Small Town Celebrants

William Hoelscher, co-owner & host of Taps Off Main

One kind thought, one kind word, one kind deed, one at a time, and the world will be transformed. Jean Maalouf

We set out to commemorate our 42nd anniversary on the sidewalk outside one of Columbia, Tennessee’s pubs. Though nary a shared parent or grandparent engaged in such a milieu, I’ve read that the roots of the tavern can be traced back to the Roman Empire where similar assemblages were stationed every 20 miles or so. Dependable social relief comes to mind.

We plan to order from the usual categories: for D – a stout beer and for myself – the IPA of the day.

Arriving downtown we consider specifics but rely on our personal pub meister William. We knew him when he was still wet behind the ears with bright ideas and an even brighter smile. He has realized a dream and knows our predilections for brewski.

We enter on the west side across from the one hundred year old court house where a convincing bell rings in the hour. Without ceasing its emotional tone brackets our days.

A handsomely extra-sized gentlemen is seated on the entry bench. “Beautiful evening,” he says. “Yes, where are you from?” says D. “North Carolina,” he nods. “We stopped in to see relatives in an even smaller town down the road,” he adds with a frown. We guess it: “Santa Fe, pronounced Fee?” We all laugh at the tired revelation.

Inside we move past an Ikea-like table crowded with confident Generation Z-ers who hang over the space that once occupied Mrs. Helm’s artfully arranged estate jewelry case. She had a habit of displaying pieces that she purchased for sale to elevate her provincial community.

For many years the pub was a haven for fine jewelry and the site of wedding registrations including ours. The tattooed hipsters lounge and assess the line up of craft beers. I suppress the urge to announce that in 1966 my ears were pierced in the basement under their table.

A familiar acquaintance steps up to take note of my grey hair and headband. “Yes – I blink – It has come to that or if you prefer, I now have better ways to spend my time.” “My husband would not like me to go grey,” she says as she examines my hairdo over her foamed glass. I glance at his snow white hair.

After we place our order at the elegant bar, we walk toward the side door. With that I see a high school friend who despite memory loss jumps up to greet me. We call each other by name and smile-out our connection which started in Girl Scouts. Her mother was our troop leader. Badges were our game.

At the next table sits the public defender. “Been fishing lately?” he winks. The inside joke is that he was on hand for elemental instruction the only time I ever fished for my supper.

Our frosty pint glasses are served and we settle them on parasoled tables. “Here we are,” I say. D smiles. “Juicy fruit,” he sighs. The line from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest registers his complete satisfaction.

It rained the day we got married down the street in the First Presbyterian Church. As we sit in silence, I become teary as the sun begins to break through the clouds just as it did when we said our vows. We toast the occasion and position ourselves to sip and see a new fangled situation in our hamlet: rush hour traffic.

We glance about to discover a sophisticated couple a table over. We are fans of theirs. They have careers in illustration and publishing. We embraced them after a move to our town when fleeing the big city, they committed to a pre-American Civil War home.

In the ensuing years they often issued invitations to their home gallery where various artists showed. He perfected artisan pizzas for sale while a white puppy named Sugar wandered the scene.

Eventually they moved back to the city but kept their old timey digs. We thanked them for their recent quarantine return back to rural life. Sugar was still with them, now a full grown pit bull who occasionally jumps up to herd people in and out of the pub.

The four of us make small talk worthy of intergenerational seekers and then consider the breeze. I publicize: “It’s our anniversary and here’s a story.”

“We were on our honeymoon, and D was off ordering tropical drinks,” I recall. “Sitting on the edge of a beach in Virgin Gorda, I saw an old woman nearby. She began to stare at me,” I say.

“It’s our anniversary,” she declared. “We’ve come back to the scene of the crime fifty years later.” she said. “What a coincidence,” I murmured as I considered the possibilities.

D goes inside to order another beer and pay the tab. We have other plans – on to another pub. Our village now has multiple sites for beer drinking, a shocking turn of events since the premises was ruled for decades by a church faction who disapproved of libations.

An elementary classmate once gave voice to the indoctrination and serenaded our yellow school bus-audience: “don’t drink booze, don’t drink booze – save your money for a pair of shoes.”

The couple slides over to join me. “We invited ourselves,” they say as D greets them in gratitude. “Our friends already paid the tab,” he says. We lean in and grin and drink another round together. Sugar watches over us.