(This is an essay from my forthcoming publication, Oregon Tavern Age: Sketches from Coastal Drinking Life. This was a piece I discovered in the archives. It seems I’ve written a lot more about OTA than I previously thought.)
Sunday. Mother’s Day. Mid-morning. Rain. The Oregon Coast.
I drove slowly by a garden variety Oregon Tavern Age joint. I didn’t see the old familiar sign. A storm probably blew it to smithereens and no one bothered with a replacement. No one one even noted its absence. No one cares about signage in OTA country, unless the sign says “closed.”
The tavern with no name. I dug it. Anonymity is good. I crave it like I crave real representative democracy in America.
The parking lot was full There was a line 30 deep of OTAs waiting to go inside. Everyone held something such as crock pots or stuffed animals. I pulled into the parking lot to investigate. I rolled down the window. I smelled pot from two nearby pot shops. I smelled rain. I smelled pot mixed with rain, the old dank frontier in Oregon. I smelled new money.
I knew exactly what was happening inside: a Mother’s Day wake/potluck for a long-time regular, a recently deceased OTA mom, grandmother and great grandmother. In the middle of the room, iced down in a garbage can, a keg of Hamm’s, her favorite beer. Free Hamm’s all around. Chase it with Fireball or Crown.
There would be a raffle, too, raising some bread to pay off internment or cremation costs. The prize might be her shotgun or her pickup truck. They’d also be adopting out her three rescue mutts who were roaming around the joint. They’d find them good OTA homes or RVS.
The potluck would feature some of the best homemade cooking in the state and an assortment of retail pickled grotesqueries. The main entrees were killed or caught by OTAs. No small plates. Heapings of this and that. Lots of deviled eggs. A few chanterelles basted in butter. DIY corn dogs. Someone even whipped up a fondue. There was angel food cake and blackcap pie made from scratch. Pile it up. Pile it on. One paper plate couldn’t hold it all and the mutts would feast on the spills.
A half dozen or so of the woman’s brood would show up. They would understand the venue or they would not. She didn’t care. She was dead and wanted the final celebration in the tavern surrounded by members of her tavern family.
There might be Glen Campbell playing. She saw him perform in Vegas, in the 70s. Great show. He could pick. Or it could be Merle Haggard on the jukebox. She saw him at the casino a couple of years ago. He could barely walk but still delivered the goods and swigged George Dickel on stage.
At some point, someone would ring the drinks-on-the-house bell over the bar and roll out a special stool or plaque that commemorated her kindness and knitting. Everyone in the tavern was wearing her hats and scarves.
I’ve owned a few OTA knitted hats over the years. I commissioned them with embroidery, paid handsomely, and tipped with cheap beer. Original OTA fashion made in OTA country—at the bar. Top that corporate brew pubs and your bawling babies in Gap clothing.
I didn’t go in. I wanted to but I had to see my own mother, whom I pretty much owe everything too.
It’s a superb thing to gather for Mother’s Day, even if the mother is dead. It doesn’t matter where people gather, either. I do suspect, however, the availability of free Hamm’s might make the gathering a little more lively, as far as lively goes at 9:30 in the morning on a Sunday while white rain falls like knives from the gray sky. (That’s from Bukowski.)