The pandemic raised all sorts of problems -- and solutions -- for ordinary folks. I'm not referring to medical personnel or the seriously challenged but those of us who just tried to cope the best we could. One dilemma: How to stay close to adult children who no longer lived at home and we now could not see.
Susan and Lou Astbury of Pleasanton arrived at a tasty solution along with their son Trey, Foothill High class of 2004, who lives in Oakland. He has been a home beer brewer for years and wanted to continue, even as the stores carrying the ingredients closed. He also wanted to keep seeing his folks and thought they might help with the endeavor.
"As long as we were careful, he thought he could brew beer in our garage with me in my newly created role as the assistant brewer," recalled Susan with a laugh.
"In the beginning of the pandemic, we were extra cautious," she continued. "Wearing masks, gloves, turning our ping pong table into a sanitization station, and armed with antibacterial wipes -- this was our way of life, brewing in the garage."
They left the garage door open for ventilation, ignoring inclement weather, and drew the curiosity of neighborhood bugs and bigger critters, including wild turkeys.
"Trey, an experienced brewer, did the actual brewing, and I was responsible for assisting and maintaining control when he returned to sheltering in place in Oakland," Susan said.
Susan, who works for TV30, had shifted to a home office like the rest of us, and now she assumed this extra challenge.
"My new responsibility every morning was to try to check beer temps, detect leaks ... and report to back to Trey," she said. "One time, I felt lightheaded sticking my head in his fermentation chamber. I learned that CO2 produced by fermentation can leave you with a woozy feeling and can even cause you to pass out."
Susan sent her son photos and videos to keep him apprised of the situation.
Now she points out that she knew nothing about making beer -- or even drinking it -- but she was pleased to worry about something besides COVID, plus to do something together with Trey.
Soon the activity in the garage drew curious neighbors, even back when people were afraid to venture out much.
"As soon as the garage door opened, it became an excuse for people to come over and make contact," Susan remembered. "Just standing at the end of the driveway, having an opportunity to talk to another human being became a diversion from COVID worry."
Neighbors began to request certain beers and they asked Trey for advice. Trey also brought his folks a sourdough starter, and they all enjoyed the results.
"Beer and bread were a winning combination," Susan said.
The Astburys are fully vaccinated now and, like all of us, are venturing out. But to Susan, the year of sheltering in place will always include this special memory.
"It seems like a dream, but in the end, we're still brewing and I'm still the assistant brewer," she noted. "Who knows what the future holds -- but I think beer will still be playing a role."
Editor's note: Dolores Fox Ciardelli is Tri-Valley Life editor for the Pleasanton Weekly. Her column, "Valley Views," appears on the second and fourth Fridays of each month.