A True Story About The Great, Secret Southern Backwoods Beer Fest
I Am Still Not Proud Of This Event That I Am Sharing With You!
THE EVENT: The Great, Secret Southern Backwoods Beer fest
THE PLAYERS: Kenneth Avery; Timothy Winsett; Danny Lee and Ronald Goodson.
THE TIME: March, 1989.
I guess at some time in most every American’s life, we all have done things that we knew at the time was wrong, but later, much later, felt sorry for doing these deplorable acts to start with.
I am going to, with great pains, share with you an event in my life entitled, “The Great, Secret Southern Backwoods Beer fest,” that happened to me, my brother-in-law, Timothy Winsett, and cousins, Danny Lee and Ronald Goodson, all of Hamilton, Alabama. And this, friends, sadly, and with much remorse, is a true account of what happened during one blurry Saturday night during March, 1989. And by the headline of this story, I need not explain the term ‘blurry’.
Let me go back to the roots of this story. I was raised in a Christian home. I married a Christian woman in June of 1975. I was not raised to partake of alcohol in any form--beer, wine, whiskey, vodka or even homebrew. My parents were dead-set against drinking in any form. So, like an obedient son, I abstained from drinking with my teenage buddies when we were out on weekends. But all the time that I was abstaining, I felt as I was missing something in my life. That thought was my first mistake in ‘buying a ticket on the Boozer Express .’
As time marched on, I started to work at our local newspaper, a world of difference from the customary factory jobs that I had to choose from in my hometown. It was great--coming in to work at 8 a.m. instead of the ungodly hour of 7 a.m. Drinking coffee anytime I wanted as I labored to learn the innermost workings of how a newspaper worked. I loved it.
Soon I realized that on most Monday mornings during staff meetings, I learned that all of my coworkers drank alcohol and had parties at their homes over the weekend. It was like ‘show and tell’ in grade school except for adults when one employee at a time would share what their weekend (party with alcohol) was like. Then I would be asked what I did over my weekend and I answered the same way every Monday morning, “Oh, well, my wife and I attended church, ate lunch with our parents, went back to church Sunday evening and went home,” and as I would give the same answer each time, my coworkers just stared into space, cleared their throats and changed the subject. That made me feel so out-of-place--like being the ‘staff leper.‘ I learned what the term ‘outcast’ really meant.
One day, well, one Winter evening in 1979, a nephew and I who had a part-time firewood supply business on the weekends, had cut a load of firewood for a family in need and I was milling around our house--alone with nothing to do for it was on a Sunday evening and my wife had left to visit her parents while my nephew and I had spent the day cutting firewood. Then it happened. I discovered the ‘gag gifts’ that my nephew had received at his bachelor party (given by his buddies at his place of employment) before he married my youngest niece. He had asked me to keep his gifts which consisted of a girlie magazine, a couple of huge condoms and a can of Budweiser at my house until it was safe for him to take them home for my youngest niece was a stickler for having a home with a righteous atmosphere. And these bachelor-party gifts didn’t fit into that category.
Anyway, as nature and fate would have it, I was coughing from being out in the winter winds that day while we were cutting the firewood and I didn’t have any cold medicine to take, so a soft-but-dangerous thought popped into my mind: Drink the beer. Alcohol is a great way to fight a cold or the flu. Why not? I popped the top on the Budweiser, slowly took a sip, grimaced at the taste, then after the second and third sips, the taste seemed to get better and better until I had drank the entire can of beer--a milestone in my life. My very first taste of booze. Honestly, it really wasn’t that bad.
Okay, in the weeks to come I confessed to my wife that I actually liked the taste of beer and went as far to tell her (as my excuse to drink) that ‘beer relaxed me after a long day at work’ and for the most part, she bought it. My excuse. So began a long, rocky relationship with booze. First a six-pack of Miller Lite that would last an entire week. Then a case of Miller Lite that would last two weeks and on and on like a never-ending LP (long-playing vinyl album. Remember those?) my drinking ‘adventure’ seemingly increased with interest and the good times were really rolling.
And then, more than a few times, I would overdo my beer-drinking, well, guzzling, pass out, and awake the next day in my recliner in the living room or sometimes on our couch. Then I would start the process (that every boozer experiences) of rethinking what I did or said the night before. My wife would give me a hard time for abusing beer, but managed to deal with it for she thought that I would grow tired of the now-nightly beer-drinking that always seemed to be something I would look forward to while I was logging in my 12-hour days at the newspaper. Now, as my boss told me one Monday, “now you are running with the big boys--making your wife mad at your inability to control your love of beer,” and I thought he was halfway joking, but I found out later that my boss was totally-serious. He had recognized that I was becoming a problem-drinker.
