The moment had finally arrived, quite by surprise. One second I was playing basketball at the Woodland West Recreation Center (now called the Dottie Lynn rec center) in West Arlington. The next, I was walking out of the gym with a friend who had managed to sneak a 16-ounce can of Schlitz out of his parents’ refrigerator. I was about 12 and a total virgin when it came to most things, including beer consumption. My God-fearing parents didn’t smoke, drink, or cuss. Beer was not allowed in my house. But for as long as I could remember I had heard George Jones and all my country-western heroes singing about getting drunk. My curiosity had been, uh, brewing for a while. Finally I would see what this beer thing was all about.
My buddy and I walked to the side of the rec center and sat in the grass beside some bushes. He pulled the lone can from his coat pocket, opened it with a fizzy pop, took the first drink, smiled, and then handed it to me.
I placed the can to my lips, closed my eyes, and began to drink, my heart pumping and my expectations soaring And then …
“Aggh!” I sputtered and spat. “This tastes like crap!”
Up to that point, my only experiences with consumable liquids had been water, Coke, tea, milk, and lemonade. All had been pleasing upon first introduction. None tasted anything like this bubbly swill.
I hated beer.
Disappointment washed over me. I had envisioned a long, loving relationship with the demon drink. Just like in the country songs, I figured to be getting drunk, spending all my money, calling everybody honey, and winding up singing the blues — all that cool stuff. Now, due to a sensitive palate, I would miss out on that fun. I might as well move to a mountaintop in Tibet and meditate for the rest of my life.
I tried three or four more swallows, thinking I might get used to the horrible taste. I didn’t. Beer sucked.
Fortunately, my willpower and determination were much greater than I could have imagined. Through sheer patience and practice, I managed to learn to tolerate beer over the next few years. In fact, I’ve tolerated the hell out of it for many years now, and happily so, although I still have not drunk a single beer — not one — that tasted better than water, tea, Coke, milk, or lemonade. I just didn’t let my disabled palate hold me back.
OK, my “first beer” story is admittedly mundane. I called several other yokels to hear about their initial dalliances with the golden libation.
But the first person I called told a story similar to my own. The teenage brother of KNON radio host Obie Obermark unveiled a six-pack of Pearl one weekend when their parents were out of town. Obermark was about 15.
“I said, ‘Can I have one?’ He said, ‘Sure.’ I got maybe three swallows down and decided I wasn’t ready for this stuff.”
Like me, Obermark had mainly consumed sweet things up to that point, such as sweet tea and soft drinks. Beer tasted nothing like that.
“It was bitter,” Obermark said. “I was shocked. I thought, ‘Ewww, why does anybody like this stuff?’ ”
Six months later, he tried beer again, and this time the oat soda went down better.
“It took some getting used to,” he said. “But I have.”
Local musician and recording studio owner Earl Musick was 6 when he drank his first beer. He was with his dad, Clyde, who was driving a pickup and checking out the pastures on their farm.
“My dad gave me a can of Falstaff,” Musick said. “I passed out in the cab of the pickup after one can of beer. I was a lightweight.”
He still recalls the taste of that first beer.
“I kind of liked it,” he said. “I always heard that kids liked the taste of beer. Somebody said it was because of the malt or the yeast or whatever. I liked it because I felt like a grown-up.”
Another local musician, Luke McGlathery, tried his first beer at a young age but hated the taste.
“I always saw my dad drinking,” he said. “I knew it was beer, but I wasn’t allowed to drink it. One day he turned his back, and I took a swig. I didn’t like it. It didn’t have flavor. I was too young to realize that if I had drank the whole thing, I would have felt good.”
Steve Murrin, Stockyards business owner and former Fort Worth City Council member, recalled drinking beer for the first time as a teenager with some buddies in the mid-1950s. School chum Gary Behrhorst had borrowed his dad’s green four-door 1951 DeSoto, and Murrin and six other pals piled into the car.
“Somehow we finagled and got a six-pack,” Murrin recalled.
They drove to the Ridglea Country Club after hours.
“We drove around to where it was dark on the south end of the golf course and got out on the fairway and drank our six-pack,” he said. “We decided we were really high and were all up there singing.”
I asked Murrin if the taste of beer bothered him that first time, as it had me.
“I don’t remember savoring the taste,” Murrin said. “It was more savoring the event.”