The champagne punch we serve on New Year’s Eve
is not our own; we drink a borrowed tradition.
To 3 cups each of brandy and sauternes,
add bitters, sugar, lemon, pineapple juice;
mix, refrigerate 8 hours to meld flavors.
I made a practice of pouring this base
over an ice ring (formed in a Bundt pan
and fancified by fruit if I’d remembered)
set in a classic old-fashioned punch bowl.
Top it off with a bottle of champagne.
As I assemble the punch this year, I think
of Jean, who lived for years in a house across
the street. (Memory being partial to preference,
although other families have lived there since
her passing, for us it remains Jean’s House.)
After my wife and I expressed our delight
with the punch at her daughter Lynn’s open-house
New Year’s gathering one year, she promised the recipe.
The next day I found it tucked in our mail slot.
Something more curious than her cursive
occurs to me now, some ineffable feeling
about culture, how everything we value —
from high art to interstates that let us roam,
from great novels to public libraries that let us dream,
from playgrounds and local parks to national forests
that let us discover and praise physical grace,
from public schools to police and firemen
that give us hope we and our loved ones are safe —
it’s all shared, handed to us in one way or another
through kindness or through a sense of community,
the idea that there is a social contract,
which is all but quashed when we stay inside,
when we don’t venture out, when we build walls.
The last thing some want us to do is share;
they fulminate, say sharing is a radical idea.
(Some apparently think Jesus is a financial
planner, guiding their individual prosperity.)
Meeting your neighbors is an essential thing
for the health of a neighborhood — or a country.
And at what distance are we no longer neighbors?
(What did Twain write about travel and bigotry?)
Jean and Lynn shared their family’s tradition
and I’ve become rather drunk on the idea.