Stinge clambered up off the floor, grinning as widely as he had in many years. “Yes! Yes!” he yelled, loud enough for anyone in the grain storage room above him to hear. “I’m still alive! Oh, happy day!”
He dashed across the room, but seeing the handle was still in his hand, he rushed back to his faucet. Reaching it, he stopped and cocked his head, saying to himself, “But what time is it?” Running again to his bed, handle still in hand, he checked the bedside clock and it’s dim red face.
“It’s morning!” he yelled again. “Morning! Yes! Yes! Bless those spirits!”
He danced around the room in wide sweeping arcs, holding his tap handle like a phantom partner’s hand. Swinging past the beer sink, he stopped and slid it back into proper position. Then he pulled himself a pint and quaffed it in several long, cheerful gulps.
A shadow of question crossed his face. “But what morning? I don’t even know the day!”
Dressing quickly, he stormed up the stairs and into the brewery.
Seeing his dwindling bags of malt and the mash tun right where they belong, he let out a yelp of joy. He tapped the hollow metal pot with a knuckle, smiling as a clanging echo filled his ear.
“Oh, I have work for you, yet, my friend!”
“What’s that sir?” came a voice behind him. Stinge twirled on his heel, facing a young girl, maybe 12 years old.
“Girl, what day is it?”
“I’m sorry, sir?”
“The day, what day is it?” he asked urgently, wringing his hands together.
“Why, Christmas day, of course. How do you not know that?”
“Christmas day!” he shouted gleefully. “Bless them, they did it all at in one night!”
“Sir?” the girl said, eyeing the closest door nervously.
“Never mind, never mind, young lady. Now, what to do, what to do. So much to do!”
“Are you alright, sir?”
“Yes, I’m fine, I’m fine,” he cocked his head again. “But why would you be here on Christmas day?”
“I was just passing by on the street and your door was open. I saw you inside and you seemed worked up; I wanted to make sure you were alright.”
“Good girl, good girl! Looking out for your fellows, excellent!” Stinge cheered.
“Dude, you’ve gone ‘round the bend.”
“Ha! Not quite, young lady, not quite. Now, tell me, do you know the brewer’s supply two blocks over?”
“The place that smells funny?”
“Funny? Haha! Nonsense! That’s the scent of malted barley, and it’s one of the most wonderful odors on Earth.”
“Whatever,” she mumbled. “Yeah, I know the place.”
“Very good! Now, I will pay you $20 to run to the brewer’s supply, roust the owner, and give him an urgent order for Stinge and Merrill. He’ll know the name.”
Grabbing a legal pad nearby, Stinge scribbled a list of several ingredients on the pad and tore the sheet off with flair. Then, pen flying across the page, he scrawled a second note.
“Young lady, give this first note to the shop owner and tell him Stinge will pay double our normal price to have it here within the hour. Tell him to notify Bob Kolsher, at home at this number, when the delivery has been made. But he is NOT to mention me at all.” He handed her the second note.
“If you can do that and return in 15 minutes, it’ll earn you a $50!”
The girl’s eyes grew as large as saucers. “You have gone ‘round the bend! But for $50, I don’t care.” She tore away, out the still open door.
“Ha ha!” Stinge chuckled to himself. “Now, we need to make sure everything is ready for when Bob arrives.” He pulled an apron over his head and grabbed a bottle of sanitizer.
The girl was as good as her word, and returned with an invoice from the brewer’s supply in exactly 12 minutes, saying the order would arrive in little over half an hour.
“Absolutely capital!” Stinge shouted hearing the news, rubber gloves to his elbows. Making good on his promise, he paid the girl a crisp $50 dollar bill and offered her the absolute merriest of Christmas days.
After hastily preparing the brewing line, Stinge stole away from the brewery lest he be caught when Kolsher, or the ingredients, arrived.
As a happy accident, the order arrived just as Bob Kolsher did, his face screwed up in confusion.
“What’s going on here?” he demanded of the driver of the truck.
“I don’t know, fella,” the driver replied. “I’m supposed to be off today. I got called in to make an emergency delivery here. So here I am. And as soon as I get this stuff off the truck, I’m going to back home for Christmas.”
“What have you got?” Kolsher asked.
The driver handed him a clipboard and lifted the gate of his truck.
Kolsher stared, opened mouth, at the invoice for a moment and then laughed. “Well, I’ll be…it’s some kind of Christmas miracle! I’ll need the boys for this!”
Clapping the driver on the back cheerfully, he said, “I have to make some calls. Get this in on the dock, my good man, and my fellas and I will take care of it from there. And a Merry Christmas to you!”
“Whatever,” the man replied as Kolsher dashed into the building in search of a phone.
