It happened at the end of a very hot, dusty, tiring day spent in the Texas sun.

My family started out early in the morning on the drive from our home in Houston to the oil field in Luling, Texas, where my geologist father, Sam, was overseeing the testing at a new site. This was in the 1950s and Texas was deep in the throes of petroleum exploration.

In those days my parents drove a big station wagon, and we kids got into the car at regular intervals to find relief from the scorching sun. It was actually hotter inside the car than out, but inside we were able to pester each other. During the day we five girls gathered in the car to play word games that usually ended in crying.

An alternative to sitting in the car was to gaze at the barren landscape of dirt, scrub brush and the massive oil derrick. Roughnecks worked frantically, and my baby brother, mother and father were in the cramped shack used to test samples. There was always tension in the air at this point because they wanted oil, not gas, to erupt from the well.

Eventually the long day ended and we clambered back into the hot car and headed to town to spend the night at a decrepit motel. My father remained at the site to continue to work.

A dingy store was our first stop. My mother, a frugal Bostonian, selected over-aged bread, potted ham, canned sardines, crackers, a bag of pork rinds and some other inedible food items for dinner. The prize purchases were lots of sugary pecan pralines and a big jug of grape juice.

Assembled in the cramped room for dinner, my mother portioned out paper plates on which to put our dinner items. We never used paper products, but this evening she dispensed plates and small Dixie cups. She gave tiny servings because the little kids always spilled.

Ceremoniously my mother poured the grape juice into our waiting cups. This juice was tangy and sweet, and my own cup was sent up for more before she had a chance to sip some herself.

“STOP,” I heard her yell at high decibel as she took her first sip. Immediately she gathered up our cups with a look of panic on her face. The smaller children looked wordlessly at our mother. Like me they wanted more.

As it turned out, the reason the delectable grape juice was one of the tastiest beverages I had ever imbibed was that it had been on the shelf in that out-of-the-way store for so long it had become wine.

No one suffered any ill effects, and we laugh about it now. But the night has gone down in family lore as the night grape juice turned into wine.

Anne Holliday Abbott is a retired print and broadcast journalist who moved to Portland from Arizona 17 years ago. She is a watercolor and embellished quilt artist.


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