me, my cousins, my 5-year old little sister, it didn’t matter--- any kid within barking distance got tagged with the chore of supplying the menfolk with booze.
If you were old enough to walk, you were drafted into service. It didn’t matter how close the men were to the fridge, it was some kid’s job to keep ‘em comin.’ The kids were running around somewhere close by anyway, giggling, playing. Why get up and get your own and let all that untapped child labor go to waste?
A little research showed me this was a tradition in other families, too. Dave-id, a friend of mine, told me he used to mix drinks for his father and other relatives when they’d come over to play cards. “…it was mostly highballs,” he told me. “But scotch and soda was on the docket, too.” His bartending days started when he was about 7 or 8. He told me it “felt like an honor of some sort, like being part of the grown-up(s).” Kind of like Spider in Goodfellas, waiting on Joe Pesci and his poker buddies, minus the gunshot to the chest part.
Our moms didn’t enlist our cocktail waitress skills: “Honey, get your mother a chardonnay and a nice Mojito for your Aunt Elsie... Make sure you muddle the sugar with the mint!” The women got their own. Mai Tai’s, Grasshoppers, Piña Coladas.
It was a strange, antiquated, completely non-PC tradition (kind of like boys swimming nude in high school gym class) that would never happen today. Or so I thought.
Jay Pritchett, Ed O’Neill’s character on Modern Family, has his 1, 2-year-old son, who just learned to walk, bring him a can of beer. His wife, Gloria, expresses her weak disapproval but the whole thing’s laughed off.
I found mixed reactions to the practice on-line. More people were against it because dads were lazy for not getting their own beer. Very few respondents thought it was contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Some people felt it erased the mystique of drinking and if dad made it clear that beer was “dad juice” (seriously, that’s what they called it) then no harm, no foul.
Okay, you know, maybe I’m being a prude. Maybe 8-year-olds need to know the finer points of making a dirty martini. It’d make for one heck of a 3rd grade science project.
“And when you’re done with daddy’s cocktail,” you can holler to them from your La-Z-Boy. “Would you be a good girl and bring daddy his bong and the porn DVDs from under the mattress?”
Hey, it’s a tradition!
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