The Champagne of Bottle Beer 

 

I can remember the best beer I ever drank…can you?

I have a love-hate kind of relationship with beer.  Mentally I think, “I love beer,” in my best Brett Kavanaugh voice.  Mentally I should think, “I love ‘good’ beer.”  I’m not sure Justice Kavanaugh cares if it is good beer or not, just cold and in large quantities.  I also understand ‘good’ beer is a subjective term and I might not know what a good beer is should it bite me on my ass.  I’ve had many bad beers bite me on the ass too and any beer past three is a bad beer.

A video of a very young country “singer” triggered my thoughts.  Thanks, so much for sending me that at five in the morning Leland.  The young crooner was singing of “ice-cold root beer in long-necked bottles” and the thought of ice-cold beer took me down a pig trail to a hot summer on a loading dock or in my case an unloading dock.  I was between year four and five of my teaching career and working summers to help make ends meet.

Ten-hour days, eight on Friday.  Time and a half over forty unloading goods for a five and dime chain.  Big boxy trailers that had made the long ocean voyage from China, offloaded on our left coast and stacked on flatbed railroad cars headed east.  Off-loaded again in Greenville and hauled to me to be unloaded and broken down before being distributed all over the Southeast.  I remember thinking of my Asian counterpart slaving away loading the trailer I was now unloading.  He or she got the ball rolling as these goods would be loaded and unloaded at least one more time before they found their way to shelves near you.

I wondered why he had loaded so much dust and filth with the flimsy boxes I manhandled out the back of those trailers.  Now I wonder what life-threatening timebombs are waiting to go off in my body from that filth and dust.  Get back on the subject, please.

The subject was beer, the best beer I ever drank.

A six a.m. to four p.m. shift had ended and it was still hotter than forty kinds of hell.  The day had been spent in an airless trailer pulling out corrugated boxes filled with who knows what and covered with who knows what.  Every box I moved sent dust swirling in the airless trailer.  Even on the dock, the mid-July sun and humidity was merciless, pounding me like a superheated hammer on the anvil that was my head.

Bone weary and headachy, I drug myself to my car.  With no air conditioning, I dropped the top of the ’76 MG and headed home, fifteen miles away.  I remember being dry as the Sahara and stopped at a country mercantile featuring peeling white paint and rusting Esso and ice-cold Pepsi signs.  I could think of nothing better than an ice-cold Pepsi to relive the dryness in my parched head and made my way straight to the old waist-high blue cooler with Pepsi in red across a white field.

Pepsi

Opening it I found no Pepsis…or Coke.  There were no soft drinks in this cooler.  Instead, tall long-necked bottles of Miller High Life beckoned to me and I contemplated a change in beverage.

The woman behind the counter, a peroxide blond fireplug with too much makeup and carrying an extra fifty pounds in weight cautioned me, “That’s the coldest beer you’ll ever find as long as you keep the top closed.  You’re lettin’ the cold out.  You need to make up your mind.”

Sufficiently chastised, I made up my mind and was rewarded.  As I removed a Champagne of Bottle Beer there was an audible crunch as the ice gave way.  It was so cold it was stuck to the bottom of the cooler.  Promptly I picked a second one and after paying the blond fireplug headed to my car.

Huge oak trees formed a canopy over a wide pull off and I decided to enjoy my heavenly elixir picnic style.  I was rewarded with ice crystals in my first swallow…and the second.  I drained that amber potation in seconds.  I remember holding the still cold empty against my forehead, the condensation providing a cool bath.

After wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, I twisted the top off the second and drained it almost as quickly.  The beer went straight to my head and I was still a dozen miles from home.

I broke the law, but the law didn’t win.  It was a different time and I was still young and stupid.  This wouldn’t be the last time I drove impaired but maybe God does take care of drunks and fools.  At this stage of my life, I was certainly equal parts of both.

It would be the last time I had a beer, two beers, so good.  Believe me, I’ve searched high and low, and stopped at the little country mercantile enough times during the summer that remained to find out the blond fireplug was named Ramona.  She was a nice lady with a boisterous laugh and a bawdy sense of humor.

