There’s a Beer that Tastes Like June 1981 by Harry Lee James

Once upon a time I was a soldier living in a small town on the eastern most edge of what was known at the time as West Germany.

Photo of house covered in Ivy
West Germany Herborn October 1988 by Barbara Ann Spengler. CC license.

To the East, a little over a mile away, lay a continuous line of fences, mines, walls, watch towers and enemy soldiers that stretched north and south as far as the eye could see.

All of that vast array of potential violence marked the end of an old war that waited to be resumed if enough reasons and grievances could be sounded to wake it up from its long slumber.

But no war was coming on that day in June of 1981.

There’s a photo from that day that shows me sitting on the back steps of our house looking out beyond the camera and onto an unseen brick patio.

The house had been built in the late 1920’s, suffered little during the last War and so was there to accept our gentle occupation (there were four of us in total) in that summer of 1981.

To my right and through an old vine encumbered metal gate lay a large yard with a fish pond in the middle. Tall trees and bushes enclosed both yard and patio within the boundaries of a quiet, green oasis.

An old red dome-topped tripod grill stood hot and ready on the patio. From the kitchen behind me wandered the sounds of food preparation, conversation and music. Soon after the photo, the photographer put down the camera and squeezed past me into the kitchen and beyond.

I feigned interest in the fire on the grill as a hand came over my shoulder and handed me a cold beer.

A beer ordered by someone, ignored by everyone and left to sit until discovered the previous day by myself and another who drew the short stick for House Beer Supply Detail.

On that day, as per our duty, we’d walked down the street to our local beer store to acquire a drink suitable for our cookout the next day. It had to be a beer that met our stringent standards, meaning that the cost of a case was well within our available funds.

As we wandered about the store we came upon a somewhat lonely looking case of beer lounging in the cheap aisle.

It looked well traveled.

Sort of dusty and banged up a bit. Twelve bottles with a hint of red rust peeking out from under some of the caps, but it had that feel. Like it had a history, a story to tell.

We pointed it out to the owner.

He quickly warmed to our interest and explained how this had been a special order, never picked up, very hard to get from beyond the aforementioned border and now appeared to be almost as hard to get rid of. He was willing to offer a discount just to clear the space.

Discount, that distant but still likable cousin of Free, was always a deal clincher for the fiscally discernible soldier.

We took it.

We carried the case home and loaded the bottles into our refrigerator, letting them cool through the night and into the afternoon of the cookout. Now one was sliding over my shoulder, cold in my hand, a soft chilled breath preceding its arrival.

Photo of fully pint of beer
Beer by Jeremy Keith. CC license.

I took a drink.

It flashed over my tongue and whispered down my throat. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and felt Mr. Elliot’s still point of the turning world pin me to this place, this time, this taste.

As if by magic a wondrous meal soon filled the kitchen table. With a gathering of voices we all sat down to eat, drink and live the day as if it was made to last forever.

Of course it wasn’t.

But to this day, when I open a bottle of that beer and take that first taste, there I am again. A warm summer’s day in June of 1981, a young solider on the edge of an old war, waiting for the next one, at the still point of the turning world, at peace.

Harry Lee James
Harry Lee James has been a farmer, soldier, civil servant and now lives as a writer and evolving artist sharing a wonderfully entangled workspace with his wife Michelle, who designs and makes jewelry.

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One thought on “There’s a Beer that Tastes Like June 1981 by Harry Lee James”

  1. Good story, Mr. Jams. Beer is always a good plot device. At least it encourages me to keep reading.
    It’s not that the taste is anything special, it is the memories it evokes.

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