Save The Wine! An endurance challenge

The house alarm suddenly tripped! As I ran about the house looking for possible intruders, glass breakage, or a guilty cat that may have knocked over the living room gate, I could hear the house phone ringing in the distance with a call from the alarm company. When I got to the basement, I found the source of the trouble: one of my husband’s glass wine jugs, he calls them ‘carboys,’ had exploded in the storage room!

I ran back upstairs in search of my phone and found that the alarm company had also called my cell. So I quickly redialed and told them everything was ok. Upon further investigation of the mess in the wine distillation area, I found that perhaps the jug had not exploded so much that it had fallen off a now slightly tilting sheet of plywood. This piece of plywood, some 4 x 4 feet (1.2 x 1.2 m) in area, was resting upon two of the sturdy, gray, Rubbermaid tote containers that has served our family for years, and which probably contained winter clothing items that would not be needed for a couple of months.

The new and improved wine shelf features rigid plastic buckets replacing the plastic totes that failed under the collective weight of the carboys. Photo by Kathleen Edelblut

This make-shift shelving unit, to my husband’s estimation at least, was the perfect place to set his wine jugs upon and up off the floor, while they “percolated” for the appropriate amount of time prior to bottling. Recall that I mentioned it was slightly tilting. That was because upon this sheet of plywood sat no less than eight, 1-gallon jugs of wine, along with five, 3-gallon (11-L) jugs of the same. It was a very productive year for the vines, I must say!

In the flash of an instant, I knew they were all in jeopardy! For now I could see that under the plywood, the Rubbermaid totes were slightly depressing due to the weight of the wine. I must save the wine! was the first instinctive thought that rallied through my brain. So I began removing the jugs from the make-shift table.

Now picture the storage room dear reader…this is a narrow, galley-type room that has shelving on either side all along the left and right walls. There is a stack of furniture–a dining  hutch and one row of chairs–against the hutch on the far wall opposite the door. The 4 x 4 sheet of plywood is at the very back against this stack of furniture, leaving only approximately six inches of room to maneuver between the shelving on either side.

If I had the presence of mind to remove the larger, heavier jugs first, I might have saved myself from the trying, perilous time that was to follow. Alas, I did not. I did not have the presence of mind, and the perilous time did follow. I removed the smaller jugs first for two reasons. Again, dear reader, picture this table full of wine jugs. The smaller ones were in the front, you see, and all but one larger jug towards the back. I chose to remove the smaller first, primarily because of the tightness of the space. To remove a large jug, I would have had to squeeze my knees in this small six inch space, lifting 3-gallons of wine up and over the top of the one gallon containers. That wasn’t going to happen because of the second reason: I wasn’t even sure I could physically lift the weight of the larger jugs! My goal was to save the wine  you see, so I took the path of least resistance, which did not work in my favor. I am sorry to report that physics isn’t one of my stronger subjects, as you will soon see.

As I removed the smaller jugs one by one, unbeknownst to me, the weight of the larger ones was depressing the Rubbermaid totes even more. It was only after I had safely saved all the smaller jugs, and was in the act of ever so carefully lifting the front-most 3-gallon (11-L) jug when I felt the plywood shift upwards as I lifted.

I promptly set it back down.

It was then that I realized that I had removed all the counterweight offsetting the larger jugs, save the particular jug nearest me, that I now had my hands wrapped around for dear life! It was then that I looked under the plywood board and could see the extent of the problem. I will estimate for you at this point dear reader, so that you can appreciate the predicament that I was in, that the plywood now had a tilt of an approximate 30-40 degree angle. The largest jugs in the back were now only 6–8 inches (15–20 cm)from the floor (the tubs were initially about 20 inches in height), leaning at a tilt precariously against the chairs behind them.

I now realized the dilemma I was in, and the lesson that physics would have taught me had I had the presence of mind to consider it in the first place.  If I let go of the jug in my hands, it would most certainly slide down or tip, and careen into the others, and the whole of the unsecured table top would flip up, and four, 4-gallon (15-L) glass jugs of wine would no doubt crash to the floor!

