Recently after some of the tougher visits with my father, I’ve made a detour to my favorite go-to, which is Jack’s Abby in Framingham. It’s a beer hall with relentlessly knowledgeable serving staff, a huge and newly outfitted brewery, better-than-passable bar food, and most importantly, a long bar with plenty of stools. Yesterday my family was away in Maine, so rather than come back to an empty house, I detoured there instead.
Jack’s Abby mostly makes lagers; I discovered them about 3 years ago and they’ve been my go-to beer pretty much ever since. They moved to a downtown Framingham location about 2 years ago from a more remote outpost, and although I’d been there a few times since they opened, I didn’t realize how close they were to my dad’s place. I actually re-discovered them during my dad’s most recent hospital stay at Metrowest hospital not far away. I didn’t realize how not far away it was until I looked up how to get there on Google Maps, only to discover that the brew hall was 0.2 miles away. Less than 1,000 feet actually. How did I not realize that before?
Anyway, I arrived and the place was mobbed. There were no seats at the bar. Then I looked again and noticed a lone barstool jammed in a corner between 2 couples. Ordinarily I am not that guy. Nowadays I am feeling less constrained by those kinds of social norms – so I went for it. I jammed into the corner and asked them all to move so that I could have the spot. One couple thought it was pretty funny. The other displayed a reaction that can be described best as more typical in Massachusetts than in states where people have a sense of humor. Just to tweak them further, I took a selfie.
I sat for about a half hour and had 2 half pints, one of the spicier version of their dark lager, and one of the fruitier version of their hoppy lager. They were good – the beers there usually are, even the ones that are experiments. But really what I had was time alone without actually having to be alone. Anonymity in crowds is one of my go-to comforts. I paid $20 for those 2 drinks and a salad; what that $20 really bought me was a transition from being by my father’s bedside to pivoting back to my regular environment.
I am interested in brewing so I talked to the eager bartenders, who never seem to be the same people twice, about what’s coming next and why certain things get brewed at certain times of year and what day parts are busy and whether those 2 people across the bar are on as awkward of a first date as it seemed and if the Sirius station is going to play any song by Tears for Fears, why “Head Over Heels?”. Really I just wanted to talk about anything besides hospice or the paperwork I had recently signed that no child ever wants to sign, but someday might be forced to.
Jack’s Abby has been very good to me in recent weeks – yes, the beer is good, but the corner barstool is especially good. I have my beer and a bite, let the din wash over my fears and return me to regular life, and then am on my way.
Some time ago, I mentioned that in the catalog of stuff in my dad’s apartment, I almost always keep beer in the refrigerator. Specifically, Smoke and Dagger black lager from Jack’s Abby brewery in Framingham. Sweet, smoky, not too heavy, drinkable if you need more than one – which as a caregiver, sometimes you go. This was back last August before my dad broke his hip, therefore keeping me away from his apartment for a few months.
So when he moved back home in December and I resumed regular visits in January, I resumed the habit until I ran out. I didn’t buy more – truth is, I felt guilty that my visits would seem like something that necessitated taking the edge off. I once had an aunt who was challenging to deal with, and I occasionally would buy her Absolut vodka with which she would then make cocktails for me during my dinner visits. I don’t even really like vodka but with her, it helped a lot. We all have relatives like this.
A few weeks ago, my father noticed that I wasn’t having a beer at his place anymore. “Why,” he asked me. I told him that I didn’t really want to keep beer there and that it was fine. Yet another example of my not exactly being true to what I wanted or needed — more on this from my post about my visit to New York with my daughter Sophie.
So, unexpectedly, he stops and tells me that he wants me to enjoy coming to visit him, and that he likes that I relax and have a beer while talking with him. You should keep beer here, he said. I insist. I want you to look forward to coming to see me.
He doesn’t really drink at all, so this surprised me. And it surprised me for another reason. Sometimes as a caregiver you look for any scrap of any appreciation of not only what you are doing, but even just that you are there. Once upon a time, just their being there was all you hoped for, and it is strange and wonderful when it happens to you.
My beer of choice now is the Joshua Norton Imperial Stout – Untapped review here. I sit on the couch and sip one while we watch a movie together. Lately we have watched Ninotchka. Twice – I think he forgot that we had seen it already.
One of my favorite things, maybe my favorite thing, is to hang out with a friend and have a beer and just be. He and I never had this before I became a sandwich generation man. Don’t care. We do it now, and beer never tasted so good.