This story is told by my cousin Dennis, originally from South Paris, Maine. Our grandmother was a tea-totaler, a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) that struck fear in every drinking man! Here’s the story in his own words.
Every Christmas our family would have our tree in the morning, go to church and then go to grandma’s house on Main St. All the Titus uncles and aunts would be there with their children. We would nosh on pastries baked by Aunt Muriel and then do the tree.
The aunts and uncles plus us children would get two or three gifts from each family and be done with opening our gifts in 15 minutes. Then our grand parents would methodically open each gift from all of us there and all their far flung friends and relatives. There would be mounds of gifts for them. Grandma was very precise, she would cut off all the bows and have a box to put them in for next year. Likewise all the wrapping paper. Then she would write in a book who gave the present and what it was. This process meant that everybody sat for hours watching them open all their gifts. You would see everybody nodding off or going to the dining room to get pastries and coffee.
After about an hour of this gift opening by Grandma, I noticed one of more of my uncles would get up and disappear for a half hour or so. Being the curious person that I am, I followed my Uncle Roy. I noticed that he went through the kitchen out into the barn. [Note to the reader: the barn was attached to the house through a pantry by the kitchen].
So I waited a few minutes and went out into the barn too. They were all gathered in a separate room with the door shut.
I opened the door and surprised them. They were drinking beer and smoking. They quickly tried to hide the beer cans and butt their cigarettes hoping I didn’t notice. I just stood there frozen in my tracks. Finally Uncle Roy said this was not place for me and I should return to living room. As I turned to leave, Uncle Alva said “Wait a minute.” He came over to me and asked what had I seen. I told them I saw that they had been smoking and drinking, in a smug sort of way.
Uncle Alva was building a boat at that time, so he asked if I would like to go fishing with him and Bill [i.e. Alva’s son; Dennis’ cousin] next spring? Of course I said I sure would. Being the salesman he is, he proposed a deal to me. If I go back to the living room and keep my mouth shut, he would take me on the maiden voyage of his boat on Thompson Lake and we would go fishing for Lake Trout. I looked at him with wide eyes and a big smile and said “Uncle Alva you got a deal!” My other uncles pulled their beer out and took a big swallow and laughed. I shook hands with all of them and left with a grin that didn’t come off until I went home that night (laughing to myself all the next day).
When my mother asked where I had been as I returned to the living room, I told her in front of everybody I had to go to the bathroom real bad. No one was ever the wiser…. I went fishing with Bill and Uncle Alva on their maiden voyage laughing all the way. That’s when I learned what salesmen do for a living!
Dennis Smith, Whitewater, WI, December 10, 2014