Every night after supper, Dad camped out in the living room. Over the course of each evening he’d nurse two bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and polish off an entire can of salted peanuts, the Spanish ones with the skins on them. I never got why he liked those kind. The skins made for a tooth flossing nightmare. Dad didn’t mind though. He wasn’t much for dental hygiene. Come to think of it, he didn’t care much about personal hygiene at all beyond combing his hair and Abraham Lincoln beard. I knew for a fact he rarely used deodorant and Mom and I had to beg him to wear aftershave whenever he treated us to supper at Shoney’s.
So while Dad would fold himself into the floral Ethan Allen wing chair under the picture window and devour peanuts and guzzle beer, Mom would arrange herself and her muumuu-looking housecoat, usually a pastel blue floral, on the couch. She’d puff on her cigs—Benson and Hedges Light—and sip Tab diet cola from a glass she got in a box of Tide laundry detergent. I’m fairly certain she washed it first. Maybe. She wasn’t Suzy Homemaker or anything. In fact, one of her favorite sayings was, “You’ve got to eat a peck of dirt before you die.”
Most nights my parents watched television or read. Dad was a big time reader. Mom too, but she usually went for paperback romances. Dad read smart stuff because he was that kind of guy. He had three degrees including one from Harvard. Yep, my daddy was smart, but he sure didn’t know everything.
More often than not at night, some or all four of us kids would be in the basement glued to the tube. Sometimes we had friends over, not because Mom was the Kool-Aid mom or anything. Just because.
If communication was necessary between us and the folks, we yelled up or they stood at the top of the stairs and hollered down. If Dad was worn out, he just roared from his wing chair.
“You kids pipe down!” Or, “Stop horsing around! Don’t make me come down there. I swear. I'll tan your hide.”
Only when we got really loud would he stomp down the stairs. It was never Mom. She didn’t scare us. That particular night, the one with the Rolling Rock, Jude made sure we didn’t make too much noise. He was good at that.
After two minutes of whispering in the kitchen, Katie Lynn and I tiptoed back down the painted gray steps. Tried to keep from creaking the stairs. All three of Charlie’s pistol-packing Angels darted hither and yon across the TV screen but the boys didn’t pay any mind. They were too busy hawking loogies at the fireplace. Without opening the screen. Viscous, pale green gobs stuck and slid. Smeared and clung. Left shiny trails in the charred mesh.
“Ga-ross,” I said.
Both guys whipped around at the same time, swiping their wrists across their lips. I saw Robbie puff into his hand and sniff. A corner of my mouth lifted. He was cuter than I remembered.
Jude patted the couch. “Why don’t you all come down,’ he said. “Sit a spell.”
I started back up the stairs. “I don’t think—”
Katie Lynn gripped my wrist and tugged. “Okay,” she said. “We should sit boy girl, boy girl.”
I grumbled under my breath as I wedged myself into the space between the sofa arm and Robbie’s leg. Katie made herself at home between the guys. Robbie reached into the styrofoam cooler and lifted out a green bottle. Wiped the wet off with his t-shirt. Jude tossed him the bottle opener. The cap catapulted across the room with a sucky sound. Robbie grinned and handed the icy beer to me. Repeated the process for Katie.
I hovered my nose over the bottle top. “Smells like hamster pee.”
Robbie chuckled “Try it,” he said. “You’ll like it.”
I sipped then wrinkled my nose. “Tastes like it too,” I said. “Jiminy Christmas! How do you all drink so much of this stuff?”
Jude leaned forward. “See?” he said. “I told you we shoulda bought Boone’s Farm.”
Robbie huffed. “Who doesn’t like beer?”
Jude stood. “I’ve got an idea,” he said. “Be right back.” He took the stairs three at a time. Returned with two straws. “Try these,” he said as he tore their wrappers away. “And hold your nose.”
Katie Lynn juggled the tasks. “Seems complicated,” she said.
“The good thing about straws,” Robbie told me, “is they get you drunk quicker. That’s what my science teacher says.”
I think Robbie was onto something. After my first two sips, I felt very confident and way braver. Was that what being intoxicated was like? Wasn’t too bad. In fact, I figured if I had one more gulp, Imight just jump up and perform a lively rendition of Dancing Queen. I squinted at the fireplace tools and considered how I might use the fireplace poker as my microphone. No sooner did the idea form in my brain than it was shot all to heck. By ham salad.