Faulkner’s favorite drink is often listed as the julep, which is probably correct: his house in Oxford still displays his beloved metal julep cup. But his old standby was the toddy, which he describes “compounding … with ritualistic care.” It comes in two forms, hot and cold. Faulkner’s niece, Dean Faulkner Wells, clearly recalled her uncle making hot toddies and serving them to his ailing children on a silver tray. But unlike today, the cold toddy seems to have been the more popular in Faulkner’s day.
2 ounces of bourbon or white whiskey
4 ounces of water (cold or boiling)
If cold, 1 lemon slice; if hot, 1/2 lemon, both juice + rind
1 teaspoon of sugar
The key to a toddy, according to Faulkner, is that the sugar must be dissolved into a small amount of water before the whiskey is added, otherwise it “lies in a little intact swirl like sand at the bottom of the glass.” (One of Faulkner’s short stories, “An Error in Chemistry,” hinges on this point: a northern murderer, pretending to be a Southern gentleman, mistakenly mixes sugar with “raw whiskey”; the Southerners recognize his faux pas and immediately pounce on him.) Once the sugar is dissolved, the whiskey is poured over it. Top it off, to taste, with the remaining water—preferably “rainwater from a cistern.” Add lemon and serve in a heavy glass tumbler.
“The Easter Egg” by Saki
It was distinctly hard lines for Lady Barbara, who came of good fighting stock, and was one of the bravest women of her generation, that her son should be so undisguisedly a coward. Whatever good qualities Lester Slaggby may have possessed, and he was in some respects charming, courage could certainly never be imputed to him. As a child he had suffered from childish timidity, as a boy from unboyish funk, and as a youth he had exchanged unreasoning fears for others which were more formidable from the fact of having a carefully thought-out basis. He was frankly afraid of animals, nervous with firearms, and never crossed the Channel without mentally comparing the numerical proportion of lifebelts to passengers. On horseback he seemed to require as many hands as a Hindu god, at least four for clutching the reins, and two more for patting the horse soothingly on the neck. Lady Barbara no longer pretended not to see her son’s prevailing weakness, with her usual courage she faced the knowledge of it squarely, and, mother-like, loved him none the less.
Continental travel, anywhere away from the great tourist tracks, was a favoured hobby with Lady Barbara, and Lester joined her as often as possible. Eastertide usually found her at Knobaltheim, an upland township in one of those small princedoms that make inconspicuous freckles on the map of Central Europe.
A long-standing acquaintanceship with the reigning family made her a personage of due importance in the eyes of her old friend the Burgomaster, and she was anxiously consulted by that worthy on the momentous occasion when the Prince made known his intention of coming in person to open a sanatorium outside the town. All the usual items in a programme of welcome, some of them fatuous and commonplace, others quaint and charming, had been arranged for, but the Burgomaster hoped that the resourceful English lady might have something new and tasteful to suggest in the way of loyal greeting. The Prince was known to the outside world, if at all, as an old-fashioned reactionary, combating modern progress, as it were, with a wooden sword; to his own people he was known as a kindly old gentleman with a certain endearing stateliness which had nothing of standoffishness about it. Knobaltheim was anxious to do its best. Lady Barbara discussed the matter with Lester and one or two acquaintances in her little hotel, but ideas were difficult to come by.
“Might I suggest something to the Gnädige Frau?” asked a sallow high-cheek-boned lady to whom the Englishwoman had spoken once or twice, and whom she had set down in her mind as probably a Southern Slav.
I always was fond of eating and drinking, even as a child—especially eating, in those early days. I had an appetite then, also a digestion. I remember a dull-eyed, livid-complexioned gentleman coming to dine at our house once. He watched me eating for about five minutes, quite fascinated seemingly, and then he turned to my father with—
“Does your boy ever suffer from dyspepsia?”
“I never heard him complain of anything of that kind,” replied my father. “Do you ever suffer from dyspepsia, Colly wobbles?” (They called me Colly wobbles, but it was not my real name.)
“No, pa,” I answered. After which I added:
“What is dyspepsia, pa?”
My livid-complexioned friend regarded me with a look of mingled amazement and envy. Then in a tone of infinite pity he slowly said:
“You will know—some day.”
My poor, dear mother used to say she liked to see me eat, and it has always been a pleasant reflection to me since that I must have given her much gratification in that direction. A growing, healthy lad, taking plenty of exercise and careful to restrain himself from indulging in too much study, can generally satisfy the most exacting expectations as regards his feeding powers.
