22 December 2010

A La Broche: An Old Fashioned Christmas

1935 Lucky Bag - 1934 Army Navy Game - Army Loses, 3-0

If you're under 30 and hauling ass around blogs, scrolling through pictures at mach three while bouncing your knee wildly and chewing on your thumb nail -- I ask you -- No, damn it. I'm begging you. Slow down, focus and read this from my guest TRAWETS NILTGEOV author of, A La Broche. These are words but they create an image and most of them are not that long. For those of you over 40, I promise not only images but sounds and smells as well. It's about drinking, football and dying -- like a man. So pull your jeans up off your ass, turn your ball cap around straight and see if your attention span can last longer than my wire fox terrier on an extra shot Americano.

You see, what I do, what I’ve always done, is set a sugar cube in a glass and then introduce bitters. Set the thin orange slices in like this. Yes,you see, and the cherry, a maraschino, at its middle and wait until the sugar takes on this burnt brown stain. Then water it and muddle it until you’ve got this mixture you see and then well, yes, so ever slowly dribble whiskey down the glass. Then stir and stir and stir.

Time for ice. And it should be cubes, not crushed. But not too many though, you see. And it must be a good quality ice not like the goddamn garbage that comes out the old Kenmore, but a chiseled sort of ice, a densely frozen and crusty sort of ice, you see, and stir and stir and stir. Add lemon peel and a swizzle for swizzling yes, and then - ah yes - down the hatch. To your good health.

Hugh’s voice is still swarthy and deep and splattered with blueblood. But his health is not good. He’s a dying, wheezing, miserable mess, much like the Canyon Creek Trail home that keeps him. Air smells long dead of paper and liquor and traces of afternoon tea, bergamot, and hams boiled and suppered and lunched and snacked over for days endless and pain ridden. To the living room after one, two, maybe three more drinks. Modest color set fixed to Army Navy game. Flash of gold helmets and men uniformed and squeaky with pedigree misbehaving in ways tolerated two hours plus no excuses.

Papers, magazines, envelopes, must be six years of mail there stacked on the hearth. Christmas tree in right corner glistens with tinsel and balls silver and gold and crimson. I watch Navy score through a reflection sharp and unreal seen bottomless in big silver ball. The tree boughs sag with ornament. Grandmother walks through the room unkempt, eerie. Alzheimer’s has taken and turned her out a ghost. Hugh rattles the ice in his glass. He sighs. He turns the color set off. I watch him in the ball’s reflection and when he asks if I’ll read aloud from Kidnapped, where we last left off, his voice is broken and without breath.

We never finish Kidnapped. He lasts nearly a year. Few days before the Army Navy game, his sons carry a jug of cream sherry to his room and toast earnestly with Styrofoam cups. He dies hours later and is in the ground before kickoff. Dad returns from the Canyon Creek Trail home with briefcase and a silence that sits a strange fence-line stoic and existential. Dad’s brother loads dining room table with artifacts. Opera records and art books, gewgaws and bric-a-brac. A tired and weathered collection of random paperbacks: Fleming, Conrad, James, Stevenson, Twain. Bottles of gin and scotch and bourbon. An unopened half-gallon of Maker’s Mark. Dozen dusty bottles of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, grapes gone black with richness of age.

Dad opens shop with briefcase, clears out space amongst booze and books, pops the briefcase’s lock, invites storm of paper into the house to last weeks, months. Financial records, health records, records of records. Will unfurls as stretch of buck brush thorn ridden and wound in blackberry bramble a mile as far as the crow flies. Calculators click. The two brothers talk and whisper. Folks visit. Folks cover up death with food, don’t they? Kitchen buckles with casserole, chafing dishes of fried chicken and roast beef, platters of cold cuts and cheese and pickled veg, pastries and ├ęclairs and Danishes sleazy with custards and glossy candied fruits and dustings of sugar.

House had never been so heavy. Folks whisper and tip-toe and console and serve food and drinks. Folks I’ve never seen before. Folks from up north, you know, cousins and uncles and aunts so-and-so, he’s… she’s… well, you remember, right? You, well, you were young. You’ve grown up. Lookit you and your sister… BOOM. Cannon fire. Cadets celebrate six more. Christamighty, dad’s rolling over right now. Folks nod. Folks whisper. Navy down fourteen in the first. Camera pans. Middies spill out into stands. Topcoats, dress whites, breath rolls from mouths agape, faces ruddy and fixed tightly in subzero temp. Hear them in the kitchen. Away from the other folks and close at the sink and talking while the transistor plays Christmas music quietly.

It’s the sugar that starts the drink off, and, well, what dad always did was hit it with the bitters and bring the fruit to it before he muddled. Sometimes he poured a little of the maraschino syrup in there and muddled—it gave it this festive blush he said—and then the bourbon. Here, open that, okay, great, and then he poured it down the side of the glass like this, slow, and then the stirring—like one of those goddamn old fashioned egg beaters, banging the spoon around the glass.

