It was blistering hot. I was with my brother and a friend and we were planning on bow fishing in the borrow ditches along the oil field road that ran through the mostly dry salt water marsh. Only the channels and low spots held any water, which were full of alligator gar.
We were in the friend's '55 Chevy. It was 1973, so the car wasn't quite 20 years old. Built like a tank, and dependable, it was perfect for the task at hand. Our goal was to waste another summer afternoon doing things that held no real importance, but occupied our young minds with new adventure. We were searching for the larger gar that could reach lengths of over 7 feet. The limited amount of water was known to trap these monsters and we felt there was a chance today might bring one to skin and sell. The meat would sell for 25 cents a pound. The big gars could have more than 100 pounds of meat and $25 was a lot of money when gas sold for 20 cents a gallon.
The marsh was mostly miles of cracked mud with an occasional oasis of salt grass. Heat waves washed away the horizon in a rolling, oily ripple of distortion. Dust devils raced along the oyster shell roads. The dust, as we travelled, hung in a swirl as we travelled looking for our prize. Eventually we stopped at a favorable location. The heat rolled in as we opened the doors.
Nothing really prepares you for that type of heat. Within minutes, as the humidity prevents sweat from drying , everything you wear becomes soaked with sweat. A hat keeps the killer sun from burning your skin, but nothing prevents the sweat from running into your eyes. Eventually, you realize that wiping away the sweat, and dust, only chafes. The pain from the burning sweat becomes tolerable. It's better than the blisters from constantly wiping your eyes.
The spot didn't reveal anything but a few small gar. We decided to move to another location, which proved to not have any large gar either. We were now really thirsty, but our young minds hadn't contemplated the necessity of water. We had nothing to drink.
We decide to head on home, but we'd drive slow and scan the ditches as we left. Since we were over three miles into the marsh, this would take some time. I was beginning to think of how good a cold drink of water would be. As time went on, I was ready to call it a day and forget about bow hunting. We had peppermints, which helped with thirst, but only made it tolerable.
We were about halfway back to the entrance, when our friend spotted a car on a side road that belonged to someone he knew. My vote of forgetting about the stop was ignored, so we pulled behind the car and approached an old man I'd never met.
He was sitting in a lawn chair, fishing pole in hand and an ice chest by his side. He exchanged pleasantries with our friend, introduced himself and then asked something that I'd never been asked before: "Would you boys like a cold beer?"
I'd tasted beer before. I didn't like the taste, but I was thirsty. When you added the fact I was only 16, desperate for liquid, and honored the old man would make such an offer, I accepted. My brother and friend - just as thirsty - didn't hesitate either. He handed us all a Schlitz from the cooler and took one for himself. I noticed the ice had rock salt on top to make the beer colder.
The old man tapped the top of the can and opened his beer. Following his example, I did the same and took a sip. The beer was cold; real cold; so cold, there was slushy ice in the first sip. It was nectar of the gods. I took a quick gulp and downed the rest. The old man eyeballed me for a moment, and then asked: "Would you like another beer?"
I hesitated. After all, I'd never drank anything in my life and here I was drinking beer.
"Sure. Thank you very much."
I savored the second beer. We all shot the breeze, talked about fishing and then it was time to leave. We said our goodbyes, how it was to meet each other and we left. We only stopped for a few minutes to examine an alligator that was around 12 feet long. It looked dead as it lay on the bank. My brother opened the door to throw a rock and the alligator disappeared. I blinked and it was gone. Bubbles rose to the surface from the fresh stirred bottom My brother never stepped out. He closed the door and our friend pulled away.
The sun was extra bright as we travelled home. There was a buzz to the air and my mind examined the new feelings that beer could bring. I decided I really liked beer and have ever since.