(This is a reminiscence by Margaret Harriman about her father and his love of a ‘nip’ on the weekend, a very New Brunswick story.)
My father was a quiet man; a carpenter by trade, and a window and furniture maker by hobby. He could draw a floor plan on a piece of paper and build it, ground up. Yet he couldn’t read, he was unilingual, and the tools of today hadn’t been invented yet; but by word of mouth, he was in demand.
In the 1950’s, there was no unemployment insurance, so more than half of his seasonal earnings had to be put aside for the winter. While Mother was the spender, Father was a saver, keeping only enough for a ‘nip’ on the week-end.
It had been a standing order in our house that when father had a ‘nip’ on Saturday, then clam chowder would be made. Depending on the degree of ‘nipping’ our main fare would normally be beans, pork chops, and pancakes. Father always made the pancakes. But, when he couldn’t flip because of the nip, we would have clam chowder.
One Saturday night, about two hours after he had already eaten, he asked when supper was going to be ready, “I’m damn near starved!” Mother fumed. Out came the clam chowder for the second time since the five-o’clock-on-the-dot serving.
You see, Father gave clam chowder clues that he knew nothing about: if he headed straight to the basement when he came home, he had bought his nip; if he held his arm close to his body, he had bought a bigger nip.
Either way, the nip was stashed in his secret place, a large grey crock, covered with two pieces of clapboard, under the bench in his workshop. But if Mother was within earshot of the clamor he made, he would stash it in his sawdust bin, where the Sussex Ginger Ale – another glass bottle – was in good supply.
If he got away clean, it really didn’t matter; the minute he took his first nip, his nose got red. When I was little, I believed he was really Santa. He was the only one who had a workshop where we lived, he made my toys, and he had a red nose sometimes. As for his having no beard, I believed he grew it Christmas Eve.
By the time Father came up from his quick trip to the basement, Mother would be peeling the potatoes for chowder. And that’s what she had done, once again, on this particular Saturday.
While the chowder reheated, she set his place at the table. The bowls we used in those days were shallow and had a wide edge. I always found them handy to hide bread crusts under. Father liked them, he said, because things cooled off faster in a bowl like that. Anyway, with a bit of a tilt, and a lot of tipsy, Father made his way to the table.
He sat down, looked at me and started to giggle, “You got no supper neither?”
When Mother set the bowl of chowder in front of him, the thud was so loud, I’m sure I heard the metal rattle on the chrome table. Father paid no mind and proceeded to pepper his chowder until it was blacker than it was white.
Mother beckoned me to follow her to the basement. She was planning a nip raid! One thing about Father, he would never have stood for a tell-tale squeaky board anywhere, so our descent to the basement was an easy one. Nonetheless, Mother made the whole trip on tip toes all the way into the workshop. She was sneaking up on the nip, and by threat of ‘the look’, I mimicked her every move.
She went right for the crock. And there it was – the remainder of a quart of Scotch.
I watched her as she eased it out, and followed her, on tip toe, to the laundry room. She took the top off the bottle and with the tap in the set tub, turned on just a little faster than an eye dropper, she proceeded to put water in Father’s quart of nip. “He’ll never know the difference,” she whispered, as we made the tip toe trip back to the crock.
“Sh-h-h” she warned, as she laid back the bottle into the crock, replaced the two pieces of clapboard, and wiped her hands on her apron.
We were tip toeing back up the stairs when we began hearing a noise, a mumble of sorts, that repeated itself. We continued with stealth along the hallway to the kitchen. We peeked around the door casing and there was my father, sound asleep in his bowl of clam chowder. He was snoring, and every time he exhaled, his lips flapped, causing white, black dotted chowder waves that made his red bulbous nose look like a floating buoy.
Mother was right; he never knew the difference.
Written by Margaret Harriman
More to Come
We thought it would be interesting to have a look at the chowder recipe ‘Mother’ used, maybe have a look at the Urban Deli chowder, and take a look at how many people today (and yesterday) have their “secret ingredients.” We may even see if we can’t track down a bit of the history of chowder. (Although there will certainly be differing views of this.)
So keep an eye out in the days to come for a follow-up. And also keep an eye open for more Maritime stories from Margaret Harriman.