Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Day 8/9: Christmas eve with a Goose Island (and Founder's Breakfast Stout) frothing forth with indelible memories of Christmas' past...

Day 8 on the 12 Beers of Tartan is Goose Island Harvest Ale, intrinsically an autumnal beer. If you would like to read how this author feels about drinking beer in autumn (my favorite literary season) click here to read a poem I wrote about the subject (yes, I really did run naked with a sylvan herd of deer next to the police station in Marquette Heights after our adrenaline-fueled alcoholic augmented first reading at Tartan Inn).  As a festive libation Goose island bottles a beautiful  though extremely limited Sixth Day ale whose recipe alters from year to year and whose proceeds go to a Chi-town charity.

The weekend convened slathered in a dusty slate of ice, the alley and arteries of West Peoria chapped in arctic sheaths of crackling white, a leftover slice of wedding cake stowed in the bottom depths of the deep freeze, a swan-song souvenir culled from another time.  Since (opportunely speaking) all weather is bona fide quality beer drinking weather I found myself at the Tartan Saturday morning drinking with poet Kyle Devalk and hanging out with my dear friend Gavra Lynn, pounding PBR’s in tandem with  high alcoholic quality beers such as HE’BREW (10 % ABV) while listening to HAIM over and over again ( are we rockin’ the menorah or what!!!!) My dear friend co-owner and craft beer aficionado Tom Inman popped in and we had a long discussion about the reissuing of DOGFISHHEAD and writer Del James. Due to its russet brick exterior drinking at the TI sometimes feels like you’ve sauntered into a chimney from a Dickens’ novel, although never a bleak house, just a propensity for Great expectations when it comes to quality beer, intellectual banter and good times.   


The next day I found myself engulfed in the church of my youth, sitting in the front pews amidst the elbows of my relatives watching as my cousin Brianna’s daughter dandled in the cradle of my cool cousin Shawna 's arms. Six-month old Kayla Jo then hovered over a diminutive pond of sacrosanct liquid, the Reverend cupping his palms, sprinkling her forehead in the hollowed appellation of whatever universal patriarch, progeny and ubiquitous comsic pulse exists. It felt good to be  surrounded by my family,strapped in like a book of Romans roller coaster into the pews the lower Hampshire of my family's collective anatomy once practically mortgaged another lifetime ago. It felt good seeing my former sixth grade geography teacher Ralph Teske ( with his chessey jokes, ie, Climate is what you do to a mountain) and Tom Zaia inquiring if I am still running and trying my best to bite my tongue and say 'Look there's Pastor Schudde!!!' during the Nicene Creed. Felt good performing ordained spiritual calisthenics, standing and sitting, reciting familiar passages in the colloquial droll (after all these years I still have the call to Christian Fellowship memorized!!!) Felt good seeing Gary Heinz, informing him of my recent cross-country camping travels with my friend Valena (ie, we were just on our way to Missouri to by cigarettes when we ended up 18 hours later camping next to the craggy presidential countenances in South Dakota) and thanking Gary, for introducing me to Mattheison State park. For taking me canoing with my father and the late-great Mike Dewitt.   
For instilling in the narrative theme of my life a love of just wanting to be outdoors basking in trees and open cornfields all the time. 
But more than anything else it felt good to sit in an almost football fourth and one huddle with my family and sing Christmas hymns. Those who know me know that I hail from a family of musical savants and how growing up there was always the ivory sprinkling of a piano (or the stringed dirge of a cello or the pubescent squeak of a violin) echoing in the background and both my mom and dual aunts were in charge of nearly all the music at the church. It felt good to sing in a clan of Lutheran limbs again. To hear the guttural bass clef of my Uncle's baritone. To hear my aunt Chris voice flutter into the invisible rungs of sheet music. To watch my mom pray with her hands geometrically configured at almost shoulder level, as if saluting something metaphysical, which indeed, she is. I thought about when my grandma (who attended Christ Lutheran all her life) died and how after the doctors promulgated their grim assessment to family members that she wasn't going to make it through the night--how all of us brought Lutheran hymnals to the hospital and formed a human rhombus around the raft of her hospital bed, singing Lutheran songs as sifted from one port of consciousness into the inscrutable lip of what is to come. 


I was thinking about my grandma and family and the evanescent fumblings of the calculated breath of time when I ordered a Breakfast Stout (or double chocolate coffee oatmeal stout) and held it like a gavel and began to take intermittent swigs. The label of founders breakfast stout features what looks like a six month old playing a self-taught rendition of ‘here comes the airplane,’ a pastel Little Lord Fauntleroy literary born with a silver spoon in his mouth. It is well known in the brick man cave of T.I that this is one of my favorite winteresque drops. It’s malty, if brassiere’s correlates with ABV content it would be a g-cup (8.3%). It doesn’t overwhelm the palate.  It is the color of the Christmas soil in which the evergreen tree of your dreams was recently poleaxed.  There’s a mulchy residue to the brew that isn’t overwhelming plus a coffee-subtle caramel  flavor leaving a hickey of hops tucked in your lips like a wished for venereal disease. It’s a beautiful beer, but what I like most about Founders breakfast stout is how, by pure color alone, it reminds me of the exact color of the sky that Christmas eve the year I turned 21. I was working full time at a bookstore in the mall. It was Christmas Eve and the mall was festooned in spools of corded pine and tinseled garland as throngs of coated patrons forming a flotilla of limbs toting oversized bags milled and clattered and jockeyed for position accompanied by a heralding holiday soundtrack overhead, the masses, the petulant whine of fire-hydrant sized moppets straddling the bulbous contours of Santa’s beer belly, the monotonous din of solicitous salvation army bells clanging in limp cadences in the chestnut-fused distance.  As most can attest to, retail sucks year round, and sucks to the nth degree around the holidays. After locking up I walked through the linoleum concourse, walked out to my silver '86 Chevette (color of a can of Coors' Light), accompanied in tempo by frigid bulbs of  exhaling breath. I stopped at a Starbucks, fired up a cheap cigar and began to drive, alone, swallowed into an inky vat of winter darkness. It wasn't cloudy but somehow the stars were occluded. There was banks of snow blanketing both sides of the road where, six month time,  emerald stalks of corn would salute. I drove for forty-five minutes, the side window half-down, blasting into the country, taking swigs of my coffee, biting into my cigar, thinking of her smile, thinking of her warm neck and kissing her forehead, the crimson splotch of a wayward barn sporadically slouching in the distance. The creature I was visiting lived in the country, about an hour out of town. She was home from college for the holidays. I remember driving up the gravel ribbon of her rustic driveway and, in the cold, watching how the side door of her country house opened like the lids on an advent calendar, seeing her in the doorway of light, wearing a long purple fairy-tale dress, her long blond tresses dripping past the wedding ivory flank of her neck.
She had been waiting for me.
I left my car and lifted her up. She couldn't stop smiling. We couldn't stop kissing. We couldn't stop wishing each other a merry christmas.
Later that night we would make love while her parents slept upstairs, our bodies, next to christmas tree in the basement, in the dark, wanting to gnaw into the moment, not wanting to pull out, not wanting to leave this transitory pulse of time.
That was a long time ago and sometimes, it still hurts esp. around the holidays.  Just like the finish of the Beakfast Stout some things linger in the holiday hearth of your chest, reeling you back to an earlier time. Dear friends may whatever wounds you harbor this holioday heal in a scab of promise, may whatever libation pours from the draught of your being hold you close until the chartered end of time.



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