The story of how "Champagne Day" came to be. Cramp Entry 8/01/10
| The Indiana town I live in is small, even by small town standards. Once a year, however, it becomes a beehive of activity as people from all over the country journey here for our “Champagne Day” Celebration. Champagne Day is actually the culmination of a three day festival. It features tastings of Champagne, wine, and cheese from all over the world, and ends at sunset of the third day as the citizens of this fair town line the streets, bottles in hand, and shower one another with exuberant sprays of the stuff, and drink and dance to the tune of raucous fiddles and guitars into the dead of night.|
This may seem a curious tradition for a tiny Indiana hamlet, just as I thought as a youth. You see, it turns out, not too many people know where Champagne Day came from, and it wasn’t until I returned home one summer from a year in Iraq, that I learned the truth of our dear little celebration.
Just as the festival was getting underway, I found myself sitting on my family’s front porch watching the out-of-towners swarm Main Street, enjoying the quiet company of my grandfather. He looked at me in a different way since I’d been back, as if he finally saw me as a man.
“Do you know the story of how Champagne Day got started?” he asked me.
“No Grandpa, I don’t,” I said, suddenly inexplicably curious about a thing I’d never given a second thought to until that moment. There was something about the way he said it that told me he was about to let me in on the sacred secrets of some ancient secret society.
“Your great-grandfather, my dad, started it all.” I perked up, and listened intently at the old man’s tale.
“It was 1946. My father had been home from the war for only a few months. He had been gone a long time, and mom and I hardly recognized the man who came back. He was quiet, and had a look in his eyes that frightened me. I was afraid to be alone with him. It was sometime in August of that year a couple of his buddies from the war came to visit. When they arrived, my father went down in the cellar and brought up a crate he had brought back with him from France. He opened it and pulled out a big bottle, and the three men spend three days drinking the entire contents of the crate on our front porch. I sat inside secretly and listened in awe to those men recall their adventure across Europe. I listened in the darkness as a name would be mentioned, and the men would stop and take a drink, and sit in dead silence until they could speak again without their voices cracking. After the third day, the men bid us all farewell, and my father returned to his quiet self, but seemed, somehow not as dark as before.”
“It was almost a year later that someone found him out near his favorite hunting spot, having turned his Army-issued Colt Automatic on himself. I didn’t understand it at the time. Mom was devastated. It was a few days later that what seemed like a hundred men, some in the sharpest Army Greens I’ve ever seen arrived for the funeral. The funeral was short, and unimpressive, as they usually are under the circumstances. We followed the casket to the cemetery and planted my father in the ground. Afterward, at the house, the guests swarmed like ants. The men, my father’s comrades from the war, gathered in the front yard and porch. I was amazed when nearly every single one of them brought from the trunk of their car a crate just like my father’s. The men began drinking the contents of their crates. Their wives, several of them French, talked in the house with my mother. I, still a young boy, listened in the shadows as those titans of men sat in the yard and told drunken tales of my father, and other men who didn’t survive the war. Someone would say a name and they would become silent, take a drink, and continue once they could without their voices cracking. They laughed heartily. After the sun went down, I heard some of them cry. The celebration went on for three days. On the last day the wives came out and joined the men, someone put some music on, and at sunset, they toasted my father, and showered one another with the finest French champagne, then danced into the dead of night. I could hardly believe it, but I saw my mother smile that night, as the men told her of some of the great things my father had done. They treated her as if she were the queen of England. Some danced with her, they brought her food and drinks, and we all celebrated my father. I didn’t understand until many years later that they were all just trying to remember him as he had lived, not as he had died.”
“The following year, everyone returned at the same time, and celebrated. Over the years, the rest of the town joined in the festivities, and people brought family and friends. A certain vineyard in France would send my mother a case of their finest Champagne, with a note that said simply, “Merci”. Year after year the celebration got bigger and bigger, and the origin of it all faded into memory. But that’s OK.”
He finished and looked at me, wiping a single tear from his cheek. I struggled to contain the lump in my throat.
“I didn’t understand what happened to my father until I returned from Vietnam,” he said. “You know what I mean, don’t you?” I nodded.
My grandfather and I got a crate of the finest French Champagne from the cellar and drank, as brothers, and told tales.
Winning Entry - The Writer's Cramp, 8/01/10
This story was written with a 1,000 word limit. If you would like to read the full, expanded version, it can be found here: