TOM POLAND A writer from the South
The vessels look like cousins of sorts, my worn-out gourd and its shiny glass companion. Both came to me through different routes. A friend brought me Key West rum where this writer and his six-toed cats ruled. Rum gives Georgia Bulldog tailgating matches a Hemingway twist as we talk War Eagles and Volunteers rivalries and make bold predictions.
The canteen tells a heavier story. Made in 1942, it hung from a nail on a roof rack in my parents’ attic, hanging there for over seven decades. Over the years, the canvas cover disappeared. In darkness, the bare ship endured a Georgian summer. Come winter, it gets colder, but not like the trendy crowd gets involved.
“Chill man.” (I’m not a fan of despising the English language. Speak like you have common sense.)
In this attic in a dark place, the canteen patiently waited for me to discover it and I did. Dad had brought him from Hiroshima. I brought him across the savannah to my house in Carolina.
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On the back of the AGM canteen is printed. It means manufacturing aluminum products. The back also has a large bump, perhaps the result of a maneuver where a rifle butt hit it, perhaps. Something heavy hit him.
Something heavy would be Hiroshima. Dad spent a year there and he went to Nagasaki too.
Dad never talked about his canteen and I don’t remember seeing him growing up. He just didn’t mention Hiroshima and Nagasaki and I suspect you and I wouldn’t have mentioned either.
The canteen has been dry for a long time. Seventy-five years old I think. I want to drink water from it, “fresh, fresh water” as Eddie Money used to sing. To do that, I have to put it in a usable state. Could it contain some degree of radioactivity? I do not think so. Once I get it as a whistle, I’ll take it when I’m down a side road capturing a story for you, my reader.
Now this bottle of rum. A whole different story. It is named after Hemingway’s boat, Pilar, the one he used to fish the Gulf Stream. Legend has it that during World War II he went to Pilar, armed with a Thompson machine gun, in search of German submarines. (That would be submarines, oh-so-cool hipsters.) Lots of stories swirl around Hemingway and Pilar, and I’m sure he drank a lot of rum on his 38-foot fishing boat. .
Swirling and drinking… Drinking and writing are said to go together like pen and paper and Cormac McCarthy says drinking is one of a writer’s occupational hazards. Faulkner would agree. Just like Truman Capote and Scott Fitzgerald and let’s not forget Edgar Allen Poe or Dylan Thomas.
“I drink to make other people more interesting,” Hemingway said. I read that Hemingway drank dark rum, and whether he went in the Gulf Stream hunting submarines or not doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that here the deadlines intersect. The US Army canteen during World War II inspired the bottle that holds Pilar rum. The boat that gives the rum its name took part in World War II a bit, let’s assume.
And what about this rum? Pilar Rum advertisers describe it as having “complex notes of rich maple, dark chocolate, ripe fig and candied orange”. Hemingway wouldn’t have written that. It’s sissified. No, he reportedly wrote, “Open it, drink, wipe your mouth, and kiss a pretty woman.”
After cleaning dad’s canteen well, I’ll fill it with Pilar Rum. This alcohol distilled from sugar cane products must wet the bowels of its marketing ancestor. I’ll bring the bottle too. I’ll tell my bulldog-barking friends that although it’s 7,782 miles from Key West to Hiroshima, a taste of writing and war is just a sip away. Glass or aluminium, the choice is yours.