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Monday, May 21, 2012
OF WHISKEY AND MY FRIENDS
When I’m worried and cannot sleep,
I count my blessings instead of sheep…
I will readily admit that I have a rather comfortable relationship with John Barleycorn. By sixty, one either coexists with moderation or one does not. Sadly, those who don’t, may not see sixty: think decreasing radius turns. Still, I was a bit surprised when my affinity for moderate amounts of the hard stuff made itself known to the mother of the wife of my best friend and riding buddy. [We’ll pause here for a moment allowing the reader to sketch the necessary branch of a rather extended family tree.]
On the occasion of my 60th, said friend treated me to a baseball game at AT&T Park followed by a night’s respite at his beloved mother-in-law’s house before returning home. She prepared ribs. Between the rib course and the lemon meringue pie course, a box was placed in front of me. Attached to it was a note, which I will transcribe in its entirety:
This is a story for the “Story Man”
When a gentleman holding the rank of Captain of the Hillsborough Police Department was recovering from pneumonia in December 1982, Cathy Crosby, wife of the famous crooner Bing Crosby, brought her favorite cop a present. It was a bottle of Bing’s favorite Bourbon. Bing, she said, would always have a sip before he “crooned.” But this was a special bottle, made before prohibition but not legally sold until after, according to the stickers on the bottle. Bing just kept it in his booze collection and never opened it. It was 53 years old and starting to evaporate when she gave it to the Captain. Not being a bourbon drinker himself, the bottle rested, never to be opened.
Years after Bing died, everybody told the Captain he should have the bottle sealed to prevent it from evaporating completely. That is how it got waxed and sealed. When the officer died in 1992, he was toasted with his favorite alcoholic beverage, champagne. For the next 20 years, Bing’s bottle of Bourbon got shoved further and further to the back of the liquor cabinet. Occasionally the story of the old bottle in the torn box would be told and some smart youngster would say, “Hey Mom! I bet you could get a bundle for that on E-bay!” Bing – and the Captain – would roll over.
So here we are today, getting ready to celebrate a storyteller’s 60th birthday. Who better to carry on the famous “Bottle of Bourbon” story?
“Mom” and Captain Ernie
The neck of the bottle peeked above the tattered edge of a box opened and closed many times as the story was told and retold. The front of the box carried the hooch’s brand “Old Charter,” as well as the name of the distributor “Wright and Taylor.”
Carefully slipping the package from the package a curious amount of empty space topped the four/fifths full vessel, though the cork had never been pulled. Original paper labels were still affixed to the bottle as well as the paper tape that banded the wax on its neck. There were two dates. One here, “made spring 1917,” one there, “bottled fall 1929.” Originally, the contents had been aged 12 years.
I set the bottle in front of me and looked at “Mom.” Crosby had handled this. It was his brand. It helped him croon. Are you sure? Her eighty-three-year old eyes expressed nothing but delight. I found myself running through my limited catalog of Crosby songs and settled on lyrics from a tune which had debuted in the 1954 musical “White Christmas.”
The vintage bottle rests in the back of my liquor cabinet, behind the Knob Creek, the Basil Hayden, the Lagavulen and some 18-year-old Macallan. In five years it will be a hundred.
Between now and then, my riding buddy and I will debate long and hard whether to, if, and if so, how to dispatch its contents. I lean toward simply parking it in a dark corner of the cabinet and, when the time is right, passing it on to some next generation.
However, I have this comfortable relationship with John Barleycorn – one that, sometimes, nudges me toward less than the most appropriate end.
Resources: Crosby sings “Counting Your Blessings”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qmMaPTuTEE
Church of the Open Road Press