Pop Culture: My Family
Many often wonder how I got involved in Harrisburg nightlife, how I was lucky enough to be the one who documents bars, nightclubs, dancing, drinks and food.
Just as I realized how my sister was always cut out to be an investigator based on reminiscence of her early detective skills, this depiction of my mother’s side of the family should clear up any question about whether I am qualified for my nightlife columnist position.
I wrote the following essay for a Popular Culture class in college. Our assignment was to write about pop culture in our own lives. Dr. Sharkey’s definition of popular culture, incidentally, did not revolve around slap bracelets and jelly shoes. We discussed how people lived at a different time in our country — the things they used, how they celebrated — not fads and marketing.
Dr. E.G. Sharkey
18 April 2001
To Party Like a Lippke Girl: Dogs, Drinks, Bars, and Beaches
Monday was one of the worst days I have had in some time. My car broke down, I had to hitch a ride to a job interview (how embarrassing), I had tons of schoolwork due, and none of my friends were available to pick me up. I was stranded. In speaking with my mother’s beau, Buzz, he suggested with his usual smile that I, “be a Lippke, and have a drink.”
We celebrate birthdays and graduations in my aunt’s garage.
We attend Jimmy Buffet concerts.
We live for our beach vacations.
We compete for the darkest tan.
We have our own drink.
I have joked that I was raised on appetizers and Shirley Temples, as I have spent a large amount of my life in a bar. My first experience was at five months, seated in my car seat, on top of the bar at Lou Ianier’s with my grandfather. Since then, during summer vacations we have spent our evenings barhopping.
My sister, Keri, two years my junior, and I would often times occupy ourselves with a pool table — something we certainly didn’t even attempt to play properly. Our then-uncle, Ray, once paid us $20 to get off the table so he and his buddies could play.
Ray was a strange one, but I suppose helped to shape some of our family traditions. Relationships with children were by no means his strong suit. Then he would do goofy things like give Keri and me shots of Peppermint Schnapps in the middle of the bar. We didn’t know what it was. I just remember remarking, “It tastes like mouthwash,” and quickly being hushed lest any members of the LCB should be listening.
One time when one of our cousins got married, my aunt Diane feared there would not be an open bar, so she packed one in the trunk of her car.
I do not think we are drunks, alcoholics, derelicts, or groupies. We are just are adults who like to have fun.
Buzz tells my mother that she is the most remarkable person he has ever met. My mom, forever modest, replies, “I’m not the most remarkable person. I’m just a Pittsburgh girl.” And that is what we are. Although Keri and I were not born nor raised in the ‘Burgh, we often feel like we were. My grandmother still lives in the house where she raised her three daughters, Diane lives about 10 minutes away, Charlotte lives in Maryland, and my mother, Karen, lives in Harrisburg. As children, my mom and her sisters were taken on a beach vacation annually. This is where traditions began.
As long as I can remember, we have all taken our vacations on the Delmarva Peninsula. Whether it is in Rehoboth, Dewey, Bethany, or Fenwick Island, we reside on the Delaware Shore for at least one week during the summer. Several years ago, Diane and Charlotte, purchased their condominium, and now have their Easters there, rather than in Pittsburgh.
Our family’s love for the beach is indescribable. I know that when I first step with bare toes into warm sand, take my first deep breath, and smile up at the sun — that sun seems indigenous to the shore — I feel like I am home.
We pack up our dogs, our tanning oils, and alcohol and we are on the beach by 9 a.m. Drinking commences immediately, because, “somewhere in the world it’s five o’clock!”
Keri recalled a time when Mom was walking up the five floors to Di and Char’s condo and tripped. She sacrificed her body so that she would not break the bottles of champagne she was carrying that were to be served for breakfast. She ended up falling and injuring her hands and knees so that the bottles did not break.
We spend all day on the beach, each person making their rounds back up to the house or the “joint” as my aunts’ place is nicknamed, to use the facilities and refill the coolers. And of course, someone makes sandwiches for lunch. We sunbathe until we cannot stand the heat, then dive in the ocean to cool ourselves off. At the finality of the beach day — around three p.m. when the sun loses its skin-darkening powers — we retreat to the casa, shower, and ready ourselves for barhopping.
Only lately, in our older years, has the bar proven much delight for Keri and me. Last year was my first legal summer drinking, and with Ray gone from the family, we shot billiards without interruption — and newfound skill. Appetizers have turned to meals and Shirley Temples into cervezas.
Cruising around in Diane’s convertible, the only acceptable music is the Oldies station or Jimmy Buffet. We croon along to all the songs we know by heart. We have all been sucked into the Buffet craze and attend his concerts annually — everyone except me. I have had the unfortunate luck of missing every opportunity to see him. Our introduction to Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville and Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes came inadvertently.
Char recalls, “Jimmy Buffet. Ray and I subscribed to a series of concerts at Merriweather Pavilion in Maryland. Buffet was one of the concerts. The first time we went, I was amazed at all the crazies surrounding us. There were grass skirts, coconut bras, flowered shirts, shark balloons, cheeseburger hats, beach balls, pick-up trucks outfitted with sand and beach chairs, and margaritas. Everyone knew every word to every song. I was hooked. Great fun.”
Diane told me she used to make fun of Char for listening to Buffet, until she attended one of his concerts—she does not recall why she went—but it provided a new obsession for our family to indulge in.
