Glensomethingorother & the Passing of Time

My dad was always pushing some drink or other at me as a kid. Less in the interest of corrupting me than fostering a strong cultural foundation, an appreciation of the better things life had to offer.

A father and his son. Mt. Rainier National Park. 1968

“Try this, it’s the finest dark roasted arabica coffee,” he would say. Or, “You’ll never taste a wine this good, my boy…” I developed tastes for both. But not Scotch. That was Dad’s drink. Scotch on the rocks. There was always a Glensomethingorother in his glass, it was always “the best Scotch you’ll ever taste,” and it always tasted the way rubbing alcohol smelled.

As I grew older, I also developed negative associations with Scotch — it was the drink he sometimes threw across the room when he was in a rage at my mother. And it was what my teenage friends and I turned to when we were alone in the house wanting a buzz, and there was nothing else available. For decades, I associated even just the smell with rage, headaches and vomit.

Today, a grown up, I mostly drink beer and wine. If I’m making Japanese food, I’ll drink saké, or make a fruity rum drink if I’m cooking Hawaiian. Like I told my father-in-law the other day, “I’m a theme guy.” I had over the years developed an appreciation for fine tequilas. I could actually taste the difference between anejo and reposada — and more impressively (to myself), between two anejos. I had come to enjoy the caramely complexity of the spirit. I was beginning to understand it in the same way I understood wine. Still, I typically only drank it when I was making Mexican food for dinner.

I never make Scottish food for dinner. But was it nonetheless time, if only out of nostalgia or simple deference to my roots, to give Scotch another chance?

I go out for lunch every couple weeks with my dad, now 87 and in fragile health. We usually go to the same place, a reasonably good Italian joint called Riviera. And always drink a bottle of wine with our lunch. A couple months ago, we got back to his house — the house where I grew up. I always experience a bittersweet feeling of longing and loss when I’m there — the place of my richest memories, and also the place I most wanted to get away from — more so now knowing that the time left is fleeting. My father offered me a glass of Scotch. Fifteen or so years ago, my uncle — my mother’s brother, who since passed an untimely death — bought me a Scotch at my little sister’s wedding. “You’ll like this,” he said matter of factly. And I did. So I accepted my father’s offer.

The Scotch was what I expected it to be — reminiscent of rage, headaches and vomit. Still, I could taste in the many layers unfolding on my tongue the intriguing possibility of rapprochement, that somewhere between my appreciation for fine tequila and my inescapable desire for the admiration of my father, I might actually develop a fondness for Scotch.

Fast forward a couple weeks.

Same lunch, same place. Back at my dad’s house, the 21-year-old Scotch, Glensomethingorother, emerges again. Again, I accept. The more I drink, the better it tastes, and the more sentimental I become. Like a moment suspended in amber, I am here — sitting across from my father, talking about life and death, in the house where I used to fall asleep in a guitar case in the sun, where my sisters and I played, where I ran home from school crying after my first fist-fight, where I first snuck a beer, where I dreamed of being the star left fielder of the Los Angeles Dodgers, where I emerged into the haze of a cigarette-smoke-choked living room the morning after my sister was killed, where I listened to Doors records and Smiths records stoned with my best friends, where I first spent the night with a girl. Where I said goodbye to my father, having finished both college and graduate school, moving out for the first and last time.

After a glass of Scotch and a lingering conversation, I hugged my dad and closed the front door behind me. Relieving myself beside the driveway, I stood beneath a sycamore tree with the most beautiful bark I’d ever seen. Then I noticed new leaves bursting from the buds. And I realized that this mighty tree had been a sapling my father had planted when I was a small boy. There used to be a towering eucalyptus tree across the street from our house, upon which we had a swing that when you rode out on it seemed to extend into the heavens, where now there is only an ugly, poorly constructed house abutting a tiny strip of the land that was once and always will be there. Time passes, things change. And in my memory those childhood images take on the patina of an old photograph. A boy swinging toward heaven on a rope swing, the eternal smile of childhood etched on his face.