Miller High Life, The Champagne of Bottle Beer.  I do love a crisp pilsner so cold you have to snap it off the bottom of an ancient Pepsi cooler.  I wonder…no…I’m sure it would be a wasted trip.  I’m sure the general mercantile only exists in my mind…just like the best beer I ever had.

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Further wanderings may be found at Don Miller’s author’s page by going to https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

 

Oh Summer Days

 

“Summer in the deep South is not only a season, a climate, it’s a dimension. Floating in it, one must be either proud or submerged.”- Eugene Walter, The Untidy Pilgrim

It is five in the a. m. and I’m standing outside smoking a cigar.  Don’t ask…it’s become the new, old normal.  Blame a life of getting old and blind puppy dogs who don’t know it is the middle of the night when they come looking for belly rubs and snacks…yes, they have trained me well.

Despite being as dark as the inside of a cow…whatever Mark Twain meant by that seems to be accurate although I’ve never actually been inside of a cow…anyway, despite being as dark as the inside of a cow, one could tell there were low clouds pressing down with humidity as thick as a wet, wool blanket.

I wonder who first used that descriptor and to my knowledge I’ve never worn a wet, wool blanket.  Dark and oppressively humid would have described the predawn morning but not nearly as colorfully and with many fewer words.  I also fear I will be submerged and drowning by mid-morning.  Ah, Southern summers.

We have been without more than a few drops of rain for over two weeks.  As warm, humid and still this morning is, I worry the fifty percent chance of thundershowers might become strong thunderstorms.  I also worry we will get no rain at all.

Except for a lone whippoorwill, there are no night sounds.  The lonesome bird is muted even though it is nearby.  “As quiet as the inside of a tomb”…ok, I’ll quit…maybe.

Later when the darkness has turned to a muted light, a woodpecker is beating its brains out against an oak tree but there are no chirps from the songbirds I normally hear.  Maybe the worms were resting in cooler places and the early birds had given up the hunt.

At five the thermometer read seventy-six, but it felt ten degrees warmer.  I decided to wander back inside to work on the next, great American novel.  Right.  I will settle for semi-great or even not so great, but “he has some potential”.  I’d really just like to sell a book to keep me interested.

By seven a. m. the sun might have been above the ridgeline to my east, but you couldn’t be sure.  Gray clouds hung low as I began my morning walk.  The humidity felt heavy against my skin and soon the cotton tee I shouldn’t have worn was saturated.  I’m a Southern male, I do not glisten.  I sweat like a horse and cotton does not wick well.

The air is heavy and still.  The surface of the lake I walk around as flat as a mirror.  Fish must be laying low, not even a ripple.  The sun comes out briefly causing the air to boil around me.  Sweat is now pooling in my unmentionables bathing certain parts in a wet, steamy and I’m sure yeasty film.  I probably should have added some Body Glide or Boudreaux’s Butt Paste before I left…too much information?

The campers I encounter are taking advantage of the relative cool of the foothills of the Blue Ridge at Lookup Lodge.  They are out and about and wondering if they were sold a bill of goods.  “Cool Mountain Mornings?”  These are kids along with their counselors, high schoolers or early college I think…maybe middle school, they all look so young and the sweat is fouling my eyes.

Normally blusterous, their movements are slow, and the usual raucous chattering muted as they line up for breakfast.  The smell of cinnamon rolls permeates the area and my salivary glands add to the relative humidity.

Around the lake, I find my way blocked by a downed tulip poplar laying across one of the wooden footbridges.  As I’m contemplating turning back a younger, female runner passes me and scrambles over the tree leaving me in her dust…humid dust.  She points out how stupid we are, “This is the most humid time of the day” she shouts over her shoulder.  The runner reminds of the days I used to run the same path stubbing my toes on various roots, crashing and burning.  Now I just walk and burn in the humidity. “Hot fun in the Summertime…” sings Sly Stone in my head.

