A friend was talking about her father retiring the other day, and made the remark that he now loved his regular glass of brandy in the evenings. She wondered if it was a cause for concern. I asked her about the brand her sire preferred. She pondered for a moment, and ventured that it had something to do with Napoleon.
I assured her that her father was fine, and had good taste, to boot.
She looked at me askance. “I thought you didn’t drink?” she accused.
Well, I don’t consider that I do. I ain’t throwing rocks, but you can pour all the beer back into the horse, far as I’m concerned, and I wouldn’t give a nickel for all the whiskey brands in the world. Big Robert taught us growing up that, “Neill men can’t drink,” and the hard liquor I let alone. Now, I learned to drink wine with a meal while overseas on liberty. The ship’s doctor lectured us before we pulled into port about the water in foreign lands, and by golly he was right. After my first liberty, when I didn’t drink wine and refused to pay a buck and a quarter for a Coke that was a dime aboard ship, I drank the water instead. I mean, I grew up swimming in the Mammy Grudge, the Mississippi River, and various streams and lakes into which rural sewerage systems drained, and I never once got sick. I’ve drunk water from puddles and horse tracks while bird hunting in the hills and never had a problem. Uncle Tullier used to take us out to the Chandelier Islands for several days of fishing for reds and specks, and we’d drink rain water and eat raw oysters washed in the Gulf. How come some doctor thought water would make ME sick?!
The next week, when I was well enough to go back ashore on liberty, I learnt to drink wine with my meals if necessary. I saw why the Apostle Paul told Timothy to “Take a little wine for your stomach.” (That verse is cut out of most Baptist Bibles, but I grew up in the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, so have one of those old Bibles.)
Also, on liberty in the Caribbean, I was introduced to some of the finer liqueurs, and made up my mind that, when I grow up, I want to own a banana brandy plantation in the Virgin Isles. Among those liqueurs was a coffee-flavored one, and we all know that the Dark Ages didn’t end, and the Renaissance didn’t start, until Christopher Columbus discovered America – and coffee! A dollop of that in a cup of coffee around the campfire late at night before the hunters turn in, makes for a good bedtime story.
Yet it was Frog Juice to which we were referring in the matter of my friend’s father. We called it Frog Juice back in the Navy, referring to the country it came from, and my cousin Mountain Willy, a career officer, swore by it, I assured my friend.
“But I’ve tasted that stuff, and it’s strong!” she protested.
True, I replied, but it ain’t really for tasting, or drinking.
In the classic movie “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” Clint Eastwood, on the run from renegade yankees, comes upon an old Indian, and asks if he has anything to eat. The chief reaches in his pocket and laconically says, “I got a piece of hard candy, but it ain’t for eatin’, it’s for lookin’ through,” and he holds a piece of red candy up to the sun, squinting.
Frog Juice is for the same reason, I explained to my young friend.
When you’ve come in from a day in the woods, calling turkeys, or sitting in a deer stand, all your senses on edge to detect your prey, then sit down to a meal around the campfire, and you finally relax – that’s the time for the Frog Juice. It’s better in a wide-mouthed glass you call a snifter, but those aren’t common on hunting camp. Yet it doesn’t belong to be served in a coffee cup. A jelly glass or fruit jar works well, if a regular glass isn’t available, but the main thing is, it has to be clear enough to see through. You don’t pour much in the glass, and you don’t drink it, either. Oh, maybe a wee sip once in a while, but mostly you just swirl it around and smell of it, and look through it at the fire.
Campfire flames, or even a fire of logs in a fireplace, are so much better when viewed through a glass of Frog Juice.
And the stories! Those wonderful tales of turkeys missed, of bucks that gave you the slip, of dawns in a duck blind, and the memories of the men, women, and kids that you shared these wonderful experiences with: they are better brought to mind when spoken of through the redness of that glass of Frog Juice – especially the ones who have gone on to those Happy Hunting Grounds. In the swirls of amber, you can see those faces: Mr. Hurry, Big Robert, Uncle Sam, Uncle Shag, Mr. Jay, Big Dave – all of them. They glow, and that glow gradually warms your heart.
As you rise to go to bed, you raise a toast of Frog Juice to good friends and memories around life’s campfires.