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Stumbling Sober

How Martinelli’s Shaped My Holidays

My father grew up in Whitney, Texas, a town that currently has 2,087 people, and wasn’t quite known for its openness to lifestyle choices that strayed from the Leave It to Beaver-style of living in 1950s America. So as one of a few local preachers in this small town, my grandfather was responsible for not only shutting down school dances, but also for helping pass an ordinance that made Hill County a dry county. Meaning they didn’t sell alcohol. At all.

My father carried on this tradition in a few ways by not only becoming a Baptist preacher himself, but by making our home in Los Angeles its own kind of dry county. The difference between my grandparents and my parents, though, is that in my grandparents’ house, you couldn’t find anything that even remotely resembled a champagne flute. They wouldn’t have it. My parents, however, had wine glasses and champagne flutes. And growing up, having had no personal experience with alcohol, I associated those special glasses with one thing: Martinelli’s apple cider.

Every year for Thanksgiving, Christmas and especially New Year’s Eve, the glasses would come off the top shelf of the cabinet and the virgin bubbly would flow freely at the Ryan household. My neighborhood friends and I would toast, clink our glasses and have conversations about life as 10 year olds pretending to be adults. We would open bottle after bottle after bottle of this liquid apple gold, and get sillier and sillier as the night went on, acting as if the drink were really having an effect on us.

But my favorite Martinelli’s tradition came in my teenage years when my friend Chris and I decided, screw the glasses, we’re going to drink straight from the bottle. And we’re going to chug it. So at the ripe young age of 13, my addiction to apple cider hit its peak, as my mother would buy Chris and I two bottles of bubbles each every New Year’s Eve.

After we both chugged an entire bottle—as became customary—we would put our second bottle in a paper bag and walk from house to house on my street in Southern California, sipping, stumbling, burping and making stupid jokes with our neighborhood friends and their parents––quickly peeling the paper back to show that we were not, in fact, drinking alcohol. Only pretending to.

At this point, I’ll be the first to admit I like the real stuff better. That a good cava or prosecco will beat Martinelli’s any day of the week. But I can’t pretend those times weren’t more fun, because they were. And the burps are better than a hangover––hands down.

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This story was originally published in Issue 4 of Life & Thyme’s print magazine.

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