Commonwealth Journal

August 16, 2012

Pain & Pleasure of a First Beer

by Don White
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset — With Somerset going wet, I can provide a word of caution to all who may want to purchase their first beer when turning 21.

It can be the most embarrassing moment of your life.

After spending nearly all the years of my youth in “dry” Pulaski, April 14, 1969, found me living in Lexington.

Other than being allowed to lick the foam off Dad’s Oertel’s 92 at age six or seven, there had been no other encounters with booze.

Mom, who I’m quite certain never took a drink of alcohol in her entire 90 years, wasn’t fond of Dad having a cold one every now and then.

Lectures on the evils of booze were heard often at home, school, and on those rare occasions when I sat in church.

So, all alone in the big city on the eve of my 21st birthday, a plan was hatched to drive to a nearby Kroger store and make my first purchase, despite the great fear this was probably the first step toward becoming a life-long bum.

And what were the chances someone from Somerset might see me making the buy…..and tell Mom?

The consequences could be worse than that time I sat on the steps of Campground School with five fellow first graders. I was on the opposite end of the line when the boy on the other end issued a challenge. He would brag about something his Dad could do, and the next boy had to come up with something to top it.

By the time my turn came, all the “big fish” and “great hunter’ stories had been used.

What on earth can I say about my 70-year-old pop that will overshadow all their stories, I thought.

Then….it hit me.

”My dad can drink more beer than all your dads put together.”

There was no disputing my being the clear-cut winner.

But the joy was very temporary.

Immediately after school, my teacher, Mrs. Tom Crockett, drove out the gravel lane to our house and informed Mom of my naughty behavior.

When I got home, I was met with a long lecture about never sharing family information in public.

Counting in my head when Mom lectured was one way of coping with the agony. That particular instance did my math skills a world of good.

So, it was with trembling fingers that I gathered up enough money to make that first beer purchase, 81 miles north of Mom, the Pulaski County sheriff’s office, and any preachers who might remember me.

Me and my ‘57 Ford headed down Columbia Avenue to the store, less than a mile from my rooming house near the UK campus.

Not wanting to purchase just a can of beer, I gathered up a small bag of chips, a Zagnut candy bar, and, honest-to-goodness, a pack of breath mints.

As I was placing the items on the counter, feeling guilty as heck when adding the can of Budweiser last, the little lady checker began to shake like a leaf.

It seemed as if she might be on the brink of a heart attack.

She hadn’t acted that way at all while attending to any of the people ahead of me.

She dropped the coins when handing me back my change.

Thoughts raced through my head.

Was she somehow aware this was my first ever beer and feeling guilty about starting me down the path to certain destruction?

Was she thinking of her own foolish past?

And, worst of all, did she know my mom?

Her awkward behavior had my head still spinning upon reaching the car.

After years of faithful service, it wouldn’t start.

There was no doubt this was punishment from above for my evil ways.

There was nothing left to do but grab my little bag of goodies and hoof it back to the apartment.

I had walked less than a block when it became obvious something was amiss.

There was a breeze where one shouldn’t be feeling a breeze….at least not in public.

I looked down and saw the zipper on my jeans was standing wide open.