Growing Up Catholic in a Small Texas Town
Me and Mr. Karlik’s Secret
The Catholic church has instituted a few dietary restrictions over the years, such as not eating meat on Fridays and fasting before receiving Communion. Also, many Catholics choose to fast from certain foods or beverages during Lent. But there was never a do-not-ever-drink-beer rule. I remember seeing the St. Mary’s priests drinking beer during the annual parish carnival, or at wedding celebrations, or at WestFest, the town’s Labor Day Weekend celebration. One venerable priest used to thank everyone at Christmas Mass for leaving him six-packs of Shiner Bock and the bottles of Jack Daniels on the steps of the rectory. (P. S. No name here, but he was my all-time favorite and I still think of him often.)
My dad enjoyed his brew when he was in the backyard grilling steaks, burgers, or chicken, or roasting hot dogs, and like the priests, at family and community celebrations and usually every Sunday night at the VFW club’s bingo.
In our neighborhood, we had a small grocery owned by Mr. Karlik. I like to think of it as a 1950s convenience store, but homelier. It was one of those places where folks would run in to grab whatever they forgot after shopping at one of the bigger stores in town: Piggly Wiggly (later A&P), Busby’s, Lichnovsky’s, and Henry’s Grocery. Karlik’s was also a place where neighborhood kids went for snacks — and where my Dad bought his six-packs.
I loved going to Karlik’s. It was a small, squarish building with a gas pump out front and a screen door with one of those tin, bread company logos on the door’s push handle. The store was less than a half-mile from our house, so I frequented the place often as a child. Mr. Karlik sat at a counter, surrounded by shelves of groceries. You didn’t necessarily need money to shop there. Mr. Karlik had a cigar box with receipt books where he noted how much you spent and added it to your tab. I used to buy an ice-cream sandwich, chocolate fudge-sickle, a Snickers bar, or my favorite, Valomilk candy. There was also one of those coolers where you’d drop in some coins and pull out a of soda water from between two metal slots. That was almost as much fun as drinking it. Out front was a bench where you could enjoy your treat.
Soon after the training wheels were off my bike, my parents would let me ride to Mr. Karlik’s store. I remember one afternoon when Dad was outside grilling. I kept annoying him about letting me ride to Karlik’s to pick up something for him: mustard, chips, hotdog buns, anything. Exasperated, he finally and jokingly told me to go buy him a six-pack. So, I took off.
I parked my bike out front of the store and walked in. I asked Mr. Karlik for a six-pack of Lone Star. He looked up from his newspaper, looked out the front door, came from behind the counter, and scanned the parking lot.
“Where’s your dad?” he said.
Stupid question, I thought. “He’s at home. He asked me to come pick up some beer for him.”
When I rode up with the six-pack in my basket, Dad’s mouth fell open. Before he could say anything, my mom came to the backdoor and told him Mr. Karlik was on the phone. I found out later that Mr. Karlik and my mom were peeved at Dad for sending me on a beer run. But Dad had a good laugh, and so did I. I also earned lift-time bragging rights. “Yeah, well, I bought my first beer when I was six, and I wasn’t even carded.”
I’ve man fond memories of growing up Catholic in a small Texas town. Buying beer as a youngster is one of them.
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