Mother’s Day 2021: No idea how you loved me

I remember being told that the delivery was challenging. Despite difficulty, on that June morning nearly 68 years ago, you brought me into the world.

A lot has happened since cancer robbed your last breath on August 31, 1992. Yet, somehow, for 39 years, you took care of me.  This was despite all my imperfections. 

As an infant, at times, I was a light sleeper. 

Also, along the way, I was prone to ear infections.

I was very adept at car sickness. Sunday afternoon rides to Greensboro to visit relatives were often treacherous.

Potty training was a challenge too—I was a bed wetter.

Additionally, as I grew, I was overweight, quite chubby. That meant you had to look extra hard to find jeans/pants labeled husky.

Like all Pikes, I was stubborn. I still recall the cold winter morning when I refused to put on a coat. My father who loved me as much as you, took care of my stubbornness, I deserved it.

For certain, my years in school drove you nuts. Only one year, sixth grade, I made the honor roll and earned perfect attendance. After that year, my brain disappeared.

Sometimes in the summer, during the teenage years, your slug killer, a can of beer would disappear from the refrigerator. Those slugs crawling around in your flowers thanked me.

And, I broke the law too. 

High school homecoming parade fall of 1970, for my friend, John Huffman, I drove a Cadillac convertible down main street in Burlington. John and Maggie Runyon sat on top of the back seat of that caddy waving to the crowd. 

When we drove past you and your co-workers at the office where you worked, I thought your eyes were going to pop out of your head. That’s because you knew I didn’t have a driver’s license.

I was impatient with you after the December 1972 car crash that could have taken your life. 

That concussion and other injuries were slow to heal. I could tell you weren’t the same. I should have been more patient with your healing. I wanted the mother back that I knew before the crash. No excuses, I was simply stupid.

By some miracle, I did graduate from high school. Found one college in America that would accept a fool. 

Married one of the Cloud sisters, and I know you remember your now grown grandchildren. Luckily, Lauren, Andrew, and Elizabeth learned lots of good habits from their mother. 

Now, you have four great grandchildren that I know you would adore. No question, you would spoil them rotten just like my wife, the commander supreme does.

Sometimes, I catch up with my pal, John Huffman. Inevitably in our conversations, one point will be made—how lucky we were to grow up when we did. And we always, always, acknowledge in those talks the key—the love from our parents.

I remember you once telling me, maybe during your last days on earth, “I only asked God for one thing, let me live long enough to see my children grown and successful.”

And while, I don’t know this for a fact, I would assume those words might have been planted by your mother, Margaret Harrod. She was quite a role model.

I keep coming back to this truth—you loved me even when I was at my worst, when disappointment weighed in your heart, and I’m sure you thought many times why did I bring this lug into the world?

And perhaps, that is what makes mothers unique— they find a way to love a son, a daughter— when no else can. 

I have no idea how you loved me. But, I am forever thankful for your courage, your strength to keep loving me.

Today, Mother’s Day, I hope your angel wings take a rest in the wild blue yonder.

 I love you.

My mother and me circa 1954 photo provided by Bill Pike

Hey God, we’re weary down here

It was close to 9:30 on the evening of Saturday, April 17. My phone rang. The name of the senior pastor at our church appeared on the screen.

“Bill, this is Larry, I apologize for calling you late, but I have some bad news,” he said.

There was a slight pause, and then with no hesitation, he stated:  “Jason Coats died this afternoon.”

He continued, “Jason had gone out for a run. He had a heart attack and died. His uncle called to notify me.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. 

Jason was the chairman of the Trustees for our church. 

Since September, we had talked by phone, exchanged e-mails, participated in Zoom meetings with the Trustees, and during the last few weeks, we had actually met at the church to discuss the work of the Trustees.

Larry asked me to notify the Trustees. As soon as I hung up, I pulled out my computer to send an e-mail. Since it was late, I let the Trustees know they could call me on Sunday morning.

