My father, Hamish Osborne, was a man’s man. Here’s an incomplete list of some of his favorite manly pursuits, minus the ones that got him in trouble: golf, boating, poker (sometimes bridge or gin rummy), hunting dogs, fishing, skeet, old cars, westerns and war movies, the New York Times crossword puzzle, reading by the fire in a leather recliner, and falling asleep in front of the television while balancing a tumbler of scotch on his chest.
Also, he could tie the stem of a maraschino cherry with his tongue and balance a teaspoon on his nose. It gave him something to do while the rest of us were rambling on and being ridiculous at the table. He was a proud and patriotic Eastern Shore conservative. I am the product of Title 9 and spent the early years of my career as a public-school teacher. We had many differences; my mother used to call us Oil and Water when we had one of our debates. I would retort: “We’re oil and oil Mom! Stubborn and the same, just from different generations.” Dad and I loved spending time together just the two of us. We usually did this over food, drinks or sporting events.
Dad’s season tickets at Camden Yards were in the section tended by famed Beer Man Clarence “Fancy Clancy” Haskett. I’m not much of a beer drinker, but it sure tasted good to wash down peanuts on a humid summer night with a cold one from Clancy. The only time I ever liked beer was at the ballpark with Dad.
We celebrated our June birthdays and Father’s Day by heading out for a fancy lunch. We feasted on briny Choptanks and Chinquatagues and sipped cold Muscadet wine. The only time I ever liked white wine was while eating oysters with Dad. And I never, ever liked eggnog, but I did, and do, love The Recipe, Dad’s homemade version of the holiday tipple. It’s a hybrid cocktail and dessert. Everyone loves it. Even eggnog haters.
Come December, right around tailgate prep time for the Army vs. Navy game, my father turned our kitchen into his laboratory. The lethal fumes of dark rum and cognac, combined with the incessant clatter of electric beaters, indicated that my mother had given Dad brief reign over her domain. Once the batches were made and bottled (and the counters, floors and walls thoroughly scrubbed), Mom added shiny bows. My brothers delivered the hooch to neighbors we loved or had offended.
There was only one problem with The Recipe: everyone wanted to know how to make it, but Dad refused to share. The idea of a secret recipe may sound romantic, but it’s painful for an empath like me. I knew how to make it. I shared the beverage with friends, and when they asked for the recipe for The Recipe, I could only reply, “I wish I could tell you. It’s a secret.”
One awful year, in 2005, I shared the recipe unintentionally. My husband and I had left a town we loved (New Orleans) for a new job. In July, my best friend, Holly Jean Fitzpatrick, passed away after a five-year battle against cancer. In August, Hurricane Katrina rolled over New Orleans and destroyed the homes of many of our loved ones. We welcomed our fourth child in five years (no twins) in September.
We had no family or friends in our new town and didn’t have the time or energy that the pursuit of authentic friendship requires. But like a glorious promise, or an encouraging pat on the back, the universe sent new friends to us. Jill Shiflet showed up on my doorstep with a meal after I had the baby. Then she invited me to join her carpool. I knew I had a keeper for life when I met Jill. Our husbands became friends too.
One December Saturday I stopped by the liquor store and loaded up on Jamaica Rum, Courvoisier (not cognac; Courvoisier), and peach brandy (any brand will do). The Shiflets had invited our family over for dinner, and we were going to show them how to make The Recipe. We had a terrific time together in the kitchen. Jill and Mark were astonished at the ungodly amount of booze that one batch required. The kids ran wild, and we sang and listened to music, ate chili, and felt grateful for the background noise of holiday-frenzied children.
Mike instructed Mark how to stir, gently, then fold (“FOLD Mark! Stop STIRRING!”) the egg whites. We savored those joyful moments at the end of a terrible year. My heart was unburdened when I set the recipe free. It was the least I could do for a friend who had saved me.
The next day, after a breakfast of bacon, Gatorade and Advil, I called my father to admit the crime.
“Oh hey, Jen! That’s no big deal! I hope your friends enjoyed it.”
“I’ve shared it from time to time myself.”
2016 was a hard year, too. Besides the divisive election, my life was consumed by a circus of four healthy teens: school, sports, music, friends, repeat. And my fierce father died young, following terminal illness.
My father’s death robbed me of a gift: the trust of someone who thought differently than I did. He made sense of the impossible for me. He could deliver me from hopelessness to optimism, regardless of the situation. When we disagreed, as we often did, we dissected our chosen values from behind home plate, where we sat behind Tim Russert and flagged down Clancy; or at a table for two, waiting for another dozen oysters. He was irreplaceable in times of uncertainty. I had but one father, and I won’t know him again in this world. I can’t imagine a time that this reality won’t crush me, not even if I grow to be 100 years old. But, if I refuse to celebrate the moments, the hard ones and the good ones, the ones where I have no understanding of humanity, and the ones that leave me breathless with wonder, then I fail my father’s legacy.
We are born to forge ahead, while we carry an inheritance of the heart. The Recipe tastes the same, but it feels different. It’s still comforting. But it’s complex, too. In the past two Christmases I’ve found the courage, (liquid courage, Dad called it) to sneak into our living room all alone for momentary respite from yuletide chaos and face what is missing. Glittering tree before me, heavy glass in hand, I offer a toast to what I had, what I am building, and to the man I cannot see. I look out and up, into the into deepest night and whisper, “I’m gonna make it, Dad. I’m still here.” And he is too.
The recipe by the late Hamish Osborne
In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks until foamy. Combine liquors and add in a slow pour, while stirring slowly. Add sugar, again stirring constantly. Add milk and cream. Stir.
In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into egg yolk mixture. Ladle into cups and top with freshly ground nutmeg.