It is amusing to see boys eat when you have not got to pay for it. Their idea of a square meal is a pound and a half of roast beef with five or six good-sized potatoes (soapy ones preferred as being more substantial), plenty of greens, and four thick slices of Yorkshire pudding, followed by a couple of currant dumplings, a few green apples, a pen’orth of nuts, half a dozen jumbles, and a bottle of ginger-beer. After that they play at horses.
How they must despise us men, who require to sit quiet for a couple of hours after dining off a spoonful of clear soup and the wing of a chicken!
But the boys have not all the advantages on their side. A boy never enjoys the luxury of being satisfied. A boy never feels full. He can never stretch out his legs, put his hands behind his head, and, closing his eyes, sink into the ethereal blissfulness that encompasses the well-dined man. A dinner makes no difference whatever to a boy. To a man it is as a good fairy’s potion, and after it the world appears a brighter and a better place. A man who has dined satisfactorily experiences a yearning love toward all his fellow-creatures. He strokes the cat quite gently and calls it “poor pussy,” in tones full of the tenderest emotion. He sympathizes with the members of the German band outside and wonders if they are cold; and for the moment he does not even hate his wife’s relations.
A good dinner brings out all the softer side of a man. Under its genial influence the gloomy and morose become jovial and chatty. Sour, starchy individuals, who all the rest of the day go about looking as if they lived on vinegar and Epsom salts, break out into wreathed smiles after dinner, and exhibit a tendency to pat small children on the head and to talk to them—vaguely—about sixpences. Serious men thaw and become mildly cheerful, and snobbish young men of the heavy-mustache type forget to make themselves objectionable.
I always feel sentimental myself after dinner. It is the only time when I can properly appreciate love-stories. Then, when the hero clasps “her” to his heart in one last wild embrace and stifles a sob, I feel as sad as though I had dealt at whist and turned up only a deuce; and when the heroine dies in the end I weep. If I read the same tale early in the morning I should sneer at it. Digestion, or rather indigestion, has a marvelous effect upon the heart. If I want to write any thing very pathetic—I mean, if I want to try to write anything very pathetic—I eat a large plateful of hot buttered muffins about an hour beforehand, and then by the time I sit down to my work a feeling of unutterable melancholy has come over me. I picture heartbroken lovers parting forever at lonely wayside stiles, while the sad twilight deepens around them, and only the tinkling of a distant sheep-bell breaks the sorrow-laden silence. Old men sit and gaze at withered flowers till their sight is dimmed by the mist of tears. Little dainty maidens wait and watch at open casements; but “he cometh not,” and the heavy years roll by and the sunny gold tresses wear white and thin. The babies that they dandled have become grown men and women with podgy torments of their own, and the playmates that they laughed with are lying very silent under the waving grass. But still they wait and watch, till the dark shadows of the unknown night steal up and gather round them and the world with its childish troubles fades from their aching eyes.
I see pale corpses tossed on white-foamed waves, and death-beds stained with bitter tears, and graves in trackless deserts. I hear the wild wailing of women, the low moaning of little children, the dry sobbing of strong men. It’s all the muffins. I could not conjure up one melancholy fancy upon a mutton chop and a glass of champagne.
A full stomach is a great aid to poetry, and indeed no sentiment of any kind can stand upon an empty one. We have not time or inclination to indulge in fanciful troubles until we have got rid of our real misfortunes. We do not sigh over dead dicky-birds with the bailiff in the house, and when we do not know where on earth to get our next shilling from, we do not worry as to whether our mistress’ smiles are cold, or hot, or lukewarm, or anything else about them.
Foolish people—when I say “foolish people” in this contemptuous way I mean people who entertain different opinions to mine. If there is one person I do despise more than another, it is the man who does not think exactly the same on all topics as I do—foolish people, I say, then, who have never experienced much of either, will tell you that mental distress is far more agonizing than bodily. Romantic and touching theory! so comforting to the love-sick young sprig who looks down patronizingly at some poor devil with a white starved face and thinks to himself, “Ah, how happy you are compared with me!”—so soothing to fat old gentlemen who cackle about the superiority of poverty over riches. But it is all nonsense—all cant. An aching head soon makes one forget an aching heart. A broken finger will drive away all recollections of an empty chair. And when a man feels really hungry he does not feel anything else.
We sleek, well-fed folk can hardly realize what feeling hungry is like. We know what it is to have no appetite and not to care for the dainty victuals placed before us, but we do not understand what it means to sicken for food—to die for bread while others waste it—to gaze with famished eyes upon coarse fare steaming behind dingy windows, longing for a pen’orth of pea pudding and not having the penny to buy it—to feel that a crust would be delicious and that a bone would be a banquet.