She is correct about our stupidity and the humidity.  I’m reminded of my youthful, ‘early thirty’ mornings hoeing corn or chunkin’ hay bales onto a flatbed along the river bottoms. The heavy dew on broad corn leaves or narrow hay stubble seemed to melt into the air almost choking you with its warm thickness before dissipating into a dusty, dry, throat-searing heat by midmorning.

Julys and Augusts are oppressive in the South, slowing time to crawl.  Was it not for modern conveniences would time stop altogether?  Our ancestors survived with high ceilings, wide, tall windows and broad, tree-shaded verandas.  As a child, I survived with nothing more than a window fan exchanging hot air for hot air.  For some reason, the sun didn’t seem as hot nor the humidity as thick in the hazy fog of my memories.

Today I’m just thankful to have the choice to stay out in the thick, sticky humidity or come into the air-conditioned comfort of my home.  You can probably guess which one I will choose.

For more ramblings go to Don Miller’s author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Featured image is of Salvadore Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory”  and was lifted from Flickr.

Waiting for Indian Summer

 

We are four days past the end of the “Dog Days” of summer…the calendar lies!  The “Dog Days” are the hot, humid, sultry, thunderstorm ridden days following the rise of Sirius the Dog Star.  I didn’t tell my puppy dogs the Dog Days were over, they would have thought I was lying.

In the foothills of the Blue Ridge it appears thirty-degree temperature swings with a good chance on thunderstorms by the middle of the week. Oh my! Bless your heart Mother Nature.  The arrow grass is a little worse from wear.

We had a small dose of fall like weather last week which makes this blast of heat and humidity hard to handle.  We are a month, minus four days, from the first day of fall…if we actually have a fall this year.  I really don’t want to wish my life away, but….  Later, after our first frost, there will be Indian Summer.

There was still a hint of fall this morning as I walked my three point two miles.  Sixty-eight degrees and a very light breeze originating from the north as I walked around Lookup Lake.  No leaves are changing, we are six weeks or so away from the start of that.  The temperature had risen quickly by the time I returned.  The yucca didn’t seem to mind the heat.

Despite the heat, butterflies were working “like crazy” on the yellow, gold or purple wild flowers marking my path.  A sure sign they know their time is limited.  Bees and small wasps seemed to be in frantic mode working on my woody hydrangea.  And those damn little bastard yellow jackets…one got me on the inside of my thigh.  Nothing on the wild daisy?

My path was blocked by spider webs as I made my way around the lake.  Sorry Mr. Orb Spider, I just wasn’t paying attention.  You’ve caught me, but I don’t think I’ll let you eat me.  I know you will build another web, you do so daily, but I hate to make your work harder.  I didn’t appreciate your webs until I found out you ate mosquitoes.

There are other colors too, reds, purples and whites.  Wild plants I’m unfamiliar with and the sickly-sweet smell of purple and white kudzu blooms.  It seems nothing can deter kudzu, not even the web worms covering one group of blooms.

I have no red tomatoes or yellow corn; my vegetables are done for the season.  I did notice my muscadine grapes were turning from green to bronze.  Soon they will turn a dull purple and it will be time for muscadine hull pie.  Yum!

Such is life.  Change is inevitable.  I am aware of life’s changes every time I glance in a mirror or stiffly crawl out of bed.  Like the changes in season I hope to make it to Indian Summer myself.

Image of the Coot, and all other images were taken by an “Old Coot” using his Android phone.  I’m sure you thought I was a professional…chortle, chortle.

More of Don Miller’s musings can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Little Bastards

I really can’t think of much that I dislike about living in the South…ummmm…summertime humidity and mosquitoes can be found anywhere. Right? Sometimes we Southerners only have two seasons – “damn cold or damn hot” … occurring in just the blink of an eye. An old South Carolina saying tells us a lot about our climate. “If you don’t like the weather now just wait a minute. It will change.” I find this to be true during the spring and fall.

I remember a “damn Yankee” football player from the early 90’s who had joined us from one of the “I” states, Indiana I think, and who, before our first August football practice, explained to me that “I can handle the heat. It gets hot in Indiana, too.” An hour later, after his eyes had rolled back in his head, I was cooling him off with ice water soaked towels and forcing him to take sips of Gatorade. Yes, it does get hot in Indiana but, “It ain’t the heat in the South. It’s the humidity!”

