“Look!” I cried, “The Cardinal’s back! It must be the black oil sunflower seed that I put in the feeder!” As those words tumbled from my mouth, I knew I was screwed. My friend Steve was speechless.
I have to admit, my ornithological excitement wouldn’t be an issue if I were retired, sporting a Tommy Bahama shirt, and sucking on a butterscotch drop. At forty-three, however, a remark like that takes on an air of sadness comparable to watching a twenty-four hour Brian’s Song marathon.
I was turning into my father.
There are other signs. I appreciate wandering around a Home Depot slack-jawed in contemplation. Words like “Begonias,” “Laurelpetalum,” and “Quick-krete” enter my lexicon more frequently. The aromas of Round-Up, Armor-All, and fresh cut grass arouse my senses. I look forward to re-seeding the lawn in the fall and taking naps on Sunday afternoons. I have hair propagating like kudzu from my ears, and appreciate the subtle nuances of listening to baseball on the radio.
Above all, I’ve become passionately devoted to the care and feeding of the beer fridge in the garage. Ah, two glorious words that makes the paternal metamorphosis easily more digestible: Beer fridge.
My father’s beer fridge was born in Hartsville, SC, in 1983. After years of residing in Troy, a small town in Western Ohio, our family migrated to the even smaller town of Hartsville where my dad’s company transferred him. And, the stripped-down, paste-white refrigerator that served us well for years was now an eyesore that clashed with the new pineapple-themed wallpaper and burnt orange kitchen counters. Mom insisted on a harvest-gold colored refrigerator, and the aging veteran was retired to a corner in the garage where it would hum back to life with a higher purpose—one that would help define my identity and that would forever bond me with the old man.
In 1983 I was 16 and my body was going through some early-onset salivary changes that legally weren’t slated to occur until I turned 21. Perhaps it was the oppressive humidity of South Carolina, my Irish-Polish-Catholic DNA, or good-old peer pressure that spurred the beer-pubescent change, but I discovered that I really liked Old Milwaukee, Old Style, Schlitz, or whatever cheap beer my father was now stocking in the garage fridge. Even if it were warm, flat, or skunked, a beer in your late teens tasted as beautiful as unicorn tears, and opening that fridge was like walking through the wardrobe and into Narnia—a frosty wonderland of intoxicating possibilities.
Because our family made a habit of coming into the house through the garage door, when I would return home from college, I would swing by the old fridge, grab a couple cold ones, and bring them to the back porch where the family would gather around the picnic table to catch up. The appearance of Rolling Rock, Labatt Blue, and Molson confirmed that a seismic shift was taking place: canned beer was now being sidelined by colored bottles recruited from far away places.
Ten years ago, my dad retired to the coast of North Carolina and the beer fridge was given a new home in his oversized garage. As a result of his travels throughout Europe, it was now stocked with Pilsner Urquell, Weihenstephan, Spaten, Kronenbourg and Stella. It was as if the Monroe Doctrine policies had been lifted from the fridge, and any and every foreign beer of good standing was welcome to colonize its shelves. Most of all, we began to gather again as a family on his back porch. The beer flows freely at these family gatherings, but magically the fridge always remained well-stocked.
Nine years ago, my wife and I moved from downtown Durham, NC, to a slightly larger home out in the country. She felt our aging white fridge didn’t really fit into our new modern kitchen, and she set her eyes on a new stainless steel one with all the bells and whistles. Of course, you know by now where this story is going. My own beer fridge stands proudly in the garage where I stock it with Lagunitas, Racer 5 IPA, Victory, Foothills Hoppyum, and growlers of Green Man IPA and Fullsteam Southern Lager. Now, when my dad comes to visit, he innately knows to enter our house through the garage. If we’re going to sit down and discuss squirrel-proof bird feeders, the antics of the Ruby Throated Hummingbird, or the sudden disappearance of Yuengling’s Lord Chesterfield in North Carolina, we better damn well have a cold beer in hand.