Now, after a few quitting beer stints, I was trying to stay halfway “on the wagon” and not drink as much beer as I had been accustomed to just to keep my wife from being both angry and ashamed of me. I did, what I thought, was pretty good at keeping my beer drinking at a minimal amount. But sometimes, as a great American writer once said, “the best laid plans of mice and men,” our best efforts to do right are many times hit broadside by stumbling blocks that knock us to our knees.
So it was with the idea that my brother-in-law, Timothy Winsett and I had to go camping in mid-March of 1979. The calendar said that spring began on March 21, so Timothy and I were just itching to get away from our lives, friends, and problems, to just go to a very rural part of our area to a place called Clifty Creek that was fully-equipped with a creek, waterfall, bluffs, and a huge cave just made for us to camp in over that weekend of The Great, Secret Southern Backwoods Beer fest. What a time that us guys were going to have. Just us. No women to tell us what to do or what not to do. We had earned a break and we were going to take full-advantage of this great opportunity to get away from everything. And everyone.
The Great, Secret Southern Backwoods Beer fest actually started with Timothy Winsett and myself leaving my house about 10 a.m. on that spring-like Saturday morning in mid-March carrying a paper bag (from a grocery store) filled with Miller, Budweiser, and Old Milwaukee beer that I had in refrigerator. Man, we were feeling great. On top of the world--breezing down the two-lane highway sipping beer (I know. Drinking and driving was not good) headed to Clifty Creek for what we thought was going to be the weekend of our lives. Oh how foolish are the ways of wayward men.
Upon arrival at Clifty Creek, we did the usual things at accompany camping out--unloaded the car, set up camp and sat down for a break with more cold beer. Timothy and I would have reminded you of those guys out in the woods--camping, hunting or fishing in those Old Milwaukee beer ads on television and I think I actually said, “Tim, it doesn’t get any better than this,” and toasted each other by touching beer cans and having another round. Or two.
Before we could pop another top, Danny Lee, a cousin from Hamilton, Alabama, drove up and asked what we were doing. Danny loved the idea of a camp-out at the place we had chosen, so we gave him a cold beer and we all sat down and did what guys go when they are away from the wives and mothers, lie and drink beer. But Danny had been trying to go ‘cold turkey’ with beer he told us and that his drinking beer with us might not help him stay straight. We all laughed and drank another cold beer and by now it was early evening. The beer ‘buzz’ was now taking over and we were laughing at anything we said and having a real good ‘guy time.’
Then Danny said something that changed the course of our camp-out. “We need more beer,” he stated. And he was right. We were down to only five cold beers and five cold beers and three beer-loving guys is not a feasible equation. Danny said the magic words, “Let’s go to my bootlegger. I have credit with him. How many cases do we need?” You see, Hamilton, Alabama, as well as Marion County, where we all live, is a dry county--meaning no alcohol is sold. If you want alcohol, you either have to drive out of town to the nearest wet county or frequent one of our many local bootleggers. It’s that simple. So Danny and I made a bee line for his bootlegger leaving Tim to stay with the camping equipment. You never know who might drift by and help themselves to some iron skillets, pans and cups. Better safe than sorry.
It was dark when Danny and I got back to our camping site. And we had enjoyed a few cold Bud’s on the way back. We did this to ‘test’ the beer to see if it was good to drink. We didn't need any of us to be nauseated. We were doing somewhat-right in our process to get The Great, Secret Southern Backwoods Beer fest going by methodically-planning each part of our special event. We chilled a case or two of Budweiser and stood around and drank what Old Milwaukee we had left and by now, we were, as professional drinkers say, ‘tight’ and was feeling no pain at all. What a night!
We heard a noise on top of the bluff where our cave was located. Down the homemade trail came another cousin from Hamilton, Ronald Goodson, also a connoisseur of beer, wine, whiskey and voda and he was greeted with hugs, high-fives and some “How ya’ doin’ ya’ miserable dog?” Guys who are drinking, having a good time talk that way. Goodson drank another round or three with us and Goodson, being older and wiser, even when he is sober, said something (hate to use this pun) ‘sobering’: “Guys, it’s getting cold. Don’t you think we need a fire?” We all agreed in unison. Guys who are ‘tight’ from drinking lots of beer talk like that. And are always agreeable.
The gathering of wood was no problem. But no one had thought of bringing any kerosene to throw on the fire, so Danny, the son of an auto mechanic, ran to his car and got a five-gallon can full of gasoline from his trunk. Problem solved. Time for more beer. But we hadn't realized that the wood was not that dry and when the gasoline had burned off, all we had left was a smoldering pile of wood that was not burning. No problem. Time to pop a few more cans and sing “Amazing Grace.” Guys who are really abusing alcohol suddenly find religion and want to sing with other abusers of alcohol mostly church hymns for some reason.
