The first time we shared a beer, or rather ten beers, neither of us could drink. I, because I had been on the wagon for the better part of three years. She, because she was five.
It was at a big party put on by her dad. There was the obligatory keg and more than a hundred guests. She had been fascinated by the tapping of the keg and the spew of foam. Her dad had noticed her curiosity. “Romy,” he said when she got too close to the tap, “don’t pour the beer.”
I watched the whole thing from a safe distance and said nothing, but sooner rather than later dad got pulled away by the festivities, leaving me, the teetotaler, to fill up all those red plastic cups. And fill them I did, with Romy watching shyly, but not too shyly, from the edge of the hedge. Pretty soon the drunks, I mean the guests, had as much beer as their cups could handle, and with the arrival of the taco truck they migrated down the hill to cut the bitter beer with an infusion of salt and salsa.
I looked at her and she looked at me. It was just the two of us. “Want some beer?” I said. She nicked her head and came over to the tap.
“How do I do it?” she asked.
I showed her, and we filled up a cup all the way to the top. “Okay,” I said. “Now fill up mine.” She did.
We stood there looking at each other, grinning, and nervously glancing down the hill to see if dad had noticed our shenanigans. He was holding court, though, and it was pretty far away. “Now what?” she asked.
“I dunno,” I said. “I don’t drink beer.”
“Me neither. But it’s fun squirting out from the thingy,” she said.
“Let’s dump it over here,” I suggested, and we committed the ultimate beer sin: we poured out our cups under the hedge.
“Let’s do it again!” she said.
She filled our cups with more beer, and we laughed, looking down the hill, giggling but a shade worried that we’d get discovered. After filling and tossing several more cups, a drunk came up and requested a refill. I obliged.
Much later I went down the hill to pay my respects to the godfather and say goodnight. “Thanks for the party,” I said.
“You have fun?” he asked, eyes twinkling.
“Romy seemed to enjoy herself.”
“Ah, yeah,” I said.
He grinned a knowing grin.
As the years go by
Later that year he moved to North County San Diego. Over the years I’d go down from time to time to ride bikes and drink his beer, having fallen long and hard from that impossibly unstable wagon. Romy would invariably pop in when we were drinking and would want to talk about books. She read everything, remembered everything, talked about everything. I’d call her precocious except she wasn’t “pre.” She was fully informed and alert, and ended up giving me books to read, probably to improve what she’d identified as a seriously deficient intellect.
What I always noticed, though, wasn’t simply the brilliance and the fully formed mind. I noticed her and her dad. Something very profound and warm existed between them, as strong and evident as that day when we’d poured beer on the sly, which hadn’t been on the sly after all. He was all-seeing. She was all-loving. The father and daughter were in harmony with the world and had been from the date of issue.
On Sunday I finished the Belgian Waffle Ride, riding through a puffed-up arch, the scanner notching my time at almost nine hours, and there was nothing on my mind except the thought that I could get off my bike and have a beer. Across the way I saw Romy and her dad. She’d been waiting anxiously at the finish line for him to come through, which he had done, almost two hours before me.
When he got there, the moment was captured in pixels by Kristy Morrow, one of the finest photographers around. It was more than a tired old guy crossing the finish line. It was something far more special than that. I’d tell you what it was, but since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll spare you the extra two thousand in verbiage and let you figure it out for yourself.
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