On Sunday morning, the vice-chair of the Trustees called. Catherine, like me, and the rest of our church couldn’t believe the loss. We talked for several minutes. Even though Catherine had worked with Jason since September, she told me because of the pandemic—“I had never met him in person.”

To look at Jason, he was the picture of health. There was no hint of a potential problem.

I thought of all the runs and races I had participated in during my old life. Not once, no matter the distance, weather conditions, or how I felt did I ever think I wouldn’t cross the finish line or complete the workout, and not come back home.

I can only imagine how Jason’s wife and their two children were feeling. Numb, crushed, heartbroken, fearful, and weary come to mind.

On the following Saturday, a private memorial service complete with COVID-19 protocols was held for family and close friends. The service was also live streamed, but that afternoon 46 people were in attendance in our sanctuary to pay their respects.

The service was beautiful from the heartfelt table display of personal items capturing the favorites of Jason’s life, a stunning video of photographs of family and friends, and the tearful tributes to Jason by two close friends and his wife, Valerie. 

Their emotional stories were just what they needed to be—unique to their memories and experiences with Jason. Through their words, it was clear that love impacted everything that Jason did in his 46 years.

In Beth Macy’s book Dopesick, a weary mother who lost her son(Scott) to a drug overdose confronts the young man(Spencer) who provided the lethal drugs. In the federal court sentencing hearing, the mother looks Spencer in the eyes and ask him a series of stinging questions:

“Spencer, will you be there to visit me when I am old and lonely? Neither will Scott.

“Spencer, will you be there to eat dinner with me, mow my lawn, and wish me happy birthday? Neither will Scott.

“Spencer, will you be there to hold my hand when I am sick and dying? Neither will Scott.” (Macy page 115)

No one who spoke at Jason’s funeral pointed a finger of blame at God for this tragic loss.

 But, I imagine, being human like me, they have questions for God. Questions like the grief stricken mother asked in the courtroom.

“God, where were you on that Saturday afternoon, where was Jason’s guardian angel, where was a Good Samaritan, where was your simple saving touch?”

Just in case you haven’t noticed God, losing people like Jason wears on us, it wears us down, it makes us weary.

We have been worn weary by the pandemic, senseless acts of gun violence, our incivility toward each other, our inability to solve the divides that grow between us,  the starving in Yemen, and the civil unrest in Myanmar.

In truth God, no matter where we look in this world, there are challenges, challenges that wear people down— causing them to lose hope.

Isaiah 40 verse 28 states:  “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.”

You can tell me to take a hike, but I have to ask God—are you “tired and weary?”

There is no shame in answering truthfully, but I can understand how you might be tired and weary. 

God, you are dealing nonstop with a world in constant turmoil and chaos, a world that seems far removed from you. A world that has lost its bearings, its compass, a world that does not know which way to turn.

And, God, I have to tell you, when we lose a person like Jason— I lose my bearings, my compass. I don’t know which way to turn because I look to you to prevent a loss like this. 

I have bugged you about this before—why, why, why, why?

I do not understand.

How can an evil plotting terrorist continue to live, and a church loving, God fearing gentleman like Jason lose his life.

Yes, I know, I’m being a pain.

 But, I worry about you being tired and weary—why?

 Well, quite simply, I sense that you are tired and weary.

And that’s because at this very moment, I believe many people are tired and weary too.

At my mother’s funeral, one of the pastors read these words from Isaiah 40:

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

God, that weariness out there touches us all. And as discouraged as I sometimes feel, I’m going to hang on to one word in that scripture—hope.

I have always liked the words of screenwriter, Frank Darabont, from the movie, The Shawshank Redemption

In the letter that Andy wrote to his friend, Red, he said: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best thing, and no good thing ever dies.”

With much sadness in our hearts, everyday, we lose good people like Jason Coats. 

I will never understand those losses. 

But, I believe the challenge after a loss is to inch forward. To inch forward, we must carry with us Jason’s love, his goodness, his passion. Those good, essential qualities can’t die.

And I am sure that even though God will not admit that he is tired and weary, I can’t let God’s goodness, his hope, his strength die in me too.