Hunger is a luxury to us, a piquant, flavor-giving sauce. It is well worth while to get hungry and thirsty merely to discover how much gratification can be obtained from eating and drinking. If you wish to thoroughly enjoy your dinner, take a thirty-mile country walk after breakfast and don’t touch anything till you get back. How your eyes will glisten at sight of the white table-cloth and steaming dishes then! With what a sigh of content you will put down the empty beer tankard and take up your knife and fork! And how comfortable you feel afterward as you push back your chair, light a cigar, and beam round upon everybody.
Make sure, however, when adopting this plan, that the good dinner is really to be had at the end, or the disappointment is trying. I remember once a friend and I—dear old Joe, it was. Ah! how we lose one another in life’s mist. It must be eight years since I last saw Joseph Taboys. How pleasant it would be to meet his jovial face again, to clasp his strong hand, and to hear his cheery laugh once more! He owes me 14 shillings, too. Well, we were on a holiday together, and one morning we had breakfast early and started for a tremendous long walk. We had ordered a duck for dinner over night. We said, “Get a big one, because we shall come home awfully hungry;” and as we were going out our landlady came up in great spirits. She said, “I have got you gentlemen a duck, if you like. If you get through that you’ll do well;” and she held up a bird about the size of a door-mat. We chuckled at the sight and said we would try. We said it with self-conscious pride, like men who know their own power. Then we started.
We lost our way, of course. I always do in the country, and it does make me so wild, because it is no use asking direction of any of the people you meet. One might as well inquire of a lodging-house slavey the way to make beds as expect a country bumpkin to know the road to the next village. You have to shout the question about three times before the sound of your voice penetrates his skull. At the third time he slowly raises his head and stares blankly at you. You yell it at him then for a fourth time, and he repeats it after you. He ponders while you count a couple of hundred, after which, speaking at the rate of three words a minute, he fancies you “couldn’t do better than—” Here he catches sight of another idiot coming down the road and bawls out to him the particulars, requesting his advice. The two then argue the case for a quarter of an hour or so, and finally agree that you had better go straight down the lane, round to the right and cross by the third stile, and keep to the left by old Jimmy Milcher’s cow-shed, and across the seven-acre field, and through the gate by Squire Grubbin’s hay-stack, keeping the bridle-path for awhile till you come opposite the hill where the windmill used to be—but it’s gone now—and round to the right, leaving Stiggin’s plantation behind you; and you say “Thank you” and go away with a splitting headache, but without the faintest notion of your way, the only clear idea you have on the subject being that somewhere or other there is a stile which has to be got over; and at the next turn you come upon four stiles, all leading in different directions!
From “Home,” a new George Saunders story in The New Yorker—-
Like in the old days, I came out of the dry creek behind the house and did my little tap on the kitchen window.
“Get in here, you,” Ma said.
Inside were piles of newspapers on the stove and piles of magazines on the stairs and a big wad of hangers sticking out of the broken oven. All of that was as usual. New was: a water stain the shape of a cat head on the wall above the fridge and the old orange rug rolled up halfway.
“Still ain’t no beeping cleaning lady,” Ma said.
I looked at her funny.
“Beeping?” I said.
“Beep you,” she said. “They been on my case at work.”
It was true Ma had a pretty good potty mouth. And was working at a church now, so.
We stood there looking at each other.
Then some guy came tromping down the stairs: older than Ma even, in just boxers and hiking boots and a winter cap, long ponytail hanging out the back.
“Who’s this?” he said.
“My son,” Ma said shyly. “Mikey, this is Harris.”
“What’s your worst thing you ever did over there?” Harris said.
“What happened to Alberto?” I said.
“Alberto flew the coop,” Ma said.
“Alberto showed his ass,” Harris said.
“I hold nothing against that beeper,” Ma said.
“I hold a lot against that fucker,” Harris said. “Including he owes me ten bucks.”
“Harris ain’t dealing with his potty mouth,” Ma said.
“She’s only doing it because of work,” Harris explained.
“Harris don’t work,” Ma said.
“Well, if I did work, it wouldn’t be at a place that tells me how I can talk,” Harris said. “It would be at a place that lets me talk how I like. A place that accepts me for who I am. That’s the kind of place I’d be willing to work.”
“There ain’t many of that kind of place,” Ma said.
“Places that let me talk how I want?” Harris said. “Or places that accept me for who I am?”
“Places you’d be willing to work,” Ma said.
“How long’s he staying?” Harris said.
“Long as he wants,” Ma said.
“My house is your house,” Harris said to me.
“It ain’t your house,” Ma said.
“Give the kid some food at least,” Harris said.
“I will but it ain’t your idea,” Ma said, and shooed us out of the kitchen.
