I am always drawn to folks who don’t quite play by the rules. Not rebellious types who tear things down or light fires just to see the world burn, but the folks who see a chance to make things better and say “Why not?” The ones who make “good trouble” as John Lewis put it. We spend a lot of time going through motions and doing things because that’s the way they have always been done without taking time to stop and ask why or if there is a better way. So in the spirit of not accepting the status quid pro quo, won’t you please join me now as we stand and make the War of the Roses.

This drink was created by Mike Ryan at Chicago’s Sable Kitchen & Bar, a wonderful spot to spend an August afternoon hiding from the heat. I actually found the recipe though in one of the odder recipe books in my collection, the P22 Cocktail Book, also known as Specimen Chapbook #10. That’s right, this wonderful little piece of art is actually a font sample book, showcasing the Stickley Pro family of fonts from P22 Type Foundry. Every graphical element, illustration and border featured in the book is from one of their fonts. It is a delightfully clever bit of work from a great company. Their creativity is off the charts and the recipes are as well researched and sourced as the book is beautiful. Did I mention they were all hand-printed? Yeah, it is that kind of over the top. They looked at the need to print specimen books and then asked, “Why do they have to be boring things that get stuck on the shelf and forgotten?” So they made something beautiful and useful. Beauty for beauty’s sake, even if that is not “how things are done”. That’s good trouble. Hats off to everyone involved.

Let’s make this famed cocktail. Grab your tins, pop in 3-4 mint leaves with 3/4 of an ounce of freshly squeezed lime juice and muddle lightly. You don’t want to smash them, just break them up a bit to release those oils. Next add 1 1/2 ounce of Pimm’s No. 1, 3/4 of an ounce of gin, I used Corsair; 3/4 of an ounce of St. Germain elderflower liqueur, 1/4 ounce of simple syrup and a stab of Peychaud’s Bitters. Add ice and give it a good shake to Hank William’s Jr. first #1 hit, 1972’s “Eleven Roses”. It’s kind of obscure and if I did not know this was Bocephus, I would not have guessed that was him. When your tins are well-chilled, double strain into coupe and garnish with a mint leaf.

Wow, this drink needs no improvement. It is not surprising. This one was chosen by Condé Nast Traveler as their “One and Done” drink to represent Chicago. In a town full of amazing bars, to be selected as the “if you could only have one drink in one bar in town” is something and the drink lives up to that reputation. Well balanced, with a bit of a dry finish from the Pimm’s. Herbaceous and complex but still light and refreshing, this one has a lot of good things going on.

I like good things and making good things even better. I come by it honest. My grandfather was all about making things better than they were. He was always redesigning or re-engineering things in his shop, especially when something broke. His way of thinking was that if it had been properly designed it would not have broken in the first place. All of his equipment is this sort of weird amalgam of original parts and pieces he fabricated to work better. That was the way he viewed problems, you fixed things and you fixed them better than they were to start. When his eyesight began to fail and he had trouble seeing to drive after dark, he did the sensible thing and quit going out late. None of us realized it at the time, of course. He still had one weekly trip that kept him out after dark, making sure my grandma made it to Sunday evening services at their church. Unbeknownst to us, he went out one day and nailed reflectors to the post at every turn on the way home so he could find them easily, even in the dark. That’s really a double example of his ingenuity and his stubbornness, since he did not tell anyone he was having trouble, he just created his own accommodation in the world and went about his business. He did that sort of thing a lot and I guess he taught us to do it as well.

Pa was born on this day in 1928, and whether you knew him from farming or from his days running his freight business in Nashville or in county politics, you probably remember him as a storyteller. That’s what Pa did, he fixed problems and told stories, often at the same time. A thing that might surprise some folks is that he did not just fix tractors and equipment or water distribution plans or cattle or any of the number of problems folks brought to him, he felt compelled to solve any problem that got stuck in his always working mind. He would spend hours late at night studying theology or pondering the relationship between physics and belief centered on the question, “What if Adam was an atom?” He fiddled with wireless transmission of power and designed labor saving machines. Nothing escaped his attention, not even music.

I don’t recall him singing much, outside of church and the only instrument he claimed to play was the Jaw Harp, but he always had music playing in the shop. I don’t know how many hours I have spent working with him, Freddie Fender or George Jones playing in the background. He was particularly fond of that Eleven Roses song we played during the shake. He loved the sentiment of the twelfth rose and the story, but it always bothered him, because he said it felt unfinished, that there was more story to tell. So, he finished it. One day, years ago, he came to me with two more verses, that he felt the song needed and asked if I could get them recorded for him, so he could hear the whole thing. Here are the revised lyrics, the first verse and the chorus are unchanged, he added the second and third verse:

Eleven Roses

I guess you noticed there are only eleven roses,
I chose them from our garden where they grew,
Take the roses and look into the mirror,
And the twelfth rose will be looking back at you,

There’s just something about a spray of roses
To a woman they say more than man can say
After what I’ve done you may not keep the roses
But I just thought I would send them anyway

The first years of our marriage were near perfect,
And in that time you gave our children life,
But due to all my imperfections
I feel I have only brought you strife.

There’s just something about a spray of roses
To a woman they say more than man can say
After what I’ve done you may not keep the roses
But I just thought I would send them anyway

After many years you have been my true love,
And I must admit to you that I have tried,
But due to all my imperfections,
I feel your love for me has died.

After what I’ve done you may not keep the roses
But I just thought I would send them anyway
Yes, to my darling, I’d send the roses anyway.

Original lyrics by Lamar Morris & Darren McCall
– additional lyrics by Sam Ralston

I never did get around to having the song recorded for him. You always figure you have a little more time and I was too worried about finding someone who could do it right. I should have just gotten in the studio with some friends and sung it myself, but that’s hindsight for you. I did not give it a lot of thought at the time, but in many ways the whole situation was remarkable. Pa was brilliant, but his formal education ended after high school and a bit of trade school. He read widely on a number of subjects, and even though he enjoyed the works of Tennessee poets Richard “Pek” Gunn and Maggi Vaughn, I never thought about him sitting down to write any himself. But there he was, sitting at the kitchen table late at night “fixing” Hank’s song. Grandma always was his twelfth rose, but he swore it wasn’t about them. It had just always bothered him that the song was too short and it needed finishing. He was probably right. It never occurred to him that he was not a songwriter, he just saw a problem and got to work. 

There is always going to be unfinished business out there and that’s all right. You do the best you can, as you can. Keep your eyes open though and see if there are places where you can make things a little bit better or easier for the next folks. You know it is not always a big earth shattering thing, some of the most important changes we can make in the world seem insignificant. Teaching someone a new skill, offering encouragement to others, putting your cart back and looking out for other folks is just as important as working on “the big problems”. Today, on what would’ve been Pa’s 93rd birthday, that’s probably the best gift we can give each other, to try and find some little way to make things better. To make some good trouble, even if that means hanging some reflectors on the county’s posts or doubling up on the thickness of that brace, just do whatever it takes, as long as it is right. And don’t worry, it is all going to be just fine…eventually. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.