Salty Beer & Southern Charm
Written by
Ginny Buccelli
May 2012
Written by
Ginny Buccelli
May 2012

(originally posted on Visceral Musings)

The hubby and I went to Happy Hour at a local Mexican restaurant a few weeks ago. We ordered a couple of house margaritas and some tiny tacos and settled in to chat. 

Shortly after we arrived, an older gentleman sat alone behind the hubby. He looked and walked in such a way that indicated his age was beyond the 80 year mark. He reminded me of my grandfather; Grandpa would have been 94 this year. My attention waned there and I went back to my conversation. Until a few minutes later when a pint glass full of beer was set down at his table. My attention was captured again, quite suddenly, when I saw the man reach for the salt shaker and shske salt into his beer. I watched the familiar foaming of the beer and as soon as it began to settle, he took a sip.

When I was a little girl, my grandpa would come home from work every week night, make Gram a highball and open a can of beer for himself. In later years he switched primarily to highballs, but the bulk of the memories of my younger years include cans of Olympia beer, the discarded pull tab and the way Grandpa would make a funnel out of his curled up first finger and pour salt into the small opening on the top of the can. Often before he added the salt he would give me a very small amount of beer in my own glass, and I would shake salt into mine once he was done seasoning his can. I was only allowed a very small amount of beer, and of course it was many years before I understood the reasons for my small ration. 

By now my attention was ping-ponging back and forth between my husband and the man behind him. I threw caution to the wind and approached the stranger. I excused myself and explained that I noticed he had put salt in his beer. He smiled, gestured toward his glass and asked, "Do you want some of my beer?" I laughed. Grandpa had also been quite a flirt. Even lying in a hospital bed hooked up to tubes and monitors he could make the nurses giggle. Born and raised in Arkansas, Grandpa left home in 1941 to join the Army Air Corp. and never lived at home again. Even outside of his home state, he could certainly turn on the southern charm.

I explained that no, I did not want any of his beer, but that my grandfather used to put salt in his beer as well. I wondered how the man had learned to season his beer. I told him about the small rations I was allowed to have as a child, and how I was often bereft at the parties I went to in my youth when the beer was plentiful but the salt was nowhere to be found. He laughed at that. He explained that his father and grandfather had put salt in their beers, so he simply followed what he had learned as a youngster. I asked him where he was from. He hesitated for just a moment; I could see him struggling to explain where he lived now, or where he lived before, but he ultimately settled on, "I was born and raised in Arkansas." There it was, the defining connection between the stranger in front of me and my beloved grandfather and their shared love of salty beer. We spoke another moment and I sat back down. 

Grandpa's southern accent had faded over the 60 years that he had lived in California. I struggled for most of my childhood to hear the accent that my friends and family claimed he had. When I think back on the brief and pleasant encounter with the stranger in the Mexican restaurant, I realize that I heard no accent in his speech. I suppose that his voice, like his beer, was only lightly seasoned.

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