Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Happy Birthday ...Happier Retirement

Today is my little brother's birthday. He's retiring this year, and entering into his geezer-hood and hopefully a little more relaxed rest of his life.

My brother is 5 years younger than I am. When we first shared a bedroom in that apartment building I wrote about the other day, the difference in age didn't seem to be that big a deal. It wasn't until I got to be a "big kid" that it pushed us into different worlds under the same roof. Sometimes in those early days we'd lie in the dark and not go to sleep, preferring to talk about important stuff like what we wanted for Christmas, or that evening's episode of "Superman".

On weekends during the summer, our family would pack the coolers and picnic baskets, and join uncles, cousins and Gram (who lived with us from the time Grampa died until she passed away). We'd drive up the Mohawk Trail, and find an empty table in the thick woods that grew along  the Cold River (a body of water that lived up to its name, even during the hottest days of the year).

While the adults were putting out the food and lighting the fire for hot dogs, we'd head for the water. Not the big, dammed-up Official Park Swimming Area, though. We stepped from stone to rock to log along the rushing water, till we came to "The Deep Spot" in the stream. It was probably about 10 feet around, and 6 or 7 feet deep, and there was a huge boulder from which  the truly brave would jump, provided no grownups were watching.
I remember learning to open my eyes under water there, so I could watch the fish that hid between the rocks. We probably spent more time out of the water than in it, soaking up the sun and recovering from the plunge into that swift-moving snow melt.

Before long, our stomachs told us it was time to head back to the table, and we shivered our way back along the rocks and logs. We ate...lots of food, played badminton, (which I believed for some time to be the game of  bad mitten), and sometimes horse shoes. We had a set of rubber horse shoes, which my mother bought for our safety. They were red and green and came with a pair of wooden stakes.

Finally, the mosquitoes would come out and remind us it was time to go.

Then there was vacation. Dad got 2 weeks off every summer from his job at G.E. We rented a cabin at the edge of a pond in a tiny town along the Mohawk Trail, much further east than the picnic grounds. A rowboat came with the cabin, and Dad would take my brother and me out in it bright and early, when the perch were biting and the air was frosty.

We had prepared for the trip by collecting as many "night crawlers" as we could find, placing the fat worms in a container of dirt, which was lodged carefully in its place in the trunk.
Warning: The following may be horrifying if you are an earthworm, or member of PETA...
We had a pair of metal rods attached to a long electric cord. We'd stick the rods into the front lawn, then plug them into an outlet through the front window. Up they'd come out of the ground: Lots of night crawlers. All we wanted. We'd feed them some oatmeal to make them feel better after their abrupt relocation. 

So there we were in the middle of the pond, and pretty soon breakfast was in the boat, wriggling around in the creel. We caught and ate many a perch on those trips. We also caught some bluegills...better known to us kids as "pumpkin seeds" because that's what they were shaped like. They weren't very good to eat, but we'd take them home and put them in the garden (everybody had a garden in those days) where they produced some really tasty tomatoes.

I remember the four of us sitting in the cabin, enjoying our catch. I'm sure there are many things about those days I can't recall any more, but those pictures were the ones that came to mind as I put my brother's birthday card into the mailbox today, then sent him an email when I realized it wouldn't make it in time.

Happy Birthday, young Geez. Many happy returns.

Blog at ya later,

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Great Day for all Mankind

You can't really call me a prolific writer. I think you can call me a lazy writer, or just a lazy guy who sometimes writes. Yarntangler, on the other hand, is a prolific writer. She has written a blog a day this month, and during several months in the past, while I have been content to read her blogs, and some books, watch TV, and drink beer.

Which brings me to today's topic. Yarntangler told me I should Google "on this day in history" in search of inspiration for my long-overdue entry. So I did, and boy, was she right! I can't pass this one up.

On this day in 1935, the first beer in a can was sold in America. Richmond, Virginia to be exact, and it looked like this:

I've never had Krueger's...neither the Finest Beer nor the Cream Ale, but if it hadn't been for that successful leap of faith in 1935, I would not have enjoyed my first refreshing sip about 20 years later from a can that looked like this:

It was around 1957...the Geez was about 10, and it was one of those moments in time that you kind of remember in isolation from any real context; therefore, the dates, my exact age, and all other particulars may not be totally accurate. But it's almost true, and it's a fun story, so here goes:

I was with my Dad, and we were in a lakeside cabin owned by our Landlord, Charlie. Charlie was an avid hunter. He probably referred to the place as his Hunting Cabin, but Dad wouldn't have called it that in front of me...we weren't big fans of hunting in our family. Anyway, Charlie had invited us for a fun Saturday outing, so there we were.

Charlie had this hound dog named Teddy...us kids named him that, Charlie just called him "the dog",  and later "that damn worthless good-for-nothin' dog"... that he had spent a pretty good chunk of money for. He kept him in a dog house up on a hill, removed from the back yard where all the kids from the apartment house played. It was Charlie's firmly-held belief that a hunting dog must not be coddled or pampered, lest the animal lose it's tenacity. Naturally, we didn't see it that way, and every kid in the apartment took turns bringing Teddy treats and big hugs (usually right BEFORE bath time on Mom's orders) and generally spoiling the animal to the point where Charlie eventually just left him home in disgust on hunting days.

Anyway, there we were at Charlie's cabin on a warm summer afternoon, and Charlie was sitting in his old wicker rocking chair having a beer. I asked him what it tasted like, and he looked at Dad, then offered me a sip.

Now the theory in those days was: when a kid wants to try something like beer, or scotch, or anything else alcoholic and appropriate to a less sensitive palate, give it to him. He'll hate it, and never touch another  drop for the rest of his life.
"Go ahead kid, take a nice big slug. Heh-heh-heh."(wink exchange with Dad)
So I did.
"Hey, this is pretty good!" (goes to show how much I knew. It was Schlitz for cryin' out loud*)
"You like it?"
"Yeah! Can I have some more?"
"No! And don't you dare let me catch you with beer again until you're 21!"
It was one of those life lessons that you learn well, even if you don't quite understand what just happened.

The above quotations are, of course, approximations...but I have a feeling they're not far from the mark.
Now, I could have argued, somewhat rationally, against Dad's mandate. Not long after the cabin incident, I noticed the following in a reputable national publication (Life, I think):

Now if you click on the picture, you'll learn that Schlitz is the only beer that has no germs. In those days, I guess other beers had inferior alcohol that didn't kill them all. And Schlitz pasteurized it better, I guess.

But I really could have argued that the whole family should be drinking Schlitz, every night with supper. Honest. It says so right there in the magazine.
I never actually made the argument, but I could have.
Instead, I waited until I'd reached my 21'st (actually 18th....well OK 15th) birthday before imbibing in things alcoholic, including beer. Not Schlitz. My preferred  brew by the time I started enjoying it on a regular basis   was Budweiser, and I drank it out of bottles.
But still, the anniversary of the can of  beer deserves some recognition...and it did jog a fond, if not completely accurate, memory.

These days I prefer micro-brews, having gone through preferences for several different brands and price ranges over the years, including, BRIEFLY (actually once), this kind:

...Remember generics? Yummm.

So, having slouched around drinking beer without posting since August of 2009, I hereby return to  semi-active blogger status and celebrate a date that should make us all proud.  We even beat the Brits by 11 months. (Well Krueger did). Happy Anniversary! Woo-Hooo!!

I'd go relax with a cold one right now,  but I just discovered I'm out of beer.

Blog at ya later.


*This statement is merely an expression of my personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the views of blogspot, the world wide web, Bill Gates, or anyone else who might make some money by kissing up to the Schlitz Brewing Company. Nor is it in any way meant to cast aspersions on the great city of Milwaukee, which we all know would have remained forever an obscure backwater had  it not been for that upstanding commercial institution.