Lessons from my Mother | Neat with a Twist

ELIZABETH PEARCE (this article was first published on May 9, 2012)

Neat with a Twist explores drinking and the culture that surrounds it.

Neat with a Twist explores drinking and the culture that surrounds it.


A few weeks ago, I attended a wedding for a friend of the family. Afterward, at the reception, I headed to the bar to get a drink. I asked the bartender if they were serving champagne (my celebratory beverage of choice), and he replied no. I began scoping out my other options and as I did, he informed me “We have a really nice Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.” I ignored his suggestion and said, “I’ll have Maker’s on the rocks, thanks.” He laughed and said he wasn’t expecting that as an answer. “I’m my mother’s daughter,” I replied. Sure enough, as I made my way across the reception hall, there was my mother, nursing her bourbon. “There wasn’t any champagne,” I grumbled. “I know,” she said. “There wasn’t any Jack Daniels, either.”

Mother’s Day is around the corner and even though I know it is a totally contrived holiday, co-opted by the greeting card and florist industries, it still causes me to pause and think about the many ways that my mother has shaped my life. Friends have observed that we tell stories the same way, including lots of unnecessary but often charming detours. I learned how to cook well from her, a valuable skill. My mom also taught me to try any dish at least once. This axiom, “try anything once,” was also meant to be applied to the rest of my life and was modeled by my mother who dragged me to see art, hear music, attend festivals, dance, pick peaches and can beans. My mother is up for anything as long as the day ends in a relatively comfortable bed accompanied by a glass of whiskey.

I have written several columns about drinking advice I have gleaned from my mother over the years, but I think the common thread boils down to this: life is precious and short and often difficult. Whenever we have the opportunity to bring joy to our lives, we should. This can be done by filling our lives with good people, filing our time with work we enjoy, and filling our bodies with delicious food and drink. In my mother’s case, the drink of choice is whiskey.

When my parents and I took a road trip to visit colleges during my senior year of high school, we made sure to visit the Jack Daniels distillery, a short hop across the state after a perfunctory visit to Vanderbilt. Road trips with my mom were for learning and we were all excited to learn how the great elixir was made. I think it broke her heart that there is no alcohol served on the tour. (Lynchberg, Tennessee is in a dry county.) Though it was cool to visit Whiskey Mecca and see the distilling process, I remember both of my parents muttering about Tennessee’s crazy liquor laws.  I still have the Jack Daniel’s shot glass my dad bought in the gift shop, the only place to buy whiskey in the whole county. We bought a fifth on principle, “for the road,” though we already had one in the car.

My mom may not be catholic in her tastes, but since she is a terrific hostess, another skill I learned from her, her liquor cabinet is well stocked. In addition to the ubiquitous handle of Jack Daniels (It’s cheaper to buy in bulk) she also keeps the standard gin, vodka and scotch for parties. I puzzled over the origin of several liqueurs until she informed me that Crème de Banana is for Bananas Foster and Crème de Cocoa is for Brandy Alexanders. The most important addition to the cabinet is the omnipresent bottle of Canadian Club, specially stocked for Clara Marian, her best friend of 50 years. Mama taught me it is important to always have on hand what your friends like, and she takes pleasure in always being able to offer Clara her “usual.”

Regardless of what is around, it is not to be wasted. One summer my mother and I were traveling in Scotland and we took a tour of a whisky distillery. It was an early tour, the first of the day, actually, and began at 9 am. At the end of the tour, about an hour later, each visitor was presented with “a dram” of scotch. The other two visitors declined their share, saying it was too early to drink. My mother pursed her lips in disapproval (a habit I share) and I asked the couple if we could have their drinks. Mama and I toasted our lagniappe and knocked it back neat.

Finally, like the pioneers who settled the west, my mother likes to keep whiskey on hand for medical emergencies. For a while my mom suffered from awful allergies that caused a terrible cough. She insisted the only thing that ameliorated her situation was Jack Daniels, either on the rocks and “just passed under the faucet” or mixed up in a hot toddy.

Like Sam I Am, my mother is a fan of whiskey in pretty much any circumstance. Whether pouring it after a long day of work or travel, my mother believes in the power of Jack Daniels to improve a moment (though I have branched out beyond Mr. Daniels). I agree with my mother’s belief that sipping a drink makes you slow down and focus on the world immediately in front of you, or it can remove you, at least temporarily, from a lousy moment and give you respite from the difficult business of living. And this lesson, to take the time out of life to savor the goodness around me, is probably one of the best lessons I have learned from my mom.

Happy Mother’s Day Carolyn Talley Pearce.

You made me what I am, and I am so grateful for that.

Cheers. I love you.

Your Daughter,

Elizabeth Talley Pearce


The following is what I do when I am fighting a cold. The recipe bears the fingerprints of my mother, with personal tweakings over the years.

Elizabeth Pearce’s Toddy with a nod to Carolyn Pearce

Fill a mug with a shot of whiskey (or two), a tablespoon of honey and a teaspoon of lemon juice.

Heat in the microwave about 1 minute or until hot but not scalding.

Put a movie with Paul Newman or Robert Redford in the DVD (The Sting is a double winner since it stars both men.) Watch movie.

Repeat application of whiskey until you feel better.




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