Some time ago I called on a high school class mate who had just lost her husband. I hadn’t seen her in more than thirty years, and the occasion of her husband’s death had coincided with a visit back to the community of my youth. The post-funeral activities provided a kind of class reunion. As is usual in such get-togethers, much of the conversation focused on how long it had been since we had seen one another.
In our little rural high school, we all knew one another quite well. After school, like many and many a graduate we scattered to different colleges, jobs, careers, and locations. It’s hard to understand why some of us kept in touch — at least for a while, and others did not. I don’t think I had had any contact with this lady or her late husband since graduation night.
As we groped for memories to share, she said something I found peculiar. “I don’t know much about you anymore; I don’t even know if you drink.” Use of the word in that context was something I hadn’t really heard in a long time, yet, being from a rural Indiana family I knew exactly what it meant. In her context, it was not what my young grandchildren meant in a fast-food restaurant when they asked for a drink. It is not what fast-food marquee billboards mean when they announce a fixed price for a sandwich and a drink.
My former classmate had never moved away from our childhood community, which never allowed a “drinking” establishment until just a few years ago. Back in high school we all took a rather dim view of “drinking”; it was just something not done, at least in public, even by those in school who sneaked an occasional cigarette.
As I pondered her question, I was relieved when she asked if I would like a whisky or a beer. But enough of that… my purpose here is to call attention to the use of the word “drinking” or “drink” in the sense of consuming alcohol. How it’s pronounced may well determine its meaning. “Burger, fries, and drink” has a far different connotation than sighing that “I really need a drink.” Employers are cautious about applicants who “drink,” yet I have known high-level supervisors who won’t hire someone who doesn’t take a “drink.”
I have since let “A Gentleman of Wine,” Londoner Harry Yoxall explain it: “Wine is God’s second greatest secular gift to man. Nothing better promotes the sense of well-being. Drinking is a sociable exercise, releasing bonhomie and (with luck) wit. It increases the enjoyment of food, facilitates digestion,and improves health. In comparison with other amusements it’s not expensive. No money is better spent than on sound wine. Personal relationships usually let you down. But wine, intelligently used, never lets you down.”
I never had a chance to ask him what God’s first greatest secular gift is.