THERE IS often either more or less in the eggnog than the sipper supposes and our theme, therefore, is the value of that great virtue, Prudence.
Last week in this space we dealt with heroism, an inspiring and gaudy subject, which was all very well for the festival of Christmas, but now as we face the new year we must salute prudence, which gets more people through the world than heroism.
Now there was a woman named Felicity Wells, daughter of a substantial dowager in one of our provincial capitals, and old Mrs. Wells was comforted (and kept alive) in her last days by discreet doses of eggnog through the day.
The Wellses were a teetotal family, at least the women were, so as a matter of delicacy the old lady's medicinal bourbon was kept in a blue china bottle labeled "Shampoo." The nurse would shake some into a cup and the old lady was fine for two hours.
This wholesome posset rendered equable an otherwise irritating bed rest, and stimulated an old heart disinclined to beat.
In time, however, old Mrs. Wells left for those fields of light and was largely mourned.
A few months later, of a Saturday night, the daughter Felicity was preparing her coiffure for the Lord's Day and ran out of hair tonic. She seized the blue porcelain tonic bottle of her late mother's and gave her scalp a great swig.
Her nephew Henry informed me later that water ran in the Wells household way past midnight as Felicity Wells tried to wash the demon rum out of her hair, to no avail. The foul (as she thought) scent persisted, and she missed church the next day for the first time (it was widely said) in 40 years.
We see, in her example, a failure of imprudence and the common cost of imprudent action.
A flighty young girl might have assumed that stuff in the hair tonic bottle was hair tonic, but a woman of Felicity's years and experience in the world, should have been skeptical, and tested carefully before slopping it all over her hair.
The nurse, after the old lady's death, also failed in prudence by not drinking the rest of the bottle, but leaving it to ensnare the innocent.
A different test of prudence was presented by the party of Cletus and Rebekah Ffould, good citizens of that same city, who were not blessed with any great wealth, although the lady was connected by birth to the High Sheriff of McNairy County and was, therefore, a woman of the better sort.
The Ffoulds thought there should be an eggnog party at their small house every year about Dec. 28, and 175 people came every year, and because the house was so small most of them left as soon as possible. Eleven minutes.
Old-timers said that in years past the Ffoulds had regular eggnog, more or less drinkable, but with rising costs everywhere, they began to "improve" their eggnog, to the point that by the time I was old enough to attend, they were using artificial cream, artificial eggs, artificial vanilla, artificial rum and some mysterious ingredient widely believed (by regulars) to be the base of milk of magnesia.
Fortunately they had a lot of window sills. People would accept a cup, take a sip, and set the cup down on the sill. By the end of the first hour the sills were solid with brimming cups, and at the end of the party Rebekah threw everything out, pleased that everyone had come to her party.
"And nobody got tight," she often said. (Nor, for that matter, she might have added, do lobsters fly.)
I failed in prudence the first year, drinking a whole cup.
There was no booze in their eggnog, yet one could get rather sick on it. It made you feel like a trilobite buried in a chalk cliff.
We can learn, however, and I never had any more in following years. Prudence may fail once, but operate thereafter.
Now there was a Navy man I did not know, but I know this thing is true:
He made eggnog and felt it should cure for several weeks. He made up the batch and funneled it into gallons and set them in a cold attic. All the booze had to marry all the eggs, he said, and this took at least two weeks.
One year he lacked one top for a jug. He put regular screw tops on all the other gallons, and put waxed paper over the one that had no top.
In due time he retrieved the gallons, all in good shape, except the one with the waxed paper top. A mouse had gnawed through and had met a terrible death amid the cheer, so to speak.
A fellow who worked around the house said:
"Lord, if you're going to throw that gallon away, I know some people who could use it."
"Well," said the commander, "I just don't know. I'd hate for anybody at all to drink eggnog a mouse had drowned in."
A few days later the Navy man asked Josh how it had worked out.
"We were real satisfied by it," he said, "and when we finished the gallon we fried the mouse."
We see here a failure of prudence in not mouse-proofing the top of the jug. At the same time, though, we see that errors of prudence can turn out -- thank God -- better than anybody would have thought.