Not so long ago, I purchased an old farmhouse in rural Iowa, about 3 miles northwest of a small town with fewer than 300 residents. It’s one of those places where everybody knows everybody. As I explained to my gramps, who had lived here most of his life–only recently heading to Florida to avoid scooping snow off the sidewalks, he recalled, “Oh, that must be the old Shires place.”
Sure enough, it was. The small worldness of this small town took a step more intimate when he remembered that he had helped put out a fire in what is now my son Tom’s bedroom. Better than that, “You know, he used to make a little beer way back when.”
Little did I know when I brewed a month ago that I was not inaugurating this home with the joys of beer. It had long ago been done by Mr. Shires. It took some sleuthing, but this morning I found this old fellow, now an octogenarian living about thirty miles away in a nursing home.
As I’m driving there, I’ve got images of getting to know this guy in my mind. Beer stories. Learning about his procedures and ingredients. Sneaking some homebrew into the nursing home.
Alas, that cool story will be left untold. He was happy to have a visitor. He remembered my gramps well. He was glad I had purchased and would care for his old house. He remembered brewing and chuckled that we shared a hobby, despite many years between us.
I don’t remember how many times I told him that the basement was still in good shape. That the shop hadn’t been quite as well taken care of as other parts of the property. That no, that building must have been torn down. That Joe was my gramps. That I had 2 boys, compared to his 3, and that it did indeed seem a good place to raise a family. Age has brought cobwebs as thick as baling twine, and our conversation circled like a vulture.
The roles were reversed. I’d expected to be the vulture, trying to scavenge tidbits of the old brewing days, but instead we talked of the property, me answering his questions. Again and again.
Mr. Shires brewed a little beer, from wheat and barley he had grown himself. He and a couple of buddies had concentrated more on wheat wine, but he played the role of apprentice, and wasn’t as familiar with the process as the others, now gone, had been. There are no recipes, awaiting re-creation, lying near his nightstand. Just memories, fleeting, but fond.
It is a good place to raise a family, and as history can attest, a good place to brew beer.