Stinge, meanwhile, had found his way to Fred’s tavern. He paced up and down the block several times, watching the door with each pass, trying to find his courage. Finally, in a burst, he ran to the door and through it, giving himself no chance for second thoughts.
Inside, he stood, letting his eyes adjust to the dimmer light. The bartender noticed him blinking by the door. “Help you sir?”
“Why, yes, I’m looking for…”
“Mr. Stinge!” A voice cried from his left.
Davey Paren, Jr. came over and extended his hand. “I’m thrilled to see you! We didn’t expect you to join us.”
“Yes, well,” Stinge said, lowering his voice, “it seems I’ve been laboring under several mistaken ideas these many years. I’ve seen the error of my ways, though, and the time has come to correct them. And the first step, it seems to me, would be to share a few pints with you good people and reminisce about your father. He was a good man, and I would not be where I am today without him.”
“Mr. Stinge!” Paren repeated, astonished.
Paren laughed. “Edwin, then. I’m touched to hear you speak so kindly of him,” the younger man paused, seeming to struggle to speak. “Ahem”, he continued, eyes shimmering wetly, “he spoke very highly of you as well. And we’d be honored to have you join us.”
The younger man clapped him on the shoulder and directed him toward the high table where the others sat, each wearing a look as if they’d seen the dead. Stinge smiled to himself before shaking each hand heartily and wishing them all a merry Christmas.
“If you would all indulge me,” he said, pulling up a barstool, “I think I have the perfect recipe for next year’s special release. It came from my college chemistry professor originally, and was the first, and finest, beer Davey and I brewed ever together…”
The talked all the day, and into the night, remembering the senior Paren and discussing the joy that comes with sharing well-made beer among friends.
The following morning, Stinge was the first one in his office, ready for the workday. He watched the staff trickle in over an hour or so, eyes bleary either from the previous day’s merriment or, in the case of the brewing crew, a long day of work.
The hour struck 9:00 AM without Kolsher. Five minutes past the hour, he still hadn’t arrived. At last, at 9:13, he shuffled into through the door, looking weary but grinning widely.
Stinge pressed the button on his desk intercom. “Martha, please call Mr. Kolsher into my office.”
He heard the call over the building’s P.A. system and waited, fingers tapping against his desk. Barely a minute later, Kolsher stepped into the office. “Sir, you wanted to see me?”
“I do, Kolsher, I do” he growled. “What was the last thing we discussed in this office?”
“Um, that we’d order no more malt, sir.”
“Quite. No more malt. And why not?”
“Because we’re finished brewing, sir.”
“Finished!” he cried. “And yet imagine my surprise to come up to work today and find a fermenter full of what seems very much an entire batch of Christmas Ale. What exactly is the meaning of this?”
“Well, sir,” Kolsher began, trembling now. “I…we…yesterday…”
“What am I to do with you, Kolsher,” Stinge railed, “if you cannot follow my simplest instructions?”
“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, Kolsher,” he paused, hoping not to ruin it with a premature grin, “I’m going to…to…double your salary and…triple our production!”
Kolsher recoiled, as if slapped, but then his eyes grew wide. “Sir?”
Stinge laughed, heartily, as he had not done in years. “Bob! I have been a fool! You were absolutely right to want to save your precious Tiny…uh…Christmas Ale. Thankfully, I’ve been shown my mistakes, and see how to fix them. And the first step to that is to keep Christmas in our hearts all year this year. Which is why, for the next 12 months, we will be brewing Christmas Ale continuously. No one will go for want of it this year.”
“That’s…amazing sir,” Kolsher stammered, unsure how to respond to such a miraculous transformation, “I’ll get right to work!”
“Yes, Yes, Bob, exactly right! And you tell everyone out there that Stinge and Merrill will be filling our own barrels for as long as I’m running this brewery!” With that, Stinge picked up a folder from his desk and removed a stack of papers. With a quick turn of his wrists, the tore them in half.
“Now, Bob, if you would be so kind as to take this voided contract to the incinerator and make sure nothing remains of it but ash, I have a phone call to make to MegaBrew.”
Kolsher beamed. “Right away, sir. Immediately!”
Stinge was even better than his word. The Christmas Ale, Bob’s Tiny Tim, was saved, and made available to anyone wanting it for a full year, and never a year went by afterward that it didn’t flow copiously from taps to happy revelers. And it was said after that day that there never was as good a man, as good a friend, as good an employer, or as good a brewer in the city, or the whole world even, as old Stinge.
He kept the lessons of the spirits in his heart every day, always trying to find a way to offer joy, fellowship, and comfort to his brother and sisters, whether that come from excellent beer made with great care, a simple meal freely given, or a kind word or act for those in need.
And in all his long days remaining it was said that no one kept Christmas in their heart as well as Edwin Stinge.
May the same be said of us all.
Merry Christmas, and may God bless us, every one!