by John Nation
How my dad and I shared our first beer together.
|I remember the summer of 1959. I had just turned five. It was a different time then. The Korean War was over, and that year, nine out of ten Americans had never heard of Vietnam. It would be another half year before The Beetles rocked the world. Eisenhower was President and pushing the Interstate Highway System through Congress. Tens of thousands of jobs would be created and everyone was excited. Those were world changing events, but things were vastly different for individuals also. Almost everyone smoked. Many people believed it was healthy. The cigarette companies had to love that. At the high school during the lunch hour, the area around the school could resemble a factory chimney from the smoke created by the cigarettes, puffed by teachers and students alike.
Drunk driving was epidemic. A guy would get off work and before heading home to the misses, stop at the local tavern and have a drink or two. Or three. If he made it home without incident, great. If he should happen to be stopped by a police officer, unless he was falling down drunk, he was more likely to be told to take it slow and easy and the officer would let him go. On those occasions he was issued a ticket, or even less likely, arrested, there was an excellent chance he would be found not guilty, or in a worst case scenario, given a small fine. In the closing argument, the defense attorney would say something like, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” The jury would buy it because they realized that soon they could be the one on trial, since many of them did the same thing.
Ah, yes. The summer of '59 was fantastic. I remember once sitting on the living room floor, waiting for Dad to come home. It was Friday and payday. Dad was going to take mom and me to a movie. I could hardly wait. As I sat there coloring in my coloring book, I saw dad pull the car into the driveway with a police car right behind him. Dad got out of the car and the officer did the same. They walked to the front door. Mom hurried there to see what was wrong. I was right behind her because I wanted to look at the policeman’s badge and gun.
“Ma’am”, the officer said while tipping his hat. “Your husband has had a little too much to drink, and I just wanted to be sure he got home safely.”
“Oh, thank you officer,” Mom replied and took Dad and pulled him inside.
The officer reached down and ruffled my hair, smiled at Mom, and left.
Mom led Dad to the dinner table that was already set, helped Dad into his seat, and told him he should be more careful. That was her way of telling him off. Dad said he would and ate his dinner. The subject was dropped. We went to the movie but Mom insisted she be the one that drove.
My first beer came on a Saturday about two weeks later. I was with Dad as he went about town, going to the hardware store and picking up some dry cleaning. At the grocery store, along with the bread and eggs, he added a couple of six packs of beer to the buggy. We put all the goodies in the trunk but one of the six packs and headed home. The top of the car was down and the wind felt nice on the warm day. I was doing my best to read the comic book Dad got me, but the wind made that sort of hard.
Dad looked at me and said, “Son, come here.”
I did. I stood and stepped next to Dad while he drove the car down the street with a beer in his hand. It was a lot windier with part of me being above the car, but boy was it neat. He took one big drink from the can and handed it to me. “Here you go,” he said.
Man-o-man, I thought I was in Heaven. I was grown up. All I needed was a wife and a job and I would have my own family. I remember it was a Pabst Blue Ribbon. I had to tilt it all the way up to get any because Dad only left a few drops in it for me, but it was good. I could hardly wait to tell my best friend, Jimmy, about it when I got home. Dad waved to some people he knew as we went down the street. A couple of them saw me standing next to Dad with the beer in my hand. They got a big laugh out of that.
Ten minutes later, we were home and while Dad took in the things he bought, I ran next door to tell Jimmy all about my great adventure.
It was about six weeks later and school was getting ready to start. I was sort of disappointed because I was too young to go into first grade. Jimmy was older than I was, so I would not have him around to play with. That was okay though, I had lots of neat things at home to do.
It was getting late. The dinner was getting cold and mom told me to go ahead and eat, she would wait for Dad. The sun was setting when we saw the police car enter the driveway once more. This time there were two officers in the car. The driver was the same policeman that had brought Dad home at the start of summer. I could feel the fear in Mom as we went to the door together to meet them.
Dad’s funeral was three days later. It was a closed coffin funeral because he had not been wearing a seatbelt and flew through the windshield. The car was not even equipped with seatbelts. It seems the trees Dad ran into doing about seventy miles an hour were not as understanding and forgiving as the police officer had been. I found out later that when Dad left the bar, he had downed more than half a dozen whiskey sours. You would think that would do the trick, but Dad wanted to be positive. He stopped at a liquor store and grabbed a six pack off the shelf. I never found out, but I imagine the owner was glad to sell them to the barely able to stand man in front of him.
Anyway, this is the story of my first beer. As it happens, it is also the story of my last beer.