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After Work: What Hit The Ceiling?

...Anything that required buying a carload of equipment to produce something that could purchased simply, easily and for less money was right up my dad’s alley. And beer making provided an extra kick...

Dona Gibbs tells of unnatural disasters on the home front.

For more of Dona's fizz-bang-pop words please click on After Work in the menu on this page.

Psst. Whoosh. Splat.

I looked up at the ceiling where a damp circle was spreading, dark and sour.

And I looked at my dad, beer bottle and opener in hand. The beer had erupted and sprayed the freshly painted kitchen ceiling. My mother had just put the finishing touches on the molding a few days ago.

“Let’s not tell your mother, not, uhmm, right away,” his blue eyes crinkled at the corners as he grinned down at six-year-old me standing there shifting from one foot to the other.

The explosion of the beer bottle would be slight tremor compared to her volcanic reaction and a splatter of beer was minor to what was figuratively going to end up on the kitchen ceiling.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the bottle had popped its cap. It was home brew, mixed up by my dad and his buddy.

They were great friends. Both mechanical engineers, they’d gotten to know each other on a project they were sharing. The buddy, who originally hailed from Alsace Lorraine, professed to know a little something about beer and how one could produce a credible, drinkable product in a home kitchen.

Anything that required buying a carload of equipment to produce something that could purchased simply, easily and for less money was right up my dad’s alley. And beer making provided an extra kick for these two engineers: they got to use their slide rules and scratch away with their No. 4HB pencils, figuring out the correct specific gravity.

They’d toiled away in the kitchen, pre-paint job, stirring and boiling. When it came time to bottle, they gleefully capped their product, having borrowed a bottle-capping device from yet another engineer.

I kept quiet for a week or two but the beer didn’t.

Pop. Bang. Fizz. Bang. Crack. Tinkle. The kitchen turned into a disaster area as one by one the beer exploded under the kitchen sink, sending an ooze of foam seeping out onto the kitchen floor.

It was two o’clock in the morning and it sounded as if we were under attack. My mother, my dad, the cocker spaniel and I came running to the scene. The cocker spaniel viewed the mess and in his panic added a little puddle of his own, as was his unfortunate habit in tense times.

Here, let me pause in the story and add that home brewing in our state and county may or may not have been legal back then in the early 1950s. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, states, counties and, in some cases, municipalities could decide where, when alcohol could be sold and what could be produced for home use. It still means that the United States has areas with a patchwork of “wet” and “dry”. Laws range from “No, no, no” to New Orleans’ allowing drinks to consumed on the street in that in fine old Southern tradition is known as a “Go cup.”

The questionable legality was only one more point of contention in my parents’ discussion of the night’s event as we mopped up beer and doggy puddles and picked up shards of amber glass.

My mother’s blue-hued tirade had almost spun out when she sat back on her heels and gazed up at the kitchen ceiling.

“Now how did beer get all the way up there?”

She asked and I told her.

My dad shook his head and grinned.

Years passed and I went away to college. One semester a famous novelist came to campus as a visiting professor. He told us that he didn’t really think that writing could be taught and that for him it was a tortuous road of self-discovery each time he sat down at the typewriter. He found Chapel Hill, the University town charming but a bit lonely, he said, so he invited a group of students over to his small shabby house. I was among them.

He served us home brew. Like his prose, it was well crafted. Maybe I was enthralled by sitting in the book-bedecked living room of a famous novelist but I liked the beer.

Next visit home, I told my dad that maybe he should try brewing up another batch. Maybe we’d have better luck and ,after all, the beer explosion had been fifteen long years ago.

He shook his head. He was on to bigger projects. Down in the basement, he had a cowhide he was tanning.

And it required big barrels, smelly chemicals, a slide rule and a No. 4HB pencil.


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