The One and Only Original Cin nudged a brief volume out the of dusty stacks in the back corner of my memory bank. Ginger. The very word makes me smile. The smell and taste of ginger create a fire that always warms, yet never burns. Cindy’s words rekindled a very warm memory of ginger fire.
I was a music and theater performance major at the University of Connecticut. The years that I was in attendance at UConn (1969-1973) have been referred to by faculty and alums alike as “golden years” for the School of Fine Arts. So many wonderfully creative and talented people – both faculty and students – made so many of my days in college the wonderful experience that they were.
The Concert Choir was under the direction of Dr. John Poellein, an inspired conductor, and I was very privileged and honored to be selected to be a part of a small ensemble, and have a small solo in the Winter/Christmas concert my first year – my first semester – at UConn.
A small background note: I am and have always been what some people refer to as “accident prone,” but what I call being a “klutz.” (My brother always said I could trip over a painted line on the sidewalk.) Winters at Storrs, Connecticut (the college town in the northeast part of the state where the main campus of UConn is located) could be very cold and very snowy. Besides, back in those days it always seems to have snowed more, and more often everywhere than it does these days. Have you noticed? Anyway, I was walking to class one snowy morning shortly before winter break, and I -*surprise*- fell down. I broke the middle finger of my right hand. Not a bad break, but enough to require a splint, which made me appear as though I was “flipping the bird” at everyone who saw me.
The winter concert was scheduled for the last weekend of the semester before final exams. The concert involved a lot of different music, and while most of it was performed from memory, the vocalists and instrumentalists in the small ensemble piece of which I was a part used music folders during the performance. Holding my music folder up in the proper position, therefore, had me flipping off the entire audience (it was a large school, and a well-attended concert, which means that I “gave the finger” to at least a couple of thousand people).
As it so happens, due to weather, my parents were unable to attend the concert. I was heartbroken, because I was so proud of the fact that I was one of only a very few freshman students ever to be given a solo part in a major concert, and I wanted them to be there. My brother Dick also went to UConn, and he was a Junior that year. Since he lived on campus, he would be able to attend the concert. A very snowy day with an even snowier and icier forecast for that night and the following day made it unwise for my parents to attempt the drive up from the southwest corner of the state. Most of my college days were quite successful, but my first semester had been a hard adjustment for me, so I probably felt the disappointment of their absence a bit more than I normally would have. The concert went off well, however, and because most of the student body was still on campus because of upcoming exams, it was well attended. I have no specific memory of how I sang, but it must have been acceptable to myself, because if it had not been, I most definitely would have remembered that.
What I do remember is waiting for my brother to come backstage after the concert to say “hello,” and give me a “brotherly hug” or whatever, in congratulations for a job well done. I stood around for quite a while. He didn’t show up.* I started to wonder whether he had even attended. Great! I was giving myself full permission to slip down into a huge blue funk. “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I’m gonna go home and eat worms.” So I gave up and left the auditorium – long after everyone else had gone, and began the long uphill walk back to my dorm. I had started to cry – I mean I was in full self-pity mode – and sleet and freezing rain had been added to the mix of cold stuff coming from the dark night sky, and it was getting very windy. At a certain point, about half way back to my dorm, I slipped and fell. While I did not re-injure anything but my dignity, I did have to spend considerable time slipping around trying to collect all the music and various pieces of paper that had flown out of my arms and onto the wet ground and pavement when I fell.
I am quite certain that when I at last stepped off the elevator to the floor on which my room was located, I was probably one of the saddest, most woe-begone, and disheveled icicles that any of my dormmates had ever seen. One of those mates lived at the opposite end of the hall from me, and she was entertaining a boy friend at the time. The door to her and her roommate’s room was open and her boyfriend saw me. I had never met him before that night, and I could not now tell you either his name or my dormmate’s. What I do remember is this:
He saw me step off the elevator, and knew something was wrong. He jumped up and ran out to me and said, “Are you OK? You must be frozen!” I allowed as I was, and he grabbed my arm and dragged me down to the room he was visiting. The three or four people gathered in the room made space for me to sit down, took my coat, etc., said all the appropriate “Poor thing! and So sorry!” comments, and the young man put into my hands a glass of amber liquid. I grew up in a home of teetotalers. They were not obnoxious about it, they just didn’t drink alcoholic drinks – although my parents would cook with it on occasion. I had tasted liquor once or twice before that occasion, but never had been given a glass full. The boy – I’ll call him “Brian” – said, “drink this down, it will warm you up.”
Turns out “Brian” was right. It was a glass of ginger brandy. The aroma first, as I brought the glass to my lips, entered my tear-clogged sinuses, and breathed comfort. Then the liquid fire of the intense ginger taste along with the natural warmth-giving tendencies of brandy combined and as I swallowed it, the warm liquid seeped into every vein and out of my pores.
Part of the whole experience was the kindness of acquaintances and strangers. People I either knew not at all, or only well enough to say “hello” to in the hallway reached out to me and offered their friendly and warm companionship. They listened to the whole sad tale, “clucked” and “tsked” when appropriate, and then moved the conversation on to other things, not allowing me to wallow in misery. It became one of the happiest nights of my life to that date, and still lingers in my memory, to be nudged out when cued appropriately – thanks, Cin!
In general, brandy is not a drink of preference for me. But there remains a very soft and warm spot in my heart for a glass of ginger brandy – the spicy-sweet fire that warms, but never burns. It was a wonderfully satisfying taste of enough. . .
*My brother Dick was clueless as to my hopes/desires to greet him after the concert. He had always been supportive and encouraging, and still is. He just had assumed that I would be going to a party with other choir members after the concert. He called me the next morning to offer his congratulations.