Leaving my dad’s house to pick up my own son from school, never knowing if it’s for the last time, I noticed on that tiny strip of land where the immortal eucalyptus tree used to, someone had planted a maple tree. Dad, I think I may finally be beginning to understand Scotch.

As my late friend Dann used to say, “And so it goes…”

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14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Gaskin
    Jul 13, 2012 @ 02:02:00

    OK…so WOW Sean…maybe we shouldn’t comment? You laid it all out there bro…it made me cry…and I of course have my whole personal story in regard to all of this…but this for you was a beautiful catharsis…

    Reply

  2. Lisa Gaskin
    Jul 13, 2012 @ 02:03:43

    AND I remember that photo so well…probably was behind the camera somewhere…

    Reply

  3. rachelocal
    Jul 13, 2012 @ 14:04:37

    I used to sit in my dad’s guitar case while he played. I remember being surrounded by blue velour and music. This is so beautifully written. Well done.

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Jul 13, 2012 @ 14:42:24

      You’re very sweet, thank you Rachel. The sentimental ramblings of a guy who’s been drinking Scotch. ; ) Glad to hear we share formative guitar case memories in common.

      Reply

      • scolgin
        Jul 13, 2012 @ 16:06:55

        Oh great, now the psychotherapists are going to be coming out of the woodwork. I didn’t seem to be repressing anything, did I?? 😉 Hmmm, okay — now I’ve got truffle gnocchi envy. So I assume you’ll want to stick with Italian. You won’t want anything else starchy after gnocchi. If you can find any fresh wild mushrooms — porcini or morels — you could do a funghi theme. So maybe a brined, grilled chicken breast, wrapped perhaps in pancetta for a nice porcine kick, sliced thin and served over sautéed greens with a mushroom cream? Or a thick pepper-crusted pork chop, cooked medium, served the same? Or you could go to my default in situations like these — a rib steak cooked fiorentino.

      • Benjamin Thompson
        Jul 13, 2012 @ 16:53:41

        Hhhhhhhhhhhmmmmmmm, wondering if there’s any way I could do the pork chop but then morph a classic French green peppercorn sauce and “Italianize” it?

      • scolgin
        Jul 13, 2012 @ 17:30:51

        Serve with a little pan-seared fennel (steamed or blanched first), add a little fennel flavor to your pork chop (either via fennel dusting or adding fennel juice to your sauce), maybe a bit of lemon zest… and that’s starting to sound pretty Italian to me. Or go even simpler, and just chiffonade some basil over the top.

  4. Benjamin Thompson
    Jul 13, 2012 @ 15:30:53

    Pretty vulnerable post. (I’m a psychotherapist if you remember.) For me, it’s either Oban, reminiscent of the salty sea, or Lagavulin, a classic peaty-smoky single malt. But I generally only drink them around Christmas time.

    BTW, I want to make something special for dinner. Thinking of a white truffle gnocchi as primi, what about you suggest an entree for me to pair it with.

    Reply

  5. Michelle
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 12:26:42

    Beautiful piece.

    Reply

  6. Kathy (Encell) Rautureau
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 20:56:49

    Wow, I have been following your blog for a short time now. When I saw this photo and read this story it took me way back. Do not know if you remember me, but I have enjoyed reading your stories of food and life and seeing the old and new pictures of your family. Love to the Colgin clan, Kathy (Encell) Rautureau

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Aug 19, 2012 @ 22:35:11

      Hi Kathy! Of course I remember you, so nice to hear from you!! I’m pleased you’re following my blog, I hope you are enjoying it. I’ll say hello to my mom and Laura for you. Hope you guys are doing well in Seattle. Love to you all! //s

      Reply

  7. TJ
    Feb 22, 2013 @ 03:42:09

    That swing was great and the Lopez jumps were pretty memorable too. Cool neighborhood to look back on. I can sometimes smell it in my memory. Nice essay sean!

    Reply

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