A Beer on the Fourth

It gets so a good man cannot even hold a beer without some unforeseen prohibitionist tagging along behind him, ready to protest.

dads beer

                                                                         Dad and his can.

What with all the people out there who do imbibe, I grew up with parents who did not, on the whole.   When I was very young, I didn’t see spirits flow (except an occasional apparition in a nightmare).   By withholding liquor, my parents bored within me a deep silent standard in my young mind’s reasonable universe. It was a big deal to a little kid like me.   No scotch and soda, no jigger of gin, vodka, demon rum, beer nor whiskey bottles anywhere, unlike what I saw within the homes of some neighboring children.

One incident in particular found me at a friend’s home for a supper one evening (I guess mom and dad were out), and circumstances at their home before supper led me to necessarily escort my friend’s mother as she drove to a liquor store up Route 1 to stock up on alcohol for her hubby.   That is what she told me — it was for him.   I could only suppose he was going to drink his way through dinner.   I don’t know why she didn’t take along her own daughter, except maybe her daughter was at someone else’s house.   Meanwhile I waited in the car for what I thought an interminably long period, with only the façade of the liquor store to ponder and noting how really U-G-L-Y it was.   Kids notice things and its architectural ugliness drafted its way into my memory box of hideous things.   After 61 years, the package goods store is still doing business along Route 1 and true to its nature, its UGLINESS hasn’t changed!

I have to laugh at ingesting alcohol and breathing the smell of mash from Calvert distillery on the best of windy days all the way over to our house on Old Lawyers Hill Road.   If the odor of the whiskey brewing process could have enticed me to drink, it didn’t.    Even a canary in a mine shaft would have held its nose.  It stunk too much.   My first taste of Calvert whiskey came many moonshines later with a mashless piquant, and I didn’t expire from it.

Anyhow, there in Edgewood Cottage, our kitchen had a dark door in the upper wall to back stairs leading up to my mother’s studio.   I rarely went up the stairs (once would have been enough)  because they were narrow, painted very dark gray green, and creepy, and most of the time I just opened the door to stare up at their creepiness.    One day to my surprise, on the 4th step up, was a fat bottle or two of Italian sherry, from which my parents served a little glass only when they entertained.   Which wasn’t that often because the level of sherry in the bottle hardly ever changed.   I knew because I checked. So the sherry bottles meshed with good reason because I knew they were for “other people.”

In the way of any liquor consumption, all I remember was my dad liked port wine cheese (ugh).   My parents didn’t smoke either, although back in those early 1950’s, cancer sticks were in handy containers for guests.   Think’n of others is the hallmark of entertaining don’t you know?

Then came a summer in July when I was a maybe 6 or 7.   During those years and across the street from our house, the neighbor’s nicely provided their lawn for the July 4th picnics and all the guests would mill about talking.   So on that particular 4th, my mother walked home early to clean house (without us underfoot).   Left behind with grown ups and bored, I addled up to my dad who was talking and spied a drink in his hand. I didn’t want to believe it.   The can didn’t have the word “root” BEFORE the word “beer.”   I was shocked. I asked him if he was really drinking beer and he said he was just “holding it.”

drinking on the 4th

I knew somp’n was up; his answer smelled bleary and he smiled too much.

Immediately I ran home and found my mother at the kitchen sink washing dishes.   Looking up at her face and with my most convincing concern, I whined that my daddy was

“…becoming an alcoholic because I caught him
holding a beer AND… AND he will eventually
abandon us because he will be too drunk to care

Such was my one deep fear.   Though she tried to assure me that he was not drinking the beer, I was not readily convinced.   Why would anyone just HOLD a can of beer?   So I found something I could do about it – I ran back to the lawn party intending to tell dad to “put the can DOWN.”

Needless to say, at the end of the day, mother did tell dad that I was very concerned and that he shouldn’t do stuff like setting a bad example, particularly while I was around.

I don’t know what his retort was, if any, because I was still at the lawn party when he went home.   There were no fireworks. But, my imagination has him saying,

“Oh for pity sake, Florence!”

pity sake

After that, I heard no more about it.

But when I was 11, my mother and siblings and I stopped for dinner across the street on Caton Avenue after visiting my dad in St. Agnes Hospital.  The waitress brought my brother a glass of beer.   Again, I was shocked as I shock easily.   I remember asking him why he ordered THAT, pointing to a glass of golden frothiness.     It was a perfect opening for a line of discussion, but instead, my sister kicked my shins under the table.    Mom didn’t order any alcohol, but she didn’t stop my brother.   Being the self-appointed keeper of standards, this allowance was never explained to me.   I mean, he was only seven years older than me.     So maybe that incident took place in June, when he turned 18 and legal for alcohol, which I didn’t realize there was such a thing.     Here it was, his inauguration into the world of drinking and the celebration zipped right over my head.     However I didn’t ask any further, as my shins were turning purple.

Other vices followed and spread.   When I was about 16, I visited my sister for awhile at her home in the fun capitol of Cholora.    Satisfying my curiosity, she shared a cigarette with me and, yes, wouldn’t you know it?     Once I learned to inhale I got hooked on nicotine for a lousy 13 years.

smoking     Borrowing from Forrest Gump, “stupid is as stupid does.”

With all the wacky shenanigans in testing our boundaries, defining ourselves, making statements and choosing our courses of action, even so, when I think back, I can say I never noticed my parents taking a nip.

So maybe all those years ago, dad was really just holding the can of beer.   I’ll never know.   And it doesn’t really matter anymore.   Besides, the best beer I’ve tasted was an English brand in a bar in St. Croix, Virgin Islands.

Someone was holding it for me.

3 thoughts on “A Beer on the Fourth

  1. Mary-
    The reason that the bottles of spirits on the back steps didn’t go down was because our sister Beth would drink some and then top off the bottle with water.

  2. Yes, that’s right. I did overhear an occasional guest comment about the strength of the drinks being served. They were weak because Mildred Patterson and I had nipped a litttle booze and brought the level back up with water, just as Len said. He learned about my crimes when I ‘fessed up at the Ballenger’s get-together before Mom’s funeral, years later.


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