Mariana’s Son

Hisham Melhem reflects on his experience, from growing up in war-torn Lebanon to raising a family in Washington, DC

Mariana’s Son
Illustrated by Joanna Andreasson for New Lines

Habib Nader loved his moonshine. He used to say that “to make high-proof Arak, you need the best grapes, in the best hands to be plucked at the right time.” His Arak was so potent you had to pour more water than usual to turn this Lebanese version of pure colorless “White Lightnin’” into white, anise-scented alcohol. But in Habib’s old house, where traditions were religiously observed, diluting Arak was akin to blasphemy. A gentle man, he treated his Arak like his own fresh tobacco or his World War II-vintage rifles and shotguns: with silent tenderness and reverence.

Only Habib Nader’s love of his seven sons and daughters and their offspring would surpass his devotion to Arak, tobacco and firearms. Habib Nader was a handsome, proud mountain man; his reddish high cheek bones finely chiseled a beguiling twinkle in his deep brown eyes. That face was graced with the most arrogant, majestic white mustache the rugged mountains of Northern Lebanon have ever seen. He was slender and tall in his improvised turban. Walking the streets and fields or leading his pack animals through winding dirt roads and ravines of Akkar province, he seemed to float effortlessly. Slouching was for others.

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