Several years ago my wife and I drove to Florida to visit our son who was stationed near Pensacola. That trip down Interstate 65 made a huge impression on me. As a result, portions of the second book in the Jon Wells series are taken from experiences on that trip. We visited three distilleries in one day as well as many other destinations.
I wrote one scene, which I’ve since deleted from the book itself, but still, love. I’d like to share it with you. The photo is of the Maker’s Mark Distillery all dressed out in Christmas decorations.
Enjoy “A Christmas Dance”
Christmas season was special at the distillery.
Five years ago, Mark and Crystal Chandlers bought an old distillery at an auction. A retired Army master sergeant, Mark finally wanted to plant some roots somewhere his daughter could grow up. He had moved the family around the world, uprooting them on average, every eighteen months. Enough was enough. She was thirteen and needed the opportunity to make some friends.
Somehow, the previous owners had royally messed up a bourbon distillery during the height of the rise of bourbon in the US and abroad. Before anything else was taken care of, Mark and Crystal threw out the recipe for the bourbon that came with the distillery. That particular recipe produced a bourbon who’s bottom shelf placement was too high for the product in the bottle.
Now, five years later, the first full batches of bourbon were finally maturing. Bottling and shipment to the distribution network could begin in earnest. Mark worked endlessly to build that network, calling in markers from everyone he knew. He had cashed everything in on this endeavor. Even his old Army buddy Mitchell Reynolds had invested. Gotta love a man with oil money and no family to spend it on. The distillery grounds were immaculate. It came with an old farmhouse that the Chandlers refurbished. In the center of the facility, he hoped someday it would be the welcome center or maybe a conference center of sorts.
Snow fell overnight, and enough stayed to drape the grounds in a beautiful blanket of whiteness. Green wreaths with red velvet bows graced windows on all the buildings, including the six five-story rick houses. The buildings were all painted a dark gray color, which accentuated the green wreaths with large red bows. Split-rail fences, illuminated by sparkling white lights, light up the grounds. To celebrate, the Chandlers threw a party and invited employees, their families, distributors, peers within the bourbon industry and members of the Shindoh, Kentucky community. The community had welcomed them with open arms so anytime they could return the favor, they did.
It was a coming out event for their daughter Jennifer. Certainly, the days of official sweet sixteen parties or cotillions were over, even in the South, but this was a black-tie event, even for the teenagers. She was without a doubt, the center of attention. Mark and Crystal watch her dance with gentlemen three and four times her age, as well as those from her age group. She captured the attention of everyone as she knew all the great ballroom dances, swing dances, and the old English social line dance moves. Jen, as she was known, dominated the floor and yet, maintained an approachability to all. She danced with several seven and eight-year-old boys whose mothers cajoled them into dancing by mothers or older sisters. Her best friend, yes she finally had one, came in a close second with the boys. Mona was the apple of her own father’s eye, being yet another only child.
Jen was the Chandlers only living child. Their son, Maximilian, died of SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome when he was six months old. Jen and Mona twirled and curtsied, and kicked up their heels as only eighteen-year-old girls could do. Each accepted to several universities; the hard part would be choosing which one. The only person she didn’t dance with tonight was her Godfather. He wasn’t here. It was unusual; he always came down for the important events. He didn’t have a family of his own. Her dad served with her Godfather in the Army for many years. Jen didn’t blame Mitchell Reynolds for not being here. She knew he was there in spirit. Besides, he had a woman in his life now, and they were coming to visit in the spring for the launch party. Jen was excited for Mitchell. She always wondered when he would get married. Maybe this Rebecca lady was the one. Dad told her Rebecca was someone Mitchell dated way back in college, so maybe a long-burning love had finally bloomed?
Since Mitchell wasn’t here, though, Jen needed to get her dad onto the dance floor, and this was a difficult task. “Mona, come here!” exclaimed Jen. Mona loved it when her friend of all friends had that mischievous look in her eyes.
“What are you up to now, Jen?” she asked.
“I need my dad to dance with me. Only mom can get him out on the dance floor. And then it’s only for one slow dance,” pouted Jen.
“Jen! Your Dad only has one good leg, leave him alone!” Mona looked sternly at her friend.
Jen planted her hands on her hips and leaned in closer to her friend, “he plays softball for cripes sake. He can really move with that new artificial leg he got last summer. No more excuses. Mom says he used to rip up the dance floor. You get your dad out there first. Maybe we can shame dad-ee-oh into dancing with me.”
Mona could see there was no use in arguing the point. Once Jen set her mind on something, come hell or high-water, she was going to do it. Well, at least try, but most often she succeeded. “OK, let’s go!” Now that she was in she might as well enjoy it, and she and Jen giggled all the way across the floor.
Mark saw her coming. In fact, he and Nathan, Kate’s dad, had been discussing the very same thing. Their girls were growing up and soon wouldn’t want anymore daddy time. Snuggles, bedtime kisses, and merry-go-rounds had long stopped. But a dance? It had been years, but the new orthopedic leg the VA provided was fantastic.
“Here they come. See that look in Jen’s eyes?” stated Mark.
“Yeah, you’re in trouble. You better not play this out too long,” Nathan heckled his boss. With that, Mark jumped up, grabbed Nathan and pushed him out on the floor. The men met their now startled daughters mid-floor.
Jen raced into her dad’s arms and squealed, “Oh daddy, I love you. Thanks for not making me drag you out here.” Mark took his daughter’s hands, looked at the band leader and nodded for him to start. He had planned this from the beginning. The band leader struck up a nice slow song. “Anything for you p’dirt.” It was a term of endearment he picked up when Jen, as a three-year-old would come inside covered from head to toes with dirt after picking up rocks from the countryside and throwing them farther than the boys she was playing with—always with a smile. Only his wife knew why he called her this. It was their secret.
Everyone cleared the floor and watched as Mark and Nathan danced with their girls. Mona and Jen were in heaven. The band picked up the pace of the songs with Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” and the dance floor was once again filled with friends and acquaintances gyrating to that old favorite. A male friend of Jen’s cut in on Mark, who politely bowed and with his daughter’s approval, left the dance floor. When Mark reached the table, he noticed his wife’s face. Tears were flowing, and her hands covered her face. For a moment, he thought he was in trouble until her hands lowered revealing a broad smile. She reached over and kissed him. “I never thought I’d see that. You are a wonderful man Mark Chandler. I love you.”