By Kelli Korducki
The month before my First Holy Communion, my fellow Communicants and I did a little run-through in the basement of St. Rose parish with box blush wine and a bunch of unconsecrated wafers. The purpose of this was twofold: the eight-year-old lot of us were to get comfortable walking down a long church aisle cupping lit white candles (my friend Annie McCormick singed her hair anyway), and we were going to learn to take our first sips of wine without making a face.
A slow-moving and distracted kid, I took my usual position at the tail of the queue and watched my buddies—Nick, Andrew, Megan, Annies one and two, and the kids I didn’t know from the dwindling parish we’d joined up with—as they tasted their first almost-Eucharist.
Nick actually spit his out, but he would. The rest of them winced. “Sick,” hissed one of the St. Rose kids as he walked past me, choking down his cheap pink swig with a look of great injustice.
None of the kids were looking at me for a reaction, but I wanted to make extra sure they knew my position matched theirs. I think my exact words were: “So disgusting, ew ew ew ew ew!” but more importantly, I went for volume.
“Oh, relax,” the CCD teacher said. “It’s just the blood of Christ.”
In truth, I’d tried wine before. Plenty of times. I liked the stuff just fine.
I didn’t grow up in a house where wine was of great cultural importance. More than anything, my parents’ Milwaukee home was and is a place for beer, and my dad was and is the one to drink it. But every so often, to relieve the weight of three kids under ten and 50 weekly hours in a third grade classroom and two night classes a week to either acquire or maintain various certifications, my mom wanted a glass of wine with her dinner. And when I, her intrepid firstborn asked for a taste, she maybe just didn’t have the energy to make a thing of it.
By the time I was 11 or 12 I insisted on getting my own glasses at holidays and cousins’ christenings, occasionally restaurants. My paternal grandmother would glance cautiously at my dad (“Ricky, are you sure?”) before doling out a tiny quarter-pour; with some trepidation, restaurant servers also tended to oblige.
I had the sense that we—me, but especially my parents—got away with this amidst a very white, fairly conservative extended family and neighbourhood because our visible foreignness lent a little multi-culti laissez faire. Compliance meant cultural accommodation. I doubt it occurred to anybody that my mom’s side of the family, the game-changing Latinos, barely drinks at all.
From an informal longitudinal survey of most of the people I know, I’ve gleaned that while attitudes towards booze might be informed by some ethno-cultural framework, they aren’t necessarily. Just as often as hard-and-fast household hootch bans might be religiously imposed, they’re the result of alcoholic predispositions in the genepool or straight indifference.
The same logic applies to the other end of the spectrum: families who regard alcohol with a kind of respectful shrug and placate their wannabe-grownup preteen with a couple sips in her own special glass.
In the end, my parents didn’t let me drink wine as a kid because of the ethnic composition of our immediate family, though appearance-wise it probably helped. They just had better things to worry about.
Kelli Korducki has been writing for the Ethnic Aisle since its inception, and is a funny, lovely Milwaukee transplant who just got permanent residency status in Canada.