“Great lady,” Harris said. “Had my eyes on her for years. Then Alberto split. That I don’t get. You got a great lady in your life, the lady gets sick, you split?”
“Ma’s sick?” I said.
“She didn’t tell you?” he said.
He grimaced, made his hand into a fist, put it upside his head.
“Lump,” he said. “But you didn’t hear it from me.”
Ma was singing now in the kitchen.
“I hope you’re at least making bacon,” Harris called out. “A kid comes home deserves some frigging bacon.”“Why not stay out of it?” Ma called back. “You just met him.”
“I love him like my own son,” Harris said.
“What a ridiculous statement,” Ma said. “You hate your son.”
“I hate both my sons,” Harris said.
“And you’d hate your daughter if you ever meet her,” Ma said.
Harris beamed, as if touched that Ma knew him well enough to know he would inevitably hate any child he fathered.
Ma came in with some bacon and eggs on a saucer.
“Might be a hair in it,” she said. “Lately it’s like I’m beeping shedding.”
“You are certainly welcome,” Harris said.
“You didn’t beeping do nothing!” Ma said. “Don’t take credit. Go in there and do the dishes. That would help.”
“I can’t do dishes and you know that,” Harris said. “On account of my rash.”
“He gets a rash from water,” Ma said. “Ask him why he can’t dry.”
“On account of my back,” Harris said.
“He’s the King of If,” Ma said. “What he ain’t is King of Actually Do.”
“Soon as he leaves I’ll show you what I’m king of,” Harris said.
“Oh, Harris, that is too much, that is truly disgusting,” Ma said.
Harris raised both hands over his head like: Winner and still champ.
“We’ll put you in your old room,” Ma said.
New in Paperback: Novels from Marilynne Robinson and Per Petterson and Memoirs from Michelle Maisto and Michael Greenberg
Home, Marilynne Robinson‘s follow-up to her 2004 Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gilead, tells the story of Jack Boughton, the miscreant prodigal son of Reverend Boughton (narrator of Gilead). Jack returns home after twenty years of petty theft and carousing to find his father dying and his sanctimonious sister Glory coping with a broken heart. Robinson handles the pain and secrets of the Boughton family in prose that is both spare and beautiful; there’s a simplicity here that belies the extraordinary spiritual puzzles into which Robinson’s characters delve. The result is that odd rarity: a literary novel of complexity and depth that’s also an ease and pleasure to digest, even in all its bitterness. Home is available in trade paperback from Picador September 8th, 2009.
Also new in trade paperback from Picador on September 8th is Per Petterson’s novel To Siberia. Translated by Anne Born, To Siberia is the story of a Danish girl who lives in the isolated northernmost Jutland peninsula. Wishing to escape her neglectful parents and suicidal grandfather, she dreams of exotic Siberia. Set during the WWII Nazi occupation, To Siberia rhetorically mirrors the grim, cold reality of that era. Petterson delivers his tale in a crisp, almost brittle manner. There’s a translucence to the prose, a Nordic frankness that makes Petterson’s presentation of the girl’s infatuation with her older brother Jesper doubly strange. Her love and desire for him veers toward almost mythical incest, yet Petterson’s restraint reins in even the barest hints of hyperbole, leaving the reader to her own inferences. Like the grim story of Hans and Gretel, or the story of the tin soldier and his beloved ballerina, To Siberia is painful in its bleakness, but also beautiful in its imaginative underpinnings.
Michelle Maisto’s memoir The Gastronomy of Marriage, a Random House trade paperback original available September 8th, 2009, tells the story of Michelle’s courtship and marriage with her husband Rich, using the dining table as a lens to examine romantic relationships. Like many recent books about food, Gastronomy is interspersed with recipes, some of which sound pretty good (like the one for artichoke pie). Maisto’s is a memoir about planning for a wedding, told from a female perspective, and it might not have the widest appeal for many male readers, but it is well-written, if light, fare.
Far heavier is Michael Greenberg’s memoir Hurry Down Sunshine. Released in hardback last year to high critical acclaim, Greenberg’s memoir relates the true story of his daughter’s manic breakdown and subsequent committal to a mental hospital. Written in a spare, even terse style, with present-tense immediacy, Greenberg telegraphs his despair and frustration about his daughter’s condition with harrowing results. Greenberg even waxes a little on James Joyce’s own troubles with his daughter Lucia, as well as the poet Robert Lowell‘s bouts of manic depression.Literary angles aside, the book is not so much about his daughter’s mental condition, in the end, as it is about his own challenges as the parent of an ill child. Hurry Down Sunshine is available in trade paperback from Vintage books, September 8th, 2009.