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Note to Shell Scott: Cognac and coffee reads better than it tastes

By Edward Forbes / The Bulletin

The way-back machine kicks into action again. We are traveling back to 1970, but setting that up with a little historical reference.

I have always been an avid reader. I read to escape, and although an occasional historical novel or biography wormed its way into my heart, I read mostly escapism type books. My favorites are detective or mystery stories.

When I graduated from high school and moved to Alvin, I worked at the Alvin Pharmacy for my brother-in-law. I worked as many hours as possible because my sister and brother-in-law needed the help, and I needed the money. This was in the mid-60s, and the world of information and entertainment was largely the domain of the print industry.

The pharmacy sold magazines (Life, Time, Newsweek, Playboy, Hot Rod Magazines, Mad Magazine), comic books and some paperbacks. I basically, in addition to working, ate three meals a day there. I read a magazine or two, a comic book or three with every meal, all for free.

I sailed through the Marvel versus DC wars without being aware there was one. I didn’t discriminate. I also read Donald Duck, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and every other comic character book available.

I became interested in a more character-driven narrative at some point. I read all of Ayn Rand’s novels, Albert Camus’s “The Stranger”, but I wanted something more escapist and less brooding and philosophical. My sister gave me a copy of my first Shell Scott, detective, paperback in 1965. From 1950 until 1987, Richard Prather wrote 3 dozen Shell Scott stories, and I read most of them.

Whenever Shell Scott needed to think about a difficult case, he sat at his desk and drank a cup of coffee with Hennessey 5 Star Cognac in it.

I had bought a bottle in Houston, just in case it was ever required. It cost over $20. The current equivalent Hennessey is around $200.

I didn’t have a desk in my one-bedroom apartment, but I did have a coffee pot.

It was a Saturday night, and I had gotten off work early. It had been a long week with a boatload of stress thrown in, and I was ready for a quite evening. I carefully fixed my chair, a Shell Scott book and the coffee. I then with great anticipation added the cognac to the coffee and prepared to meditate in sophisticated splendor.

Holy crud, it was terrible! I almost felt betrayed by my wisecracking sleuth.

I didn’t let the Shell Scott experience jade my belief in the culinary comfort my detective heroes indulged in. Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone sought solace in Peanut Butter & Pickle Sandwiches. The little bit of vinegar and the pickles do wonderful things to the peanut butter taste. I, to my knowledge, haven’t convinced anyone to try this combination, but if you do, it will be a pleasant surprise. I consider this my failure to Sue Grafton’s memory and Millhone’s legacy.

I still read detective suspense books at the rate of two to six per month. I have yet to find another character having a ritual that captivates me.

I wonder, do I have a ritual that helps me sort through my personal dilemmas?

I was a single parent of two young children in the early 90s. I prepared supper when I got home from work. I looked for recipes that were quick and tasty (nutritious was a plus).

The mother of one of my daughter’s classmates, Rita Montgomery, provided a chicken enchilada recipe. The Ladies of Harley Cookbook provided a Taco Soup recipe. Joyce Robertson provided me a chicken, rice, cream of mushroom soup and spices dish that was a staple.

I discovered stir-frying in my electric wok. My son became my cooking buddy, my daughter not so much. He and I however continue to barbecue, grill, or cook together on familial occasions 30 years later.

Maybe this is my ritual that family and friends will recall when they think of me. I would like to think it would be thought of as a calm, relaxing, introspective and fun experience. You know, like Peanut Butter & Pickle Sandwiches.

(Send comments by email to editor John Toth at john.bulletin@gmail.com. Or send regular mail to The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, TX 77516)