Donald Culross Peattie and his wife, Louise Redfield Peattie, with their son, Malcolm, uncle of David.
I never met my grandfather Donald Culross Peattie. Or if I did, I was too young to remember. He died when I was growing up in Japan, so all the stories I heard, in addition to a few old photographs, formed my memories of him. That, and of course his books.
He was a gentleman and a gentle man. You could tell that in his writing, but also from the tales my father, Mark Peattie who passed away earlier this year, told me. Those remembrances were not focused on his chivalrous nature, but the side notes made that clear. For instance, when he would take his children for a hike and share his knowledge of all things flora and fauna, he often wore a coat and tie.
While he was soft-spoken both in praise and criticism, he did not shy away from speaking up about what was right. In the period following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, for instance, he spoke out eloquently against the internment of Japanese Americans, and wrote letters to the editor in their defense.
My grandfather was nothing if not a civilized man. And that included his love of cocktails, especially making them. When his three sons were in their teens, he even taught them how to mix cocktails, and drink in moderation, in order to learn socially responsible drinking before they went out into the world of alcoholic temptations. He often wrote for Reader’s Digest and once penned an article on this very subject. Unbeknownst to him, it was titled “I Taught My Children to Drink.” He received hundreds of angry letters from outraged readers. Although he was famous for his writing and knowledge as a naturalist, he secretly wanted praise for his skills as a mixologist, a term he loved. He became good friends with Don the Beachcomber, the famous restaurateur and barman. When Don came to visit his home in Santa Barbara, he pronounced that my grandfather “had all the right rums.” It was one of his proudest moments. When my father went to Cambodia, newly a Foreign Service diplomat, my grandfather sent him the best gift he could think of to survive this hardship post: his own annotated collection of cocktail recipes, Witches’ Brew: Lady Macbeth’s Bad Book of Good Cocktails.
So for those of you who might think the best way to celebrate the memory of my grandfather is to dip back into one of his literary treasures (A Book of Hours is my personal favorite), I offer to you another treasure: a recipe from his cocktail book, for Buttered Rum Punch.
Cheers! And I hope you have all the right rums.
David Peattie is the owner of Book Matters in Berley, California.