Yes, I am weary, but I will find renewal in hope, and I pray that somehow we will all find that hope too.

That hope is the only way.

Rest in peace Jason, and God hold his family.

A pretty spring afternoon, photo taken in Summerfield, North Carolina on the afternoon of Saturday, April 17 by Bill Pike

The Beer Whiner: Are you kidding me craft brewers? Seltzers and low calorie beers!

Back on April 6, 2021, the Brewers Association released their annual report assessing  how craft brewers fared in 2020 a year disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Not surprisingly, volume share, retail dollar value, barrels produced, brewing jobs, and volume change were all down.

 Also noted in the report is that draught beer sales fell 40%. This is a direct impact of the pandemic shutting down bars, restaurants, and tasting rooms. But, the article also notes that the pandemic forced craft brewers to put on their thinking caps to find new and different ways to reach consumers. 

Interestingly, in 2020, new openings of craft breweries outpaced closings. Although a challenging year to launch a new brewery,  there were 716 openings and 346 closings. I am certain there is lots of pain in those closings, and while I am no expert, I would assume that the fallout from the pandemic will bring more closings in 2021.

When I check out the display cases in local grocery stores, I am amazed at the explosion of seltzers. I am not a seltzer drinker, but everyone seems to be pursuing that market share. This includes the big box brewers and craft brewers of all sizes. The upsurge in seltzers, parallels a decline in beer sales, and this makes  me wonder what this shift means for producers of ciders?

If you doubt seltzers are hot, in a press release on February 5, 2021, Anheuser-Busch is investing $1 billion to modernize their plants, and $50 million will go to increase their ability to brew seltzers. Once again, this investment in seltzers can be linked to a decline in beer sales.

Also, I note in those display cases something I never thought I would see—craft brewers offering low calorie beers. A craft brewer brewing and selling a light beer seems so counterintuitive to one of  their original passions— not to be like the big box brewers.

While I am disappointed that craft brewers are offering seltzers and low calorie beers, I recognize that these moves are about cash flow and in some instances survival.

And, in thinking about survival, I believe we must ask how many breweries can a community support?

 Over the last few years in my community, Richmond, Virginia breweries have continued to open. They have opened at such a pace that I have not been able to visit these newbies. I often wonder if some might close before I have a chance for a visit. 

And, yet, some experts believe that over saturation isn’t a problem. I wonder what the owners of a failed brewery might say to that reasoning? 

For many years, Anchor Brewing in San Francisco has been a favorite of mine. I still remember my first Anchor Steam Beer from a trip to California in the summer of 1980. When our oldest daughter lived in Chicago, I could always find some different Anchor beers to sample that were not available in Virginia.

But, I was saddened when in August of 2017 Anchor was purchased by the giant Japanese brewer Sapporo. Now, I’m wounded a bit more with the January 26, 2021 announcement that all of the iconic Anchor labels are going away. New labels, new graphics will now grace bottles, cans, and packaging. 

Anchor has been around for 125 years, tweaking packaging is one thing, I just hope they don’t tweak the beer recipes. This new packaging is all about marketing. The goal is to grab the attention of new beer drinkers in a different way from the previous iconic Anchor labels.  

But also buried in this flurry of activity are several new beers including “Little Weekend” —Anchor’s move into low calorie beers. Again something I never expected to see, and a beer that I  whiningly never plan to try.

And while on the topic of whining, I’ll come back to one of my pet peeves about craft brewers—the pricing of their products.

Recently, I was surveying the beer, cider, and seltzer displays inside the coolers in one of our local grocery stores. In case you haven’t noticed, most craft brewers have shifted away from single bomber bottles that offered 16 or more ounces of beer. 

Those bomber bottles have been converted into 4 packs of cans that hold 16 ounces of beer a piece. I’m making the assumption that aluminum cans are more cost friendly to the brewer than the bomber bottles, plus they fit better on a display shelf.

I took note of four displays of 16 ounce cans by four different brewers. Three of the brewers were located here in Richmond, and one was an import. The pricing range was as follows:  $5.99, $9.99, $12.99, and $13.99.

