It was back in 1965. I was three, almost four years old. It was Christmas Eve. My Mom and Grandma had made an old fashioned Christmas pudding. It was mostly bread, suet, raisins, spices, and some finely-chopped organ meat, probably kidney. The whole was wrapped in cheesecloth to keep it together while it baked most of the day. The best part of all was the gravy that went with it.
The gravy was mostly water, brown sugar, pan drippings from the pudding, but it had a special ingredient. Grandma insisted that it be flavored with whiskey, as was traditional, and she had a bottle of Old Grandad that her boys, my uncles, always gave her for her birthday and Christmas. Grandma told Mom that you had to flambe’ or flame off the alcohol, but good old Mom didn’t want any flames in the kitchen, so the gravy went to the table with all its boozy goodness.
I got a nice big slice of Christmas pudding with plenty of gravy. That pudding, even though the recipe seemed kinda gross, was delicious, especially the gravy. The adults all retired to the living room, and I went back to the pan of pudding and gravy on the stove, took a big tablespoon, and started slurping down the gravy while nobody was looking.
The next thing I remember from that evening was lying on the couch with my head in a whir and a sore belly. Dad called the doctor, who in those days still made house calls. The doctor showed up, listened to my heart and tummy with his stethoscope, looked in my eyes, and told me to breathe in his face. He kinda smiled and told me “You’ll be OK in the morning,” then went off to talk to my Mom and Dad.
I was really out of it by then and the room was starting to spin, but I imagine he asked my parents where I had got hold of all the bourbon. The Christmas pudding was immediately implicated and a pot of coffee was put on the stove for young Willy. I got some ginger ale for my tummy, sipped through a straw, and a couple slugs of coffee to wake me up.
I don’t remember much of Christmas morning that year, but that was the first and last time my Mom ever had a Christmas pudding, which is a shame. I used to get occasional sips of whiskey now and then when I had a sore throat, in whiskey lemon and honey, but gave up drinking the hard stuff for a few years.
I told this story to a therapist a couple years ago and she didn’t make much of it. She just thought my parents must have been naive. I think it developed my taste for alcohol at an early age, even though the experience was unpleasant. Maybe this year I will look up an old English recipe for Christmas pudding, only this time without all the high-proof booze.