 At this point, the time was approximately 5:55pm. NO ONE else was home! My husband and daughter  weren’t expected to be home from soccer practice for at least another hour! To make matters worse, I had hurriedly set my cell phone down at the bottom of the basement stairs when I hung up from the alarm company, as the signal doesn’t usually travel well in the basement through the cement walls. What to do? “Help! HELP!” I cried several times at various intervals, just in case the police or the fire department had decided to investigate the alarm that triggered.

They didn’t. There was nothing but the opposing pressure of my grip on the front wine jug offsetting the calamity that was sure to happen. Months and months of careful tending of the grapes in the vineyard was at stake. Days of picking and pressing the fruit, not to mention the cost of the five large carboys that would most certainly be smashed to smithereens if I let go. I had to save the wine!

I was getting uncomfortable. I began crouching, lunging, any and all positions that would change the crick that began to form in my back.

So, I stood, slightly hunched over, for about twenty minutes, looking around all the while for ways to protect the bottles if my attempts to hold on should fail. I had the use of one hand, and managed to pull a small sleeping bag from the shelf. I threw this down on the spot where I thought the jugs would most likely roll first if the table decided to shift. What else could help? Not much. I grabbed the lid of a small cooler off the shelf and managed to slip it under the table where it would potentially prevent the plywood from meeting the floor — by only 2 inches (5 cm) — but I was desperate. Styrofoam cups? I threw those down, too.

Lots of things went through my mind as I waited…and waited for help to come. I had the sudden inspiration that maybe I had counted wrong. Maybe I wasn’t turning 60 after all this year. Maybe I was only 59. You see, I surmised earlier in the week that perhaps it wasn’t my 35th wedding anniversary, it was my 34th, since it takes a year to officially be the first anniversary, and hence begins your second year after that. So, I began to count in this fashion, “In 1961, I turned one year old. In 1962, I turned two years old…” and on and on I recited until I reached 2020. And you know what I found out? I am turning 60 years old! So, maybe it is my 35th wedding anniversary after all!

I was getting uncomfortable. I began crouching, lunging, any and all positions that would change the crick that began to form in my back. Then my legs started cramping a bit, so I would shift back to the hunchback position. Off and on I alternated these positions until I noticed a small wooden box with  a few empty 1-gallon (3.8-L) jugs in it. I dragged the box over and sat precariously on the corner of it. To pass the time, I recited the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 a few times. “HELP!” I cried again, mostly to relieve the boredom. Finally, with about 20 minutes left of my imprisonment, I managed to look behind me and spotted two empty 5-gallon (19-L) buckets. I threw one on top of the sleeping bag, and determined that this would certainly prevent the jugs of wine from rolling sideways into the breach left by the one that had fallen on the floor in the first place.

The other, I rolled and flipped upside down, and sat upon it. Ah, that felt good! I could wait out the rest of the duration now, though my hands were getting a bit sore. It was then I spied the box of coffee to my left. Two five-pound bags of coffee were in that box! They were each at least 5-6 inches in height when laid on their side. Maybe if I could get them wedged under the plywood in the rear, that would prevent the table from flipping? I removed one bag and slid it in under the table. It didn’t go far enough. Somehow, I needed to push it to the back under the place where the plywood would most likely tip. Still hanging on to the car-boy, I maneuvered my leg under the table and used my foot to push it further, just a little further, and…toe CRAMP! I yie, yie!!!

Have you ever had a toe cramp? They are not fun, let me tell you. Fortunately, it subsided quickly (thank God!), and I even managed to get the other bag under the table. Now, I could sit down and relax. Ah…Wait…what was that noise? My husband was home!

“HELP! HELP!!!” I cried in earnest, repeatedly. My knight in shining armour had finally come to my rescue! I had saved the wine!

Today, my legs and back are just a little bit sore.