From those four beers, the average purchaser of beer might be surprised that the $5.99  beer came from Germany, the well known Bitburger Premium Pilsner.

That same average consumer might be astonished that the higher priced beers are brewed in their own backyard. It is an easy drive in Richmond to any of the three breweries. 

Again, my usual whining, this pricing makes no sense to me. 

How can a beer brewed in Germany cost less than beers brewed in my own city? I know the craft brewer pushbacks—quality of ingredients, labor intensive, and the need for clever branding/advertising to sell the beer in an over saturated market.

Not that I want to support the German brewery, but simple math could make the choice easy for me. There is an eight dollar difference between the cheapest and the most expensive four pack.

Another interesting angle here is that the three local beers are all distributed by the local Anheuser-Busch distributor. And to add to this pricing factor, on this afternoon, there were only two four packs of the Bitburger left in the cooler, and the other three beers were in full supply. I wonder why, could it be pricing?

But, there are more questions to be asked about that tier of pricing. What is taken into consideration as the brewer and distributor wrestle with setting a price for a four pack of 16 ounce cans? Does the retailer have any say in making these decisions? More importantly, does the brewer, distributor, or retailer care what the consumer thinks about pricing?

I guess craft brewers know they can’t offer a $5.99 four pack of 16 ounce beers, and stay in business. So, they focus their energy on convincing a distributor and retailers that the quality of their local brewed beer is going to generate sells.

This possibly creates a purchasing dilemma for the consumer. The buyer wants to support local brewers, but the obvious difference in cost might eliminate any consideration to purchase a local beer. 

I wonder if craft brewers understand this predicament? What might craft brewers learn by walking into a local grocery store to the beer aisle?

 My hunch is craft brewers probably don’t think a lot about penny pinching beer consumers. Their data and demographics are linked to purchasers who don’t blink at a $13.99 price for a four pack. Plus, experience tells the craft brewers that some consumers will pay even more for a unique  beer that is establishing a legacy among beer drinkers.

But, as craft brewers continue to steer into the future of the post-pandemic is a break in pricing something they should weigh more carefully?  If a 2021 Brewers Association annual report continues to show a decline in the critical reporting categories, how will craft brewers respond, will an adjustment in pricing be considered?

As much as I whine about the pricing of craft beers, I still hold these brewers in high regard.

Back in April on a cool, but pretty Sunday afternoon, my wife, youngest daughter, and I drove to Ashland, Virginia to the Origin Beer Lab. This tiny brewery is an off-shoot of Center of the Universe, another Ashland based brewery. The concept behind the Origin Beer Lab is this brewery gives the Center of the Universe brewers a chance to experiment with different beer recipes and styles on a smaller scale.

Ashland is a postcard town. Its heart is split with an active railroad track in the center of the business district. Attractive storefronts, the campus of Randolph Macon College, and pretty restored homes are all a part of the charm.

At the Origin Beer Lab, visitors have three seating options— out front to catch the rumble of passing trains, a cozy inside, or a sunny back patio. Even with COVID-19 protocols in place, the gentle and knowledgeable staff was very hospitable as we found seats on the patio.

But there was an indication that someone at Origin or Center of the Universe had been thinking about pricing. On Sunday afternoons, all growler fills are half-price.

And in all my whining about beer, that’s all I’m asking: what will it take for the owners of craft breweries  to re-evaluate how they price their well made beers?

If sales and market shares continue to fall, will craft brewers still be able to command higher prices for their products?

That is a tough question to answer, and perhaps the key to answering that question might just be in the taste buds of consumers.

Will consumers be loyal to traditional passions of crafter brewers, or will consumers continue to push brewers into non-traditional areas to soothe their fickle palates?

And, I can’t forget my friends at Anchor Brewing. It will interesting to see if sales increase with a new labeling profile and new beer offerings. I just hope they don’t forget the strength of their brewing roots.

As we move further into 2021, I suspect we will learn more about beer consumers their tastes and their wallets.  Hopefully, we are on the cusp of an improving post-pandemic environment for craft brewers. 

