We come across many people who will have some measure of influence in our lives. For some, they will become titans in our young minds and become the basis of a personal Mt. Rushmore. And like Mt. Rushmore, we might build mental monuments to the four most influential relatives, teachers, sports stars or musicians. These groupings provide the basis for our childhood memories and may have had an influence that extends far in to the future and may shape the people that we have become today. And, with the passing of these titans, we are left a little nostalgic to an earlier time and a little saddened to have lost one of the great influences in our lives.
Recently, I have been faced with such a loss. After a series of health setbacks, the inevitable has happened, and my Pappy (our Godfather of Whisky) has passed on to the great tasting room in the sky. My thoughts are torn between how this will affect me in the future and what fond memories I have of Pappy. Rather than dwell on the somewhat self-serving thoughts of poor me (and roll out a maudlin post), I have decided to dwell on the positive memories that I have of my time with Pappy…
It was Pappy who first explained the use of booze for “medicinal purposes only” as I vividly remember the choice between the Formula 44D that was kept in the medicine cabinet or the handles of Irish whiskey and blackberry brandy that were stored under the sink as a means to combat everything from the common cold to diphtheria. I remember one particularly nasty illness where I was given a shot of Irish whiskey and tossed fully clothed into an ice cold shower. I’m not sure what brand of whiskey that was, but I slept like a baby and was more or less cured by the next day.
I remember a trip to visit my mother’s cousin that involved a classic chicken fight battle in the pool, a first rate barbecue, and Pappy and Uncle Jimmy in lawn chairs, shooting empty 8oz cans of Bud into a paper bag that was tacked to an oak tree. Let’s just say that after the first case (yes, they went through more than one case during this session), I spent a fair amount of time rebounding while my poor Aunt Dottie was left pouring Uncle Jimmy back into the house.
And, it was Pappy who actively encouraged my beer can collecting as a way for us to bond whenever he headed to Mr. Dunderbak’s to buy very pretty packages for me. This bonding ritual was a win/win for both of us as he got to drink the beer and I got to display all of the pretty beer cans. In retrospect, while an appropriate assignment of duties when I was a pre-teen, I always felt that I got shortchanged. That is, until there was a slight mishap when Pappy bought a Harp. He found the Harp’s aroma to be a bit off-putting and offered the beer to me. Expecting me to take a sniff or a small sip, I downed the beer with the help of my mother’s berating and my father’s laughter. That was my first full beer and my first case of bed spins. I’d like to think there was a lesson to be learned there; maybe not to drink a beer like a soda, or maybe not to drink a bad beer.
Pappy, as a first responder (he spent 30 years as a smoke eater with the Philadelphia Fire Department), was the one who explained the rules of drinking and driving (never try to do both!), the importance of seat belts (he never cut a seat belt off of a dead man) and the importance of a designated driver (always have one, and if you regrettably find yourself without one, NEVER get in the car with someone who has over-imbibed). He also emphasized two important rules of bar etiquette: make it a point to reach for the check and never drink your check.
In his later years, I made the move from taking Pappy golfing for his birthday to taking him to whiskey events. It worked out well for the both of us as he had gotten a little long in the tooth to walk the course, and I am a REALLY bad golfer. So, I joined the SMWS (member since 2007!) and we had a number of fine outings at the Union League with our wonderful hosts Alan Shayne and his lovely daughters (The Whisky Sisters). At one particular event, Pappy had a bit too much to drink, so my fellow Booze Dancers had to grab him by the arm and the belt and load him into the car of one of my Connies (I have four sisters who I “affectionately” call The Connies, an homage to Connie Corleone of Godfather III. FYI, I will NEVER accept a cannoli from any of them!). Thanks to Pappy’s state of inebriation and the herculean effort that it took to get him out of the car, off of the lawn, and into the house, this incident precipitated one of my favorite voice mail messages of all time, as Connie #4 told me that “when she awoke the next day, she was coming to kill me!”.
We even attended a couple of special SMWS events; one in particular where we got to sample five Glenlivets and five SMWS expressions. It was at this event that I saw Pappy at his craftiest when after expressing his dismay that there were no giveaways (“What?! No swag???”), he talked his way into a bottle of Balmenach (48.20 Crepe Suzette; what a bottle!).
After the Society ended the Philadelphia events, the Booze Dancers began our periodic bottle shares and Pappy was a welcomed fixture at those events as well. Taking part in the food and festivities and sampling a wide variety of bottles brought in by my fellow Booze Dancers, Miracle Max, Bucket Bill and the rest of our rogue cast of characters. We even got Big Jim (a bona fide Scotsman!) to attend one where he imparted one of our favorite quotes: “I’ll have some more of that ‘Jap’ whiskey” and Pappy whole heartedly concurred.
As Pappy slowed a bit, his trips out became less regular, so I turned to Master of Malt to get their annual Whisky Advent Calendar. Twenty-four days of whiskey from around the world would usually turn into 3 months and provide plenty of conversation over the quality of the whiskey, the various distillers, and his general impressions of each dram.
At the end, as he spent his days in a nursing bed, the talk turned to the possibility of a jail break or what I might have snuck by the nurses at the front desk. Little sample bottles were easiest, and his last drinks were a Jameson and a Jim Beam; two whiskies that will now hold a special place in my heart.
So, no tears and only a modicum of sadness as Pappy saw nearly 85 years and left those around him imparted with his special blend of sarcastic humor, great sense of camaraderie and a love for the brown spirits. Rather, I raise a glass of whiskey (naturally, it’s Midleton, his favorite) and toast to the memory of a titan…
Don’t grieve for me, for now I’m free!
I follow the plan God laid for me.
I saw His face, I heard His call,
I took His hand and left it all…
I could not stay another day,
To love, to laugh, to work or play;
Tasks left undone must stay that way.
And if my parting has left a void,
Then fill it with remembered joy.
A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss…
Ah yes, these things I, too, shall miss.
My life’s been full, I’ve savoured much:
Good times, good friends, a loved-one’s touch.
Perhaps my time seemed all too brief –
Don’t shorten yours with undue grief.
Be not burdened with tears of sorrow,
Enjoy the sunshine of the morrow.