Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Can I be the Provenance?

God bless my Grandmother Sarah Pollock (Gilmour) O'Brien and her sister; my Great Aunt Ann Gilmour. They were Pack rats, they saved things, things like electric bills, furniture receipts, and even Embalmer's bills!

I intend to spend the next couple of blogs exploring my Grandmother's/Grandaunt's collection of ephemera.
But for now I'll start with something I found within an envelope among other unrelated things; and a question for "The Antiques Roadshow Crew...."

First the question, a little story and then: the something.

The Question: "Can I be the Provenance?"

The little Story: During "The Sixties" when I was "o wain" ("bak-ina-day") my younger brother was hit by a car in front of my parent's house, and for that summer I was sent off to Long Island to my Grandmother's house at 7 Drew Street in Hempstead, Valley Stream.

7 Drew St. ( Fall, 2007)
In the back yard behind the house
can be seen the Sycamore Tree Me Da planted;
that we all climbed and referred to as "The Family Tree".
While I was there, I used to walk around the corner to the "Five and Dime" so I could buy penny candies and look at but not buy Comic Books. One day on the way home, I walked along the RR tracks kicking stones. Then I saw it! A $5 dollar bill! It was more than I ever had in my pocket of my own EVER! It could buy a lotta Comic books! I was so energized I jumped right over the tracks! Narrowly missing the 3rd Rail!

Well, after I proudly showed off my newly bulging bankroll to Grandma; and she told me just what that 3rd Rail was all about:
I was grounded. I was only allowed to stay on the property and not to go to the Five and Dime unaccompanied.

So I spent the first few hour's of the first day, in the backyard, in the Sycamore we called "The Family Tree"; carving my initials as far up the tree as I could get next to my older brother's initials.

Then I went down into the basement and rummaged around for awhile. I found some old Signet Novels and I read for the length of a bored pre-teens concentration span. I worked my way through all the "Junk" (Boy do I wish I had one tenth of that stuff now!) from the back of the house to the front.

Along the front wall there was a stack of some old picture frames and a mirror. I pulled the old picture frames towards me and held them up so I could look at the mirror. THEY FELL FORWARD at me and I just barely stopped them from knocking me down underneath them.

When the mirror came away from the wall, A TRAP DOOR WAS REVEALED!

So I carefully moved the picture frames and the mirror over to the side and jiggled at the door. As it pulled away cobwebs stretched like bubblegum in the sun until they gently snapped and fell to the floor in a swirl of 30 year old sift.

I crawled into my mysterious Pirate Cave on my hands and knees to find: empty wooden Barrels, Silt covered bottles and earthenware demijohns encased in a wickerwork covering.

"A Demijohn in Wicker."

(The Barrels were of no surprise to me; as I knew my Grandmother's Father, and his Father, and Father before that: were Cooper's. But what were these things doing in there?)
Later that night I asked Gram: "What's all that stuff down in the cellar under the front porch?"

She said in her high pitched "Tee-hee" -Grandma -shaped -voice: "...that's where your Grandfather used to make Wine during the 20s...."

This is My Grandfather: James C. O'Brien,
My Father: James G. O'Brien,
and My Uncle Robert E. O'Brien.
On the front Steps in front of
the aforementioned Porch slash Wine Cellar.
(Circa: 1930 Something.)
And that my friends was filed away under amusing stories about my summer with Grandma to tell my children.

UNTIL LAST WEEK. When I came across this in an envelope with my Great Aunt's Will among other things:
The Something:

Grandpa O'Brien's Bootleg Wine Recipe.
Typed on Grandma's old typewriter?

So this is where I ask again: Can I be the Provenance?

The Fondement as they say?

Yeah, so this recipe makes 20 GALLONS OF WINE!
Do you think my Grandfather was operating a "Shebeen in Valley Stream"?
His Father (or Grandfather) owned a Saloon in NYC (I'm not sure yet; perhaps both even.)

This is O'Brien's Sample Room on Hudson Street in N.Y.C. circa 1865.
(And may or may not be the right place)
This scan was taken from "The Time Life Civil War Series"
devoted to the "War on the Homefront."
I found it while looking for other things
pertaining to the Gilmour brother's....

So, there is precedence. See the Demijohns? See the Barrel? For all I know the recipe was handed down. I guess I'll never really know.

My son and I plan to cut down the portions to a manageable amount and give it a try sometime this year.

Perhaps it "Will make quite a nice drink, but not as good as real wine."
And we' ll open up our own Shebeen and call it


Slainte! and "Guid forder!"