I say this even though I still find it hard to believe that craft brewers are brewing low calorie beers and seltzers.

A pint glass of Galileo Aged Foeder Bohemian Style Pilsner from Bench Top Brewing Norfolk, Virginia photo by Bill Pike

That Voice In Your Vision

When I was a kid, I enjoyed tinkering with tinker toys. As a rapidly aging, grumpy geezer, I enjoy a different type of tinkering—tinkering with words.

One of the most challenging pieces of writing is what I call “tired eyes.” Tired eyes happen after a piece has been written. Now, I have the challenge of proofing the piece to find errors. My best editing trick is reading the piece out loud, and even that isn’t full proof.

The most frustrating misses are the ones found after a piece has been posted to my blog. For whatever reason, my tired eyes didn’t catch an error, and that drives me nuts. 

I’ve had the privilege of writing three books for children. In two of our books, we found overlooked errors after publication. This was despite countless re-readings, and using non-tired eyes for proofing. I couldn’t believe it. With the third book, we pledged not to send the galley proof back to the printer until we were absolutely sure we had the manuscript perfect.

Tired eyes can impact life too.

Our eyes can become weary as they are too willing to accept the errors of life in front us. We move on without challenging.

This is dangerous. Why is this dangerous?

Well, the risk in the moving on is that we stop listening to the voice in our vision. 

You know, Bill, I have always felt you were a bit wacky, and I think you just confirmed that for me—there is no voice in my vision.

Sorry, but I beg to differ—there is a voice in your vision. 

After your eyes scan in something disturbing, that hushed librarian voice says to you, “I can’t believe this is happening, someone needs to speak out about this situation.” That’s the voice in your vision.

It is a quiet, squeaky, nudging whisper. This voice wants to prod you, me, we, us forward, but we often close our ears.

Ted Williams was one of the best hitters in baseball. He worked. He learned. He studied his positioning and swing in the batter’s box. He intentionally observed the movements and habits of opposing pitchers. And, Mr. Williams was blessed with a gift— extraordinary vision.

According to USA Today’s publication Baseball Weekly, Mr. Williams did not realize how blessed his eyes were until he signed up to serve in World War II. In his medical examination for admission, Mr. Williams learned his vision was 20/10. That vision led, Mr. Williams to become a Marine Corps fighter pilot. 

David Halberstam’s book Summer of ’49 takes a look at the baseball pennant race that season between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.

He describes a day when Mr. Williams of the Red Sox strikes out. Williams comes back to the dugout complaining about striking out. Thinking out loud, Williams believes he was called out on strikes because home plate was out of line. His teammates gave him grief about his theory.

But, before the game the next day, the Red Sox manager went out to measure the placement of home plate. And he found, that Ted William’s assertion was correct—home plate was out of line.

Ted Williams followed that voice in his vision. He trusted his instincts. He spoke out. His speaking out brought about a change. 

Right now, America needs the voices in our vision. We are still a divided country. 

Our wounds for lots of different reasons are deep. These wounds are not healing.

 Why is that?

 Are we incapable of healing?

 Have we lost the capacity to see what is so obvious?

If Ted Williams through his vision could theorize that home plate was out of line, why can’t we see how dangerous our division is to our country?

Singer songwriter, Jackson Browne, has written many thought provoking songs. His first hit, “Doctor My Eyes,” has always intrigued me. This one verse really makes me think:

“Doctor, my eyes, tell me what you see. I hear their cries,

just say if it’s too late for me.”

For a long, long, long time these cries of division have been present. We can no longer ignore them.

If we continue to ignore this division, then it is going to be too late for America. We can’t let this happen, we must overcome this tiredness in our eyes. 

The silent voices in our vision need to speak out with helpful, healing, hearts. 

Listen you, me, we, us—don’t let it be too late.

Note from the author: Thanks to my sister, Lisa Henry, for the reminder about “Doctor My Eyes.”

Home plate at the University of Richmond’s baseball field, photo by Bill Pike