Sunday, November 10, 2013



Ah yes, ninety nine bottles of beer on the wall....the anthem ditty of cubs and field trips and those long trips home on Sunday night when the 1930 Model A sat mired in the traffic of Highway 400 feeding south from Cottage Country.
Haven't sung it in decades. But one mention does bring back those days of waiting outside beer stores for some older gent who would buy for you, and those trips back from Niagara Falls in high school when you smoked five cent rum crook cigars and drank a warm beer and manoeuvred to sit with some girl who seemed amenable to a little necking....but that's all.
I have spent recent years with far more than ninety nine bottles of beer on my wall. Try 400 or so, each different, each still capped, each carried home in a backpack from some exotic nook by a son who now has his own son out working and keeps fit by running marathons like that bloody one in Boston.
When John Henry finished gallivanting around half the countries of the world, Brett continued the travelling,  then Mark finished, occasionally lugging home so many beers and strange Cokes for his oldest brother that he actually killed a nerve in his back from the load.
The magnificent beer bottle collection, each still intact with the contents turning into some strange liquid with the passage of time (fortunately none ever exploded), stayed with Mary and me as John Henry moved from Ottawa apartment to Toronto condo to Toronto house to Boston house to California house as the babies arrived and the job evolved to  comfortable heights.
The beer bottles stayed behind, filling one crawl space and basement shelves not already occupied by the world's largest collection of used paint cans.
Finally, I grumbled enough. If I said nothing, I assumed there would still be too many beer bottles throughout the house after I moved to the happy newsroom in the sky...or maybe lower.
So John Henry jaunted in from the land of the backyard orange trees and did a little sorting. The really glamorous labels were put to one side with the more prosaic ones stuffed in old beer cartons. I noticed glumly that after this exercise, which I stupidly perceived as progress, I still had the same number of old beer bottles in various crannies of my small home.
Years passed. Nothing happened. And then, John Henry and I tried again, separating about 150 of the most interesting bottles and I displayed them on some book cases. Mary said nothing but she didn't have to because she radiated indignation about her home taking on some aspects of a brewery.
Now I find beer bottles really interesting. My favourite brew, Grolsch, the 400-year-old brewery in Holland, has that wonderful green bottle with the ceramic cap held so firmly in place that you can use it to store wine, vinegar etc. I can't bear to throw a Grolsch bottle away. Maybe this infected John Henry into being such a hoarder.
This summer I commented rather firmly that it was time to make a real stand in eliminating the stored beer, no matter how many of them would be a happy find for collectors. So John Henry went through the cases for those he couldn't bear to lose and moved some cases  to the garage.
I counted them yesterday. There are 144 bottles, all different, everything from Twist to Texas Cowboy to Chambly to Eku. There are varieties that haven't been brewed for a decade or two.
My garage is not one of those spacious affairs with three big doors where you could store an 18-wheeler but a modest box which hasn't been big enough to house even a small car for 40 years.
I'm tired of falling over these cases. But I don't feel like returning bottles just for the deposit (and the clerks refuse to take empties from stranger parts. ) After all, what can be more fascinating in pop culture than a capped beer from Russia or China or some island in the Pacific.
 I expect one day that some new pub looking for instant atmosphere will buy all my bottles to line their walls with suitable decor, and in return give me draft for a year. But then I come from the school of thought that assures daydreamers that if you stop dreaming, life ain't worth living.
One can always hope. At least there is no problem with the authorities over me selling what was once beer. Although, come to think of it, some of it probably tastes better than some of the concoctions that come out of our beer store, that foreign-owned monopoly.
And the price would be lower.

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