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Friday, November 18, 2011

How Could I Not Avoid It and Didn’t Really Mind

Mine is a beer drinking family. Well, more accurately, half of my family is a beer drinking family. The Smith/Findley/O’Brien Clan, rooted in my father and his siblings have been known to put away plenty of fine golden liquid at any number of family functions. Well, lets back track a bit – not always “fine” golden liquid as golden liquid. Hamms was the main brew of the day – Grandpa liked it, so the family drank it. My rebel cousin who looks like Jesus and swears like a sailor was the rebel outcast who drank Coors. My uncle drank whatever was cheap and his son drank himself to an early grave. Generic beer was the worst, but beer always remained. It was a topic of conversation. It was always there. To this day, a reminder accompanies Smith Family functions that “there are cold ones in the fridge outside.”

I thought nothing of it. My schoolmates and teachers were a little different. For a class project in 1st grade, we needed to collect pull tabs. My mother dutifully informed the family of the project. On our next trip to Grandpa and Grandma Smith’s house I was presented with a what would be a talisman, part of the right of passage – a brown paper sack filled with pull tabs from beer cans. The smell in the bag and the number of pull tabs brought a raised eyebrow from my slightly hippy, yet very cool, teacher, but I was proud to have brought in the most tabs for our chain.

My Dad was a bit of a “do it yourselfer” and that directly contributed to my first personal engagement with beer. Warm Sunday afternoons, ball game on the radio, Dad would be out working in the yard and would ask me to run inside and grab him a cold one from the fridge. Olympia was his beer of choice at that point. Bringing him a cold beer entitled me to a sip, a small sip, but my one swallow nevertheless. As I got older, I could open the can in the house, pour it into a glass and take my own sip before running it out to him. Dad eventually switched to Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve and the sips came to an end. Halcyon days.

When I got to be a teenager, my relationship to beer changed, but not in the way one might expect. My mother had the first of several cancer related surgeries. One resulted in a nearly continuous bout of pain. It was a miserable time for her and I was frequently the target of long bouts of listening. I had always been a pretty good kid and she was under terrible stress, as was my Dad in the construction recession of the early 1980s, so my response was to minimize my teenage rebellion and deciding that I wanted to see if I could wait until I was 21 before actually drinking. I was allowed a glass of wine at the dinner table and could still have a mouthful of beer, but never one of my own, and so it stayed until I turned the legal age. Two years in a Bud friendly fraternity put it to the test, but I did manage and enjoyed that first beer of my own.

Now some would argue that I didn’t hold to the pledge completely. The beer that I had in the back of the bus at Dave’s house was no more than the sip that I had from Dad’s glass. Being tanked at my cousin’s wedding when I was 9 is completely out of the question because that was champagne raided from my tee-totaling aunt and her daughter. God loves them and so do I, but a hungover 9 year old is not pretty.

I would say my tastes have evolved as I got more exposure courtesy of the micro-brew explosions on the West Coast. Sierra Nevada and Anchor Steam are the “home town” brews thought there are many that I am sure to have missed. Today Yuengling is the house beer in my home with Dogfish Head mixes providing a little variety. Oly holds a special place, maybe it was the tee-shirt entitled “Artesian Search and Rescue Team” or just the special treatment I had I got getting a good mouthful of cold beer on a hot day – being a big guy with my Dad.

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