When Linda Gail and I moved into our little “piece of heaven” we had no air conditioning. Open windows and ceiling fans moved warm and humid air and reminded us of our youth…except for the ceiling fans, we did not have during either one of our youths. More concerned with conserving heat during the wintertime, unlike” flat land country” farmhouses, ours had eight-foot ceilings instead of ten footers and late in the day, our lower ceilings would trap heat. A lot of late evenings were spent talking on the porch until it was cool enough to go to bed. A breeze might bring the smell of honeysuckle while we listened to the cicadas and other night sounds. I might enjoy a cigar while staying hydrated with a few adult beverages…until the mosquitoes came for dinner. No matter how much citronella we burned or how many fans we used, the little blood suckers seemed to always find us…and still do.

Mosquitoes are just a fact of life in the South and I praise God they don’t grow to the size of vultures. On a trip to the coast, I remember making an impromptu nature call where the only facility available was an old fire road in the middle of a pine forest off South Carolina’s Highway 17. As I completed my task, I looked down to ensure nothing got caught in the zipper and could see a cloud of mosquitoes attempting to make off with my man part. Itchy and it was in November! F&%K it! I DID zip up too quickly! For some reason, Linda Gail thought it was hilarious until the little vampires who had followed me into the car decided she was sweeter meat than I was. I laughed and I laughed and I laughed.

We have “stinging” insects too. Wasps, hornets, bees, even a little bitty thing that might be called a “no see um” … if I could see um’. Generally, I dislike them all. Specifically, I hate the yellow jacket. The little “bastards!” They are small hornets who build nests underground, under leaves or in hollow stumps. Related to bald-faced hornets and common wasps, they are much faster, more aggressive and make a honey bee sting seem like a French kiss from your beloved. If you step into a yellow jacket’s nest, you will not get stung once but several times and the little bastards will pursue you. Talk about holding a grudge.
The first time I stepped into a nest I got stung a dozen times, all from the knees down. When I finished beating them off of me I found my legs covered in “stinging” whelps that slowly, over a matter of days, turned into itchy, oozing wounds that resembled cigarette burns despite being treated with Linda Gail’s “old time remedy,” chewing tobacco and Arm and Hammer soda. This was also despite initially wearing heavy blue jeans, boots and heavy socks. I say initially because I “shucked” my pants quickly.

Over time I have found it better to wear shorts. You get stung fewer times before being alerted to “run like hounds of hell” are after you and the wounds are not nearly as bad. It’s as if the yellow jackets, when met with “blue jean” resistance, really got pissed off. I stepped into a nest while using my weed eater near the back door of the house one morning. Luckily, I saw the cloud of “little bastards” erupt from their hole and I ran for the safety of our closed in back porch. Yelling, slapping and running, somehow all at the same time, I found my “beloved” slamming the door in my face and screaming, “Don’t bring them in here!” Thank you SOOOOOO very much.

As I related in an earlier story I am not the only one to run afoul of the “little bastards.” One of my goats stuck his nose into a yellow jacket’s nest and received numerous stings to the head and neck. With a leather collar around his neck, the swelling had nowhere to go causing his head to swell, and swell and swell. By the time I rescued him, his head was the size of a basketball and I was afraid he would begin to chock if I did not release him from the collar. As soon as I cut through the collar his head began to “deflate” and I worried that he would die when the poison hit his heart. He didn’t and just went back to eating. Goats are simple creatures…unlike my wife who would have let the goat come in regardless of how many yellow jackets followed him. It’s good to know where I rate on her hierarchy of animals that she loves.

Few things that I hate about the South? I just got my first yellow jacket sting of the summer. Luckily, just one and I have found their little underground lair of pain. I will make the “little bastards” pay when night time falls. I will come calling with my little can of “payback” and for a brief time there will be one less thing to hate about the South.

This is an excerpt from the book “Through the Front Gate”
Don Miller has also written other books which may be purchased or downloaded at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM