“… And as I think back makes me wonder how the smell from a grill could spark up nostalgia”
Will Smith – Summertime
I stood outside, in the cool pouring rain, looking like a complete goof. Baseball hat, sweatshirt, cargo shorts and flip flops. I had a choice of two varieties of chicken going on the grill: a tequila lime marinade or peppercorn ranch soak. I hit the rack with a blast of spray oil, as I always do. I took a sip from my pint of Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA sitting on the step as the acrid smoke billowed into the grey summer clouds.
Of course, the wind shifted and blew the plume into my face.
I was at once transported back to a cool grey foggy evening nearly thirty years before.
I was up on my uncle’s Vermont farm. It may have been a Sunday evening, but I’m not sure. The day’s activities of field clearing, brush cutting, wood chopping and rock moving had been suspended due to rain.
[a brief pause for a joke]
A tourist from the city was sitting on the porch of his Vermont bed & breakfast. He looked across the field toward the ski resort - closed for the summer – and was stunned by all the giant rocks, dotting the grassland.
“Excuse me,” he asked the proprietor, an old New Englander, “where did all these big rocks come from?”
“Glacier brung ‘em,” the Yankee replied.
“I don’t see any glacier. Where’d it go?”
“Guess it went back for more rocks.”
As I stood in the New Jersey rain, my mind wandered north to Vermont, Early-Summer 1977.
My uncle was on the back lawn, Weber grill smoking like a champ. Chicken, steak and ribs where on the menu.
“Randy, get yourself a beer. Get one for me, too” he said in a mild, off-hand way. Bill wasn’t usually so casual, so familiar; requests felt more like orders; questions had the flavor of interrogation. Working on the farm – even as family – I felt like a contractor. Actually, two contractors, since my day job was to work the fields; after dinner, Bill and I would venture to his design studio above the garage, where I would put on my apprentice hat (literally – I wore a Nikon baseball hat while working up there) and assist him with many phases of his graphic design / photography business. An industry that – since it allowed you to afford both a farm in Vermont, and a condo in New York City - I wanted into.
At his behest, I returned indoors and opened the refrigerator. There was a six pack of Bud – 6-packs had those flimsy plastic rings around them, then – and some foil-capped green bottles I did not recognize. I had seen green bottles before (Rolling Rock, Moosehead, Heineken) but these were unfamiliar to me. They had a girl on them, looking very much like Cinderella. Sensing they were special to my uncle, I grabbed one of each.
I walked out the side door to the cooking area; the easterly breeze blowing mesquite smoke my way. I handed Bill the green bottle and cracked open the can.
“Hey! What are you dong?” he exclaimed.
“I, uh, I thought, um, that was for you.” I always got a little panicked around my uncle, a little tongue tied.
“That’s fine but you should have one, too. It’s time for you to taste real beer.” He gave me a look that said ‘pound that truck driver beer and start over.’
I tipped my head back and chugged the contents of the All-American Beer. I tossed it into the recycle bin and went back into the house.
“We’ll need the bottle opener too!!!” Bill shouted from the yard “and, tell Maureen to get the glasses out for you.”
Okay, now I was outside my sphere of expertise. I knew what beers traveled well, which ones you could expect in what towns when on the road, which ones where held in higher esteem by the fans in the parking lot (which ones got girls drunk fastest) but I knew nothing about special glasses for beer.
My aunt found the beer glasses and handed them to me. They looked like the ones in the TV commercials for “Old Man Beer” – Schaeffer, Pabst, Ballantine – tall, slim, V-shaped, with a small base. Bill took them from me, placed them side-by-side on the picnic table and opened the first bottle. He poured just a little, and the foam surged up.
“Some people tip the glass to keep the foam down, but I find that makes you burp more,” he joked as he poured the rest. The he filled the second glass the same way and offered it to me.
We sat on the damp bench and he told me about his travels to Germany were he had “real” beer. He told me about Tecate and Presidente in Mexico; Dorado in Spain. Sure he was being a little braggadocious but one thing stuck with me … This was the first time anyone had spoken to me like a grown-up.
We finished our beverages and had dinner.
After dinner we were again out on the porch. The rain had subsided; a few errant drips fell from the roof. A fog was settling in on the field we had cleared over the past few summers at the bottom of the hill – it was now large enough for a real game of football, soccer or baseball.
Bill turned on the shortwave he kept on the porch – this being Vermont, few stations reached up there on their own, but the shortwave could pull them in. He wanted to listen to the Yankees for a while before going to bed.
My cousin had left it on his New York station, before he left for camp.
A booming bass line emerged from the small speakers
“dum dum dum dum dum dum dadadum ... dum dum dum dum dum dum dadadum ...“
I can't seem to face up to the facts
I'm tense and nervous and I can't relax
I can't sleep 'cause my bed's on fire
Don't touch me I'm a real live wire
“Oh, I’ve hear that,” my uncle remarked, “Billy’s girlfriend - Lisa Weymouth - her sister plays in that band.”
He looked off toward the woods. He seemed to going over a schedule in his head.
“Hey, why don’t you knock off up here a couple weeks early and end of the summer in New York with Billy?”
“I could do that; if it’s okay with you.”
“Yeah, you can stay with him and his mom on 72nd Street. I’ll let her know you’ll be there about a month from now. Deal!” We touched glasses to seal the arrangement.
A rumble of thunder brought me back to present-day New Jersey. I finished the pint and went back in the house for a refill. Something reminded me that I had the remains of a twelve-pack of St. Pauli Girl in the garage, destined for lawn duty.
“Donna, have you seen those Pilsener glasses???”
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