We were not drunks. Yet, all our lives, whenever St. Patrick’s Day rolled around, people would talk about liquor and the curse of the Irish. They'd point to the high rate of alcoholism in Ireland and the number of drunk and disorderly arrests at the annual parade.
True enough, my five brothers and I were Irish, as were our three pals who lived down the street, and our high school buddies on the next block. And, sure, we were drinkers. But drunks? No.
As teens growing up in the ’60s, we simply liked beer: six-packs, quart bottles, 12-packs, half-quart cans, kegs, gallon Thermos jugs, coolers, or maybe a laundry tub packed with two cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a 25-pound block of ice that tumbled heavily out of the coin dispenser built into the side wall of the liquor store.
We were not drunks because drinking beer was just what you did on a Friday or Saturday night when you were 16 and 18 years old and you grew up with beer, probably since your father worked hard painting houses or maybe he sold cars at the Pontiac dealership and he kept a 12-pack of Hamm’s in the fridge to cool off after a long day and to have on hand in case a neighbor stopped by.
Real drunks, we figured, were old people who developed cirrhosis or movie stars who drank champagne and were on their fourth marriage, or, as Uncle Eddie told us, the bums and the winos who begged him for a quarter downtown.
But definitely not us. We were clean-cut Irish-American kids whose parents voted for John Kennedy and who had yard parties with high balls and vodka-tonics, and we'd better not touch any of it, though a sip of somebody's icy cold Meister Brau was OK. And when you graduated high school, a barrel of Budweiser might be delivered for a one-time celebration and rite of passage for you and your friends, as long as the old man kept an eye on things and nobody left the premises.
Hell, it was just cold beer, not the hard stuff, so you could have a good time and still drive to another party and back home at the end of the night.
Sometimes you got pulled over, but no police would go through the impossible paperwork of writing up a DUI, though if someone were weaving badly or drag racing, you might get a speeding ticket and your beer confiscated, as Officer Doherty cussed you out and ordered you back home.
We laughed about it later.
Laughed also about the time we spent a fortune on beer at the ballpark and were grabbed by the cops for running onto the field and sliding into second base.
Or the night we were pulled over by three squads and one of us told six uniformed officers that they were uneducated so-and-sos who could kiss our Irish you-know-whats.
No laughing, however, about the Friday before Christmas when O.E.E. died instantly in a wreck on the interstate. He had gone to an office party and had gotten pretty "pie-eyed," as was told at the wake, and he had gotten on the expressway going the wrong way and had blasted into several cars before he could get turned around, his trunk filled with Christmas gifts for his wife and his son.
He was a great guy and a great father, and we memorialized him at Panos's Lounge, lining up mugs of Heineken, filling one for O.E.E. in front of an empty chair.
But it didn't mean we were drunks. Some of us would just sometimes forget their limit, the way O.E.E. had. Or when one of our younger guys woke up in his car surrounded by police after he had fallen asleep, he said, and plowed into a parked car. He wasn't hurt, but the cops roughed him up some.
A couple more of us didn't make it, but that's life. We had our kicks, and those of us left still enjoy a beer. Not as much or as often as back in the day. Half of us are divorced, but isn’t that average? Some quit drinking beer, and one or two had to go to AA. But what family doesn’t have somebody like that?
We were not drunks, but simply fellas making their way and trying to make life fun. Why don't they write that about the Irish?
We didn't require beer. But it helped us stick together, the way classic-car restoration or Civil War history or golf unites other men. Beer made us enjoy each other, as it seemed to help us stay funny, brave, loyal, strong, sexy, musical, patriotic, honest, or proud — attributes you could see right there in the beer commercials on TV. Not that those things weren't already inside of us. Beer helped us feel them.
David McGrath is formerly of Hayward, is the author of “The Territory,” and is a regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.