Sunday Night Journal — May 8, 2005
My father died on September 13, 2001. That day and those that followed were not only sad but disorienting, what with the images of the falling World Trade Center playing constantly in the background of our mourning. Since my father had been in and out of consciousness and unable to communicate very much at all for a few days before his death, we weren’t sure whether he was aware of the calamity or not.
Three years, going on four, later, I’m beginning to get used to his absence from the house that is now only my mother’s. I visited her this weekend for Mother’s Day. It’s a three-hundred-and-fifty mile drive, and I only make it three or four times a year, sometimes with my wife and any of our children who are available, and sometimes for a quick trip alone, because it’s much simpler for me to just get in the car and go than to arrange for the feeding of animals and other things that have to be done if no one is going to be at home.
I arrived around four o’clock Saturday afternoon, a little wired from having had more than my usual amount of caffeine on the drive, and decided, although it was a bit early, to help myself to a drink. Although Mama drinks only an occasional glass of wine, Daddy almost always had a drink, sometimes more, every night before dinner, and there was always some liquor in the house.
Daddy drank Old Crow bourbon, except on special occasions when he might buy a bottle of Wild Turkey. In the hierarchy of bourbons Old Crow is much closer to the bottom than to the top, and people kidded Daddy about drinking it, since at least in his later years he could easily have afforded something better. Presumably he was able to tell the difference, but it must not have mattered much to him. It seems to me that there has always been a quart (or in recent years a liter, I guess) of Old Crow sitting in a cabinet at home. I’ve taken to keeping one on hand, too—it’s cheap, and it tastes all right to me, and it’s a gesture of some kind, not exactly in memory of but in continuity with.
Although my mother is not now living in the house I knew as home, as they had moved into a smaller house just before Daddy’s cancer took hold in earnest, there was still a bottle of Old Crow—presumably the last one he had bought—in the top cabinet in the kitchen. So I looked for it, and it was there, but it was nearly empty. I hesitated for a moment, since there were several other bottles in the cabinet, and then, with a vague sense that I shouldn’t be too sentimental, poured what was left into my glass, and with a mental toast to my father dropped the empty bottle into the garbage can.
Later my brother John and his wife Christy came over. We ate ribs and had a good long visit. Every now and then I thought about that empty bottle with a sense of misgiving. Mama went to bed and John and Christy and I talked for a while longer. They left around 10:30. I intended to go to bed so I wouldn’t sleep too late to go to 8:30 Mass.
But first I went into the kitchen and pulled the Old Crow bottle out of the garbage. Luckily it had not been smeared with barbecue sauce or anything else; it seemed pristine. I poked around among the bottles in the cabinet and found, behind a bottle of Wild Turkey and two bottles of scotch, a small plastic bottle of Old Crow, maybe half full. I could have just left it as the only representative of its line, but the plastic bottle just wasn’t the same.
I took both bottles over to the sink, in case of a spill, and very carefully poured about half an inch of whiskey from the plastic bottle to the glass one, then put them both back on the shelf. Then I poured a little scotch into an orange juice glass and went upstairs to bed, where I sipped scotch and read the book and music reviews in the most recent issue of The New Criterion before I went to sleep.