The Year When I Lived at "The Place With No Gravel Roads for Old Drunks"
What we know about booze. Truthfully speaking, in a world that was less complex, grain alcohol manufactured by older, wiser men somewhere way back in the deep woods of the south, "run" off a lot of corn whiskey to be only for medicinal purposes. God being my witness, this is the truth. My grandparents on both my parents' side testified to this fact. But even with conscious moderation, groups formed and stomped across town and our Federal Government bowed down and passed the Prohibition Law declaring that our glorious free nation was free of alcohol. Dry, to be exact.
So Prohibition was on. But something shady was afoot. After many years, 1920 through 1933, Prohibition failed in North America and illegal booze could now be manufactured, transported, and sold. Rum-running became widespread and organized crime took control of the distribution of alcohol. Did I mention "No. 1 Enemy," Al Capone? Distilleries and breweries in Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean flourished as their booze products were either consumed by visiting Americans or illegally exported to the U.S.A. Then the Windy City, Chicago became notorious as a haven for prohibition dodgers during the time known as the Roaring Twenties--did I mention those gorgeous Flappers? Prohibition generally came to an end in the late 1920s or early 1930s in most of North America and Europe, although a few locations continued prohibition for many more years.
I cannot allow the above historical blurb to stand alone as the total definition of Prohibition and its post years without mentioning moonshining. I know of several places in the south that moonshining as well as the entire southland (including Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Kentucky) were not as an illegal means to making fast bucks, but a true industry with the unemployment in our country being as rampant as abusing of booze. Even today, the survivors of those early "shiners" have said openly that although their family were dedicated church-goers, food still had to be put on the table--and many moonshiners made a life choice to feed their famiiles rather than shun the Federal Government.
Let's be clear. I am not an agent of temperance. And if I had lived in Prohibition Days, I would have sought somewhere to hide. In my teens I studied about how our country was bullied about drinking alcohol and the affects of its society. In my high school years, I studied those black and white photos of group Temperance Marches held to shut-down saloons and stores that bought booze. And with all things being equal, the "Tempies" won. No arguing about that.
And while we are not arguing, I will not challenge anyone who says that alcohol "abuse" can cause problems in one's health, mind, and even society. Some can handle the evil grape. Some cannot. But, this is not taking sides, our society is certainly smart enough and strong enough to just hold back from that 13th shot of Jack Daniels. Barring weddings, anniversaries or birthdays. And for those discerning folks who can drink over 13 shots of Old Number Seven, I would highly suggest that a friend or family member stand by to help this celebrating person home safe and sound--by using any means possible. I know that I am coming off sounding like a finger-pointer about people who get drunk, but I am not. I have been drunk many times and lived to pay for it. This is why I am not good at judging the sorriest or lowest of transgressions.
I wish now that my paragraphs were shorter. Just a thought. I wrote the highest of highlights in my previous five paragraphs in my pro and con views about booze to get us to this point. When I was in the second grade, 1962, we lived in a frame house that was much smaller than the big house we lived in while my dad was at his sharecropping peak from 1960 through 1961 working for (a) Mrs. Verta Dobbs and getting to drive her Ford tractor in his work. I wish now that my dad had told me why we had to move from this roomy place to a smaller home that did not have one bedroom--my dad, mom, and myself all slept into our small living room. We had a kitchen and a fireplace. That was it. Factually, I stopped wondering why we moved for even when I was a kid, I hated this place for our house that was one notch below being a shack, sat near a creek and the damp atmosphere kept my asthma aggravated in most of the years that we lived in this dump.
It was at this dump-of-a-house (that we rented) where we met this old man, "Bud," his real first name and I will not reveal his last name for fear that someone in northwest Alabama might know him. He was a know-it-all and for his advanced age, this was a miracle. I guess that his sharp mind was due to the homemade liquor that he not only drank and kept out of sight in his black left suit pocket. How did I, a thin, sickly boy of 8, know that the whiskey was homemade? Real corn liquor is clear. And this "Bud" codger was too stingy (sound familiar--Malone "Greedy" Fikes?) to get someone to take him to somewhere in Mississippi so he could buy his whiskey. He preferred to buy illegally-distilled moonshine. And this is the truth. Our town and county and most of Alabama was "dry" meaning that booze was not sold to anyone. Fact: The first time that this old man, "Bud" walked on this rented dump and garden spot, he was "tight" with moonshine because of how he staggered from left to right and his aged tongue became thick as he would try to lie (through his teeth) to my dad who was renting this dump. I guess that "Bud" was one of the main reasons that cause me to grow up bitter.
Now for a psychological mini-lesson: A person can grow in life and experience areas of bitterness, but a person who causes others to be ran over, will grow bitter. I should have made a living telling confused people the difference in bitter and facing bitterness.
"Bud" lived across a hill northeast toward Hamilton, Ala. This old man lived with his son, "Dalt," with wife, "Lillian," in a real house covered in nice-looking Sherwin-Williams paint. I am just assuming here about the brand of paint to add some juice to this real story. "Dalt" drank homemade whiskey like it were water, but with one difference: When "Bud" drank, I knew it, any eight-year-old knew it, even his son, "Dalt" knew it for he was not able to "hold his liquor" like "Dalt," who loved to walk and carry a hickory stick that he could defend himself against snakes and angry biting dogs. "Dalt" was a decent man even while he was drinking which was most everyday. I cannot tell you if "Bud" drank a lot, but one thing was clear: I did not like "Bud," for his lofty attitude and know-it-allish traits.
If only God in His omnipresence had given me a touch of wisdom in 1962 when "Bud," full of moonshine, would let go some unwanted fact to impress someone else, I could have said, "Bud," take a good look. We are living in "Downtown Poverty, U.S.A.," and you have the gall to be lofty-minded?" But God being God, did not oblige me. During this short time of living in our near-shack-of-a-house, I only saw "Bud" three times and all three when he was "tight." But I had learned to not listen as he gabbed his jaws until exhaustion just so he would shut up.
Now to tell you about someone else who drank homemade whiskey. His name, "Clyde." I put my hand up to God that this was his real name. "Clyde," much like "Dalt" was another decent man who lived somewhere in our area, but I was never told exactly where. I guess that my folks judged that me knowing where he lived wasn't important. But truth be written, I liked "Clyde." He never raised a hand to harm me or anyone else. And said even less than he drank. (I've never used that phrase before).
Sad. You don't know the half of it. When you are eight, and live in a near-dump, in 1962 on a county gravel road, you do not get the proper behavioral training or thinking that today would be standard equipment for parents in 2017. I am not hating, but my dad, yes, a complex, gifted man, never taught. He yelled. Mom knew better than to argue with him for (in years to come) she confided in me that he, (dad), was "too high-strung," as she softly told me. I had suspected this of him before she told me the truth. Now that made the two of us who feared him. And why I was never taught to exercise common sense and logic when dealing with older men who love to drink homemade, illegal whiskey. It was no one's fault. This was just how life was for us in 1962. Modern psychology had yet to be installed in society and school programs.
I was talking about sad. More about me than "Clyde" when he really drank hard. I do not know how much "hard" equates to, but I did happen to be outside playing cowboys and Indians one day when school summer vacation was here and I was having a great old time shooting angry Indians on imaginary pony horses charging at