My mother hit me upside the head when she caught me drinking beer in the Big Moose bar up the street from where we lived.
I was 16 years old at the time and sipping a Ballantine beer with a friend from Dobbins Technical High School. Someone must have ratted me out as my good friend Joe Walsh and I — both young white guys — drank in the African American bar in a section of Philadelphia called Brewerytown.
Joe was a year ahead of me in school and had just introduced me to what he called a “Sneaky Tine.” That’s a Ballantine beer with a shot of red liquor mixed in.
I never got a chance to drink more than a taste of the beer when my mom entered the bar, dragged me out and started to hit me on the head. “Is that’s what you do with the money I give you?” she shouted at me in the early evening hours. It was still light out and all I kept thinking was of the humiliation I felt in full view of everyone I believed watched it.
I could have told mom I was spending my own money which I made as a messenger boy at a printing place in center city. But I kept my mouth shut and took the punishment like a man. Embarrassed, but a little wiser.
Big Moose played an important role in my oldest brother’s passage to adulthood. George and a bunch of older teenagers had broken into the bar and stole beer and soda. He was the only one caught and was given a chance by a judge whether to go to jail or got into the army. He chose the latter and made a 22-year-year career out of the military. He helped to pave the way for me to become an officer in the army years later with both of us ending up in Vietnam at different times in our lives. (Meanwhile, my drinking buddy, Joe Walsh, became a homicide detective in the City of Brotherly Love.)
The bar no longer exists. The building has been converted into what looks like a small apartment complex. Driving past it the other day I couldn’t help but recall how much it played in lives of my brother and me. It provided us with a “rite of passage” of sorts. It helped to make us grow into the salvageable men I believe we later became.