Over A Beer by Bill Pike

Our 86-year-old next door neighbor occasionally will ask me, “When are we going to get a beer?”

Richmond, like other towns and cities across America has experienced an explosion in the growth and development of craft breweries.  In any direction, a beer lover can find a local brewery with a uniqueness all its own, but bonded by making and serving beer.beer

So on a beautiful, but warm Thursday, May 3, I asked our neighbor if he is willing to ride over to Final Gravity, a small brewery in the Lakeside community of Henrico County. He accepts.

Within a couple of minutes, we are organized and ready to depart. I am exceptionally careful on these excursions. Even though, he doesn’t think so, my neighbor’s mobility and balance are not what they used to be. So, I’m with him every step.

I know before this trip is over, I’m going to hear about Richbrau.

Richbrau came to life in Richmond in 1933. The brewery brewed beer for Richmonders until it closed in 1969. My neighbor told me there was always a tap of beer available for Richbrau employees. The only rule was— do not over indulge.

As we drove toward Final Gravity, sure enough, Richbrau surfaced in our conversation.

Somehow the Lakeside community has held on. Part of that holding on was grounded in the opening several years ago of the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. It has become quite a showplace in our state.

We park in a parking lot that is the home for the Lakeside Farmers Market. It is a slow, but steady walk to the brewery.

Final Gravity started as supply store for home brewers. A few years ago, the owner decided to showcase his brewing skills and opened the brewery. So now, the location is both a store for home brewers and a successful craft brewery.

I scan the list of offerings. I’m looking for a beer that will satisfy my neighbor’s old school beer palate. The order is placed, our beers promptly poured, and we find an empty table.

My neighbor takes a sip, and he proclaims, “This is a good beer.”

I explain to him the home brewing store and how this place became a brewery. In his hey day, my neighbor was a commercial builder. Even as we sit, his still keen eyes scan the bones of this building.

He talks about the upcoming college graduation of one of his granddaughters. I sense his pride, and he reminds me she is graduating early—completed her requirements in three years.

And then out of the blue, my neighbor shared with me the story of this granddaughter’s brother. He is in jail.

The teenage years for this young man had been a challenge for him and his family. School was a battle of ups and downs. Both public and private schools were a part of that journey. Eventually, a plan was developed that allowed him to also pursue an early graduation track. That plan worked, but life after high school consisted of more challenges.

He encountered skirmishes with individuals and difficulty at times complying with law enforcement.

As his grandfather, my neighbor had many conversations with his grandson. He tried to offer wisdom, guidance, and prayer. If any of that counsel was absorbed, it was short-lived.

His life continued a trek of bad choices. The grandson favored driving an old, beat up, pickup truck that apparently had no windshield.

Late one night, a young lady was riding with him. The grandson wrecked the vehicle, and the young lady was thrown from the truck. She was killed.

In seconds, the lives of two families were impacted forever. The grandson is serving seven years for his careless and reckless ways.

I could hear the sadness and disappointment in my neighbor’s words as he shared this story. I can only guess how his grandson’s parents must feel,  and I have no concept of the grief the family of the young lady must experience.

Growing up is never easy. I had my challenges.

And you know, I still have my challenging moments.

Moments when advice and wisdom have fallen on my deaf ears too. I think about all of the mistakes I have made—the people I have hurt, let down, and disappointed.

I wish I hadn’t. But, I did. I wish I could correct. But, I can’t.

Growing old isn’t easy either.

My neighbor is as stubborn as a turtle who emerged from the thick woods only to find a two lane country road to cross. The turtle is determined to make it to the other side.

In a similar journey, my neighbor is determined to stay in his home. Both the turtle and my neighbor have tough journeys ahead of them.

We finished our beer.

A group of runners is gathering outside the brewery for their weekly Thursday afternoon run.

We make the walk back to the car without a stumble.

Psalm 143:10 states:  “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Let your good spirit lead me on a level path.”

I hope my neighbor and his grandson will find the good spirit of God to lead them on a level path.

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