Family gatherings often lifted the spirits

By Wally DuChateau

Well, what goes around, comes around – and it’s nearly time to buy another round. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

“Over the river and through the woods, To grandmother’s house we go.”

That little verse is probably familiar to the older generation. Not so much to the younger crowd.

Being part of the former, it triggers a nostalgic memory or two. But it wasn’t my grandmother’s house; rather, it was my great aunt’s. (Nor, for that matter, did we cross a river or go through the woods.)

I recall cigar smoke, Polish accents, men’s sleeve garters, church-going suits and dresses, and the odor of beer. And enormous amount of Rainier beer and the stale, empty bottles left behind. On occasion, the gentlemen enjoyed a straight shot of Old Crow blended whiskey, but beer was surely the mainstay. In fact, I first sampled such “nectar of the Gods,” as an uncle called it, at one of those parties when I was only 6 or 7 years old. I didn’t care for it and, to this day, I’m still not especially enthralled by the taste of beer, yet I’ve consumed untold thousands of gallons of the stuff throughout my life.

There were, perhaps, 15 people at such Thanksgiving gatherings; the extended family on my mother’s side. Nearly all the men smoked but only one of the women and she was the most attractive and hip lady there. She’d sit quite nobly on a stool near the wood stove, one long, slim, nyloned leg crossed over the other, with a Chesterfield elegantly cocked on her blood-red lips, while a carefully manicured, blood-red fingernail daintily picked a flake of tobacco off her tongue. My God, she was the most gorgeous creature I’d ever seen. No wonder I would eventually start to smoke.

In later years, the dinner took place at my mother’s home rather than my aunt’s. The beverage of choice moved away from beer and toward mixed drinks, in particular seasonal concoctions like a hot-buttered rum or a coffee nudge. And when I came home on leave from a stretch in the U.S. Army, I brought with me a New York City classic: The Manhattan. To this day, it remains a personal favorite, if made correctly. The qualifying phrase is essential because the slightest variation from the exact ingredients will destroy its exquisite taste, which is why it’s so difficult to find a good one outside New York. On the other hand, even when properly blended, some people never really care for a Manhattan. I guess you’d have to say, in part, it’s an acquired taste.

Bearing these remarks in mind, here then, is my recipe for a classic Manhattan:

2 ounces blended rye whiskey

3/4 ounce sweet vermouth

2 or 3 dashes of bitters

Stir gently, but well, in ice cubes.

Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry and a lemon twist.

The Manhattan was allegedly invented one evening in the Manhattan Club at the Waldorf Astoria by no lesser an aristocrat than Winston Churchill’s mother. And, as the Prime Minister would later remark on more than one occasion, his mother’s tastes were beyond reproach.