She was just 18-and-a-half and not a drop of alcohol had ever touched her lips. This was partly because of temperance promises made as a youngster and partly because she lived at home until she turned 18. During those first 18 years of life, her parents kept pretty strict tabs on her activities. Not legal. Not allowed. Not according to their standard? Not allowed. This was her first Christmas away from home. She was now a full-fledged adult, married five months previous.
Along with her teenaged husband, she was living in Germany, land of cautionary beer. Her husband was on the fast track for sampling everything adulthood had to offer. The young woman was doing her best to cling to the strict religious rules with which she was raised. There were times they clashed. Christmas Eve was a narrow escape.
The young couple was invited downstairs, from a tiny attic apartment to the living quarters of the landlord, to share in the festivities. Sparklers on a Christmas Tree. A full spread of breads and cold cuts served at the family table. An exchange of gifts around the tree. And then, a cut glass decanter passed round with tiny crystal cordial glasses.
A quiet soul and not given to making scenes, the young woman endeavored to pass. But the 19-year-old son of the host noticed. “Why do you not drink?” he asked with some suspicion, re-offering the decanter. The new husband, who could make a scene when the principle warranted it, knit his brows and glared at his teenage bride. The meaning was clear, “You are embarrassing me!” Meekly, she took the cup. Not out of blind submission or intimidation, but in respect to her hosts. In her quietness, she had been reading earlier that day. And what she read, loud and clear was: “ [When you are invited to a feast] eat or drink whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience.” Obedience to a higher ideal.
An hour later she became violently ill. But it was not due to a fastidious reaction of conscience. Nor was it caused entirely by the abundance and variety of bread and salami urged on the couple by hospitable Germans. The illness continued four months. In late July, she brought forth her firstborn son. And they named him something rather Irish sounding that meant handsome by birth. To the young woman, he was the most handsome baby she had ever seen. But he was only the teeniest tiniest bit Irish and not a bit German.
I would like to say she never gave a second thought to rules about what she ate and drank ever again, but that is not the truth. The truth is, she still had a lot of growing and learning to do and she had only just begun to think for herself.