Jimmy Buffet tends to be the soundtrack for most of our family events. Diane owns almost all of his albums and they play throughout parties held at her house. Most of our family events take place at Diane’s. She has a hot tub on the back patio, a spotless lawn out front — don’t even think about setting foot on it – and a nice-sized backyard. But no one hangs out in these areas. We party in the garage. The garage has been decorated sporadically over the years. Posters of Budweiser’s Spuds McKenzie, 1980s swimsuit models, and various sports icons plaster the walls. Jalapeno string lights hang over what could be a worktable, if it weren’t stocked with chips, pretzels, pop, and dog and cat food. The BeerMeister is at the closest proximity to the house door, and the counter supports pint glasses and plastic cups for easy mixing and pouring. Friends and family tease my aunt and uncle by calling them “garage people,” but when I asked Diane how she became like that, she said it was all Bob, her husband. She would rather be in the backyard.
There is even a television in the garage, and friends and relatives can be found watching football games in the garage in the middle of winter. Temperature is not an issue. My high school graduation party was in the garage, as was my mom’s and Char’s 40th birthday parties.
We play bocce ball in the summer and sit in the outdoor hot tub year-round. There are always dogs to play with. Diane keeps English Setters, Char keeps Golden Retrievers, and we have a Siberian Husky. We all have cats. Diane and Char have one each, and we — the softhearted — have six. Diane once found a cockatiel in her backyard, that she kept as a pet after no one claimed it. Years later, Char got one for herself, and named him Gilligan.
Before we meet up at the beach in the summertime, we work diligently on our suntans, competing for the darkest. Once we meet, we compare skin tone. Di usually wins — being a schoolteacher gets her out into the sun earlier than the rest of us. Our family members, risks understood, are avid sunbathers. It is frowned upon to “fake bake,” (to use a tanning bed) although Keri and I sometimes do. I remember Ray being extraordinarily dark-skinned — though Italian like Keri and me — he used to rub baby oil on himself as a tan-enhancer.
All the habitual drinking has managed to foster a family drink. I found it interesting that when I asked everyone how these things began, each person would laugh, think for a minute, and then seriously wonder how it did begin. “Ask…” someone else. Char did have an answer for me, however. We call our drink a “Bump,” and when described most people are disgusted, but it is an acquired taste, and really not so strange. Charlotte described the drink, “I think Diane and Bob started drinking the combination of vodka and diet coke, with a lime. Perhaps they liked the taste better than rum (from a Cuba Libre). I think the name came from Bob asking us if we wanted our drinks “bumped-up,” meaning refreshed. I would run the same question past Di.” Diane said, “Ask Char.”
I learned how to make “Bumps” from an early age, as well as how to enjoy its taste, since it was an easy beverage to consume undetected by my grandmother. My grandmother is an old-fashioned, conservative woman who believes that I should have a curfew at college. How she raised these alcohol-hungry, partying women, I will never understand.
Diane, the oldest sister, is a Spanish teacher at a middle school, though off-duty she sports a t-shirt that defies the goals of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), reading D.A.M.M.—Drunks Against Mad Mothers. She is the only one still married. Bob lost his job a few years ago. Immediately following his layoff, he resided at the “joint” for several months and became to us, “Local Loco Bob.”
My mother, the middle child, refuses to tell me about her wild-child days as a teenager. I believe this is because she would not want me to do things she did. Her cousin, Scott, a relentless teaser, once asked me, “Do you know who Janis Joplin is? That was your mother.” I knew it.
Charlotte is the youngest, though being childless and co-owner of the “joint,” she is more like Diane. She is the only one who lives close to the beach, residing in Maryland.
Di and Char, besides being childless, have other oddities in common. They both have BeerMeisters in their garages, white leather couches in their living rooms, two dogs, one cat, and one bird (though a few years ago, Diane’s cockatiel passed away).
The Lippke sisters sometimes get themselves into trouble when they get together. One, dare I mention, sober morning, the Lippke sisters decided to talk a walk from our rented beach house in Bethany up to the Inlet a mile and a half north. This was a normal walk, and they had completed the journey and back many times before. About halfway down the beach, a patrolman summoned them and threatened to arrest the three women. They had unknowingly been trespassing through a bird sanctuary. This area of the beach is often used for a sanctuary but from our prior experience, only the upper part of the beach — the dry area furthest from the water — was the refuge for the birds. However, this season the boundaries changed and regardless of the fact that my aunts and mother were walking close to the waterline the policeman would not allow them to continue through nor to turn around and walk through the sanctuary again. He insisted they walk back on the road. They were barefoot, and the cop refused them a ride. Trudging barefoot on hot pavement, stones, and glass, the Lippke sisters eventually made it back, though we all still talk about the day they almost got arrested.
Perhaps my mom and her sisters got their wild side from their father. I didn’t call my grandfather “grandpa,” “gramps,” “papa,” or “pappy.” When I was born, my mother asked him what he wanted to be called. Always the joker, he said, “Butch,” and it stuck. Butch was a tough guy. He had slicked back black hair and tattoos on both arms. On one arm, he had a naked lady, on the other the Grim Reaper and his old girlfriend’s initials. When he married my grandmother, he kindly had a dress tattooed on the lady, and the old girlfriend’s name blackened over.
So, with beaches, dogs, bars, Buffet and booze, we are a family that knows how to have fun. Our aunts were not afraid to teach us early on. For years, our aunts and uncles would sneak us beers and Bumps, with my grandmother clicking her tongue and sighing loudly close-by. Two years ago for Christmas, Charlotte’s neighbor, Rob, gave Keri and me “College Survival Packs.” These included one Budweiser beer, one Winston cigarette, and one condom. We hid those from our grandmother, and never mentioned it in front of her. That was for the best.
We are not groupies, nor drunks, though I suppose I may not have proved otherwise. Our family knows how to have a good time together. I suppose it’s just as Jimmy Buffet wrote, “It’s those changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes/nothing remains quite the same,/With all of our running and all of our cunning,/If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.”
Categories: Sara Bozich