Response to a Reader

By Derrick Doty

I must interrupt my thread on the Scott family and make an effort to correct a portion of “If These Walls Could Talk.”  One of my readers came in to the shop and informed me she was bothered by a statement I had made.  The statement in question is as follows.  The rest of the day was spent in speechifying, drinking, toasting, drinking, eating, drinking, and so on and so forth.  Our reader believes that I have misled folks into thinking that the fourth of July was spent in debauchery.  After careful consideration I can see that this is very likely.  So, I am compelled to exercise my hermeneutic ability on this passage and see if I can clear it up.

The English language is sometimes more difficult to interpret than it is to translate a dead language into a living tongue.  The reason for this is that many words have multiple meanings, and you have to use context to figure which meaning is meant.  For instance, the word hermeneutic above is usually used in the theological sense, but not originally, thus, the reason for my downfall.

My dear reader brought the following, from John Maloy’s “History of Morris County” to my attention.  “Some fifty barrels of ice water stood around at convenient distances, and, although we had licensed saloons, all were closed, no one intoxicated, and the few faint cries for beer went as unheeded as they would today.”  If the saloons were closed and no one was intoxicated and no beer was served, then how could I make my readers believe there was a lot of drinking going on?  I’ll admit that I was naïve.  I got the impression that there was some kind of spirituous drink at this event even though I knew there was no beer.  Why did I think this?  “Then came a series of toasts and responses, occupying over two hours.”  That is what John Maloy went on to say after the first quotation.  I made the foolish mistake to assume that ‘toasts’ referred to the drinking of champagne or wine or something of that nature, while giving honor to someone or something.  I was pretty sure toast was not used as a verb in the sense of browning something by heat, so I scratched that one off.  I didn’t think it was used as a noun for one who is a hard drinker (of liquor).  I was nearly certain it wasn’t used as a noun for a brown red-yellow hue.  And, as there was no milk at this event (for Mr. Maloy does not mention there being any) I don’t suppose they would have put their toast (bread) in their milk.  For whatever reason, I overlooked all these other possibilities and chose to go with the traditional meaning of toast, which we get from the old practice of putting a piece of toast in the liquor to flavor it.

You may also ask me how I expected there to be drinking going on when the saloons were closed.  Well, I’m not too bothered by that.  Of course the saloons were closed, the whole town was shut up because every soul was down at the Grove celebrating.

If I may, for my own defense, I will have you note that just as Maloy left out mention of any intoxicating beverage, so have I.  I named no liquor or malt beverage, distilled or fermented whatever.   All I said is that there was drinking.  And I’m sure you’ll agree that since there were some fifty barrels (equaling 2100 gallons) of ice water at this noble celebration, there was no doubt a lot of ‘drinking’.


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