A year ago or so my brother and I were sitting in the living room at our parents’ home in Massachusetts, right next to our parents’ kitchen, where my dad was sitting at the table. He was paying bills, or drafting a letter on yellow legal paper, or making a list of errands to run, or another one of his usual kitchen table activities. I don’t know what we were doing—watching TV or looking at our phones or bitching about being alive—but at one minute to six, my brother snapped his fingers. He pointed to a clock on the mantelpiece that had a second hand, and then toward the kitchen. Then he whispered, “Listen to Dad!”
I listened. Sure enough, within seconds we heard a chair scrape across the kitchen floor, then ice cracking in a plastic tray, ice tumbling into a glass, the dull clink of one liquor bottle against another, and finally, the soft glug of liquid over ice. There was a brief interlude of silence just as the second hand moved past the seven and the eight. “He’s cutting the lemon peel,” my brother whispered. As the second hand passed over the 12, we heard a
“Every night,” my brother said. “The drink goes to the mouth exactly on time. You watch. You’ll see!”
Moments later, in the grand tradition of securing one’s own oxygen mask before helping others, my father appeared in the doorway, and asked, “Who’s ready for a See-Through?” He raised his own in
A See-Through, the traditional cocktail of the Miller household, is vodka on ice with a lemon peel. The lemon peel is important, but I think it goes without saying if there is no lemon peel you still have a See-Through.
We don’t have a super close family, in the sense that I have never told a blind date “My parents are probably my best friends!” and we don’t have a running WhatsApp chat full of hearts and
My brother introduced the term See-Through to our family about ten years ago. I asked him where he got it and he said “a guy,” and since we were drinking See-Throughs at the time and they can have a corrosive effect on curiosity (opposite also true) I didn’t follow up. But the other day I called him with the explicit goal of finding out what absolute fucking visionary had thought to call the best cocktail on the planet, the only cocktail, the cocktail that is practically good for you given its striking resemblance to water, a See-Through.
First I said, “How are you?”
“Oh, you know,” my brother said. “Nothing a couple of See-Throughs wouldn’t fix.” I said I was the same.
He told me he got the term from a guy he used to know in Park City, where he used to live. He gave me his name and number. I googled the dude and called my brother again.
“Hi,” I said, “It didn’t occur to you to tell me that the person who introduced you to the word See-Through was the voice of Thumper in Bambi? I mean, you kind of buried the lede there.”
“Oh yeah,” my brother said. “Yeah. He was Thumper.”
I hung up and called
He answered after two rings and laughed heartily when I said who I was and why I was calling. “It’s funny you’re calling me about See-Throughs because I am sitting here right now with a See-Through in front of me,” he said. Yes, he regularly enjoyed a See-Through. Tonight, he and his wife would have a See-Through, and then they would go eat in one of the three restaurants at the retirement community in Utah they’d recently moved to. “It’s really more like a country club than
Behn told me he wasn’t entirely sure where he’d gotten the term See-Through. “I wish I could claim it as my own,” he said, “but the truth is I can’t even remember where I first heard it.” He had a feeling it was maybe from “the father of girlfriend I dated who liked his martinis.” Then again, he said, he also could have picked it up working the bar at Sugarbush, the ski resort, in Warren, Vermont, back when it first opened in the late 50s. I could hear a woman in the background. He listened for a while saying things like, “Okay, okay… Do you think so?” and then resumed talking to me. “I worked at the bar with a guy named Jim. My wife Pam is right here, and she seems to think Jim used the expression and that I took it over from him.”
Might Jim be available to field a question about See-Throughs, I wished to know.
Behn, who is 84, said Jim was considerably older than him and thus likely unavailable to field questions about See-Throughs or, I gathered, anything else.
We chatted some more. Behn seemed like a dependably pleasant sort and of course a See-Through generally makes a pleasant man more so. He told me about his father, the screenwriter Harry Behn, who wrote the pre-code silent film Hell’s Angels, and about a children’s book his father had written, and about Bambi, which came out in 1942. “My father took me in to have a voice audition. I was like four years old, and there were about 30 other boys there, and later, they said my voice was totally wrong for Bambi, so they kind of set me aside. But then the animators heard my voice and said, “He’d probably be good for the rabbit.” And Thumper became a pretty good character for the movie.”
Behn said they would be moving along to dinner soon. I wanted to know if the term See-Through was spreading like wildfire through the retirement community. “Oh yes, we’ve told our friends about it, and they all like the term,” he said.
“I have one more question, and it’s really kind of stupid, but I have to ask,” I said. “Anyway, do you think Thumper would have liked See-Throughs?”
“I have to agree that’s a stupid question,” Behn said, adding, “That’s a really stupid question.” I was just about to backtrack or apologize or something when he added, “Of course he would! Anybody who drinks would like a See-Through.”