Then from out of nowhere, (I’ve waited a long time to use that phrase), someone, I don’t know who, came up with a pint of Evan Williams whiskey which is so strong it could start a diesel engine. We all took a celebratory swig of the whiskey and then Timothy, I think, threw the whiskey on the smoldering pile of wood and the wood exploded with a warm fire that was accepted as a progressive move by everyone. Again, Ronald said another profound statement, “See how that whiskey burns on that wood? Imagine what it is doing to our stomachs.” We stood silent for about two minutes and then went back to consuming beer like this was the last beer on earth.
It was now, I’m guessing, about 9:30 p.m. and we had forgotten another valuable item: FOOD to eat while we were camping. Well, I take that back. Timothy had taken a frozen squirrel from his freezer at his home and said that we could roast the squirrel over the open fire. Great idea. We had to celebrate that with yet more cold beer and gospel songs while holding onto each other swaying back and forth. Guys who are really, really, getting loaded, do that. It’s very normal.
Notice I did say ‘a’ squirrel, that was now roasting over the fire that we had built inside the cave? One squirrel to feed four hungry guys--not a smart way to eat. But of the four of us, Tim and I did try to eat the squirrel, but we had been too busy consuming, well, funneling-down beer that we had let the squirrel overcook and was so hard it could have easily made a sole for a man’s shoe. Danny and Ronald apparently were not hungry for they kept on drinking beer and now talking in deep, philosophical terms--things like what if we are only like germs on a raindrop compared to the size of God? Things like that. Since Timothy and I were not of high IQ, we only focused on trying to eat the hard squirrel and consume more beer. Suddenly Danny and Ronald had vanished into the night fog and it worried Tim and me. What if they were kidnapped while we were in the cave, we thought to ourselves. Fact is, they had went up the homemade trail beside the cave to Danny’s car to roll a joint for them to enjoy along with the beer buzz that they had going. What a night. Life in the fast lane.
Now forgive me for not knowing the exact time, but I guess it was now around 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning. The moon was full. The campfire had burned down. Danny and Ronald were high-but-very-mellow and said that they loved Timothy and me. That made us glad. We returned our love and admiration to them with more beer. That’s what beer-drinking cousins and brother-in-laws do when they are throwing a Great, Secret Southern Backwoods Beer Fest.
Okay. The first one to get sick was me. I had to relieve my stomach of most of the beer that I had drank for my body was telling me, “You idiot! “I” can’t absorb case after case of beer--”I” don’t have anywhere to put it, so get ready, bub, for here it comes!” And it did. All over the ground outside and away from out campsite. Guys who drink heavy amounts of beer, although drunk as a skunk, (not that I have tried to actually talk to a skunk to see how drunk they get), have some respect for other guy drinkers and when it comes time to up-chuck, they always do it by themselves. Must be an ego-based thing in guys. Women drinkers on the other hand, up-chuck with other women drinkers. Women drinkers support each other and help each other with kind words and cold compresses on their heads.
The Great, Secret Southern Backwoods Beer Fest Epilogue . . .
It was now Sunday morning. Ronald was frying potatoes in an iron skillet. Where he found the potatoes is still a mystery. I woke up before Tim and Danny and my head felt like a Mac truck was parked on it--as it pounded out a song of pain and personal chastisement for drinking like a sailor on leave in Singapore. I was sick and hurting. Ronald, who had been that road before, only grinned and finished cooking his potatoes. He popped a beer top and said, “Here, have some ‘hair of the dog’ that bit you” and Ronald was right. That one beer made my headache go completely away. Thing was that I wanted another beer to go with that one, but thank God, we were out of beer.
After we all were awake and conscious, we all sat around for a little while discussing the events of the night before asking things like, “Did I kill anyone last night?” and “What happened to that brunette who came to our camp fire about midnight?” That question hit us like a freight train for there was no brunette, blond or redhead or women at all with us the night before. Booze can do that to a man’s mind--play tricks on him making him believe things that are not there.
With nauseated-stomachs, dizzy heads, and dirty clothes from sleeping on the dirt floor of our cave, we packed the car and headed for home. We made a vow to never tell anyone what we had done. My wife would have killed me on the spot. Danny’s wife would have followed suit. And Timothy’s mother would have disowned him for he was still living under her roof. The only one who was ‘free (of trouble) as a bird’ was cousin Ronald Goodson who only grinned at us from time to time as we packed our cars.
Many days after The Great, Secret Southern Backwoods Beer Fest was only a mellow memory, we all put what we done in proper perspective. Yes, we might have done wrong by having this backwoods drinking party behind our wives and Tim’s mother’s back. That’s a gimme. But there was one good thing that came out of our blow-out event:
Thanks to our efforts to drink our county dry of all beer, we, in our small efforts, had helped to keep the Budweiser, Miller, Pabst, Old Milwaukee and Michelob beer companies in business. And helped to keep jobs for some hard-working guys with families to feed, clothe and put through school.
Not a bad night after all. Not bad at all.