He was real particular about his ice too; there was something he said, a phrase, something like densely frozen he’d call it, and he never finished off the drink with club soda like most bartenders now do. Here, cut me a little lemon peel, okay, great, and then he added the peel and, you see, look at this, it’s a very colorful cocktail, orange and red and brown and it smells, well, it smells Christmassy, like fruit cake almost and it tastes, well, ah. To your good health.


La Maison Fou said...

Great post....I so get this (over 40 crowd). Love the analogy to the wire haired fox terrier (had one when I was a lass) so understand the Attention Hype Disorder there!!
Have a great Holiday, and looking forward to new topics and adventures in 2011!!!
La Maison Fou

Alice Olive said...

Wow, this is great writing. If you asked me to write about a cocktail, that's all you'd get: a recipe. This is moving.

_ said...


brohammas said...

Despite being in the sweet spot of ages, the window you neglegted, I still read.
Now that is writing!
Lts of football, lots of liquor, and it wasnt about either.

Jordan said...

Ah...if my blog ever approaches this cocktail of memories, its punch and imagery...ah.

James said...

Damn son.

ADG said...

Damn. Sublime.

TRVS said...

Poignant in a heart wrenching kind of way...he captures what it is about death looming that haunts us long after they're gone. ~M.

Wm. J. MIlls and Co. said...

Each year the Army Navy game took on a reverence unmatched in todays world. Titans opposed. The best writers, the best crowd; it was the day of days. In my early years, we listened, later we watched. Thanks for your post. Like a scent from the past unleashing the memories in a flood.

Like a Julip on derby day; an Old Fashioned is also a reverent work.

tintin said...

Maison- My favorite dog. Full stop. But like everything else soulful and good and pure -- they are a royal pain in the ass.

Alice- It's very moving. I'm sure Stewart wishes it would move him into a bigger house.

- Try not to be too verbose, -.

Brohammas- And a sweet spot it is.

Jordan- I've discovered the secret to great blogging. Get someone else to do it.

James- You and ADG work on your commments together?

ADG- I assume your comment is short 'cause you sent it from your iPhone.

TRVS- For me, it's a moment that has stopped and I love re-reading it.

Wm J Mills & Co- Check out more at his blog. You're in for a treat. I recommend his posts on Steak & Ale as an introduction. Amazing. A screenplay begging to be made.

Main Line Sportsman said...

Top shelf prose...pun intended. I particularly like the ice references as quality commercial ice issuperior and an often overlooked component of fine drinks(I mentioned that in a comment on your Dark N' Stormies post) and the Army Navy Game ( A Phila Tradtion-lemme have it.)
Thanks to you both for this compelling read...

Ian said...

TRAWETS has always been a hell of a writer, and disturbingly enough, he's only getting better.

Anonymous said...

"... in the ground before kickoff." Really? That's eerie. Interesting story, though.


Anonymous Texan said...

Old school post says it all. Neighbor
next door was MD at USMA post WWII...
knew Col. Blaik, Col.Reeder, Mr. Lombardi & of course Mr. Inside & Mr.
Outside. Enuff said.

Anonymous said...

"Danishes sleazy with custards..." That is a great line. Amazing read. Thank you.


Many thanks for all the flattering comments, y'all. Merry Christmas and Anchors Aweigh!

TenderSociety said...

One of the first drinks my parents taught me to make them, that. I was weaned on fizzy water with a dash of bitters and a cherry.
Still one of the drinks I never find made well outside of one or two places.
My gratitude for this.

M.Lane said...

What a fine post. All my best to you and the Gulf Foxtrot for a wonderful Christmas and an even better 2011!


Claire Fontaine said...

just turned 30. got me pegged.
i scrolled all the way down, then back up...remembering that i come here because i like to hear what you have to say, not just look at your pics.
the story was perfect. right there with him. with them.

our memories never lie in a straight line, do they.

Easy and Elegant Life said...

That's beautiful writing. The Army-Nay game was always a tradition in my house too. Dad was Army. Now I'm married to a Navy Child and above me sit the Lucky Bags from 1931, 1959 and 1987. I hope we can all continue my erstwhile tradition. Even if I'm the only one rooting for The Long Gray Line, I think we can all agree on the single malts and Guinness.

Hey tintin, just about time to whip up that concoction that you devised based on Artillery Punch, isn't it? Just gotta reconcile with Rum on my end. That which does not kill us....

Anonymous said...

My favorite Old Fashioned recipe comes from Pappy Van Winkle himself:
3/4 tsp light brown sugar
4-5 dashes orange bitters
4-5 dashes of Angostura bitters
1/2 slice of orange, peel removed
Muddle the brown sugar, bitters, and orange in the bottom of an Old Fashioned glass. Add a little bourbon to dissolve (..screw the water). Add 4oz of good quality bourbon. Stir to dissolve. Add cubed ice, another 1/2 slice of orange and a maraschino cherry as garnishes. Enjoy. What I like is the drink changes character as the ice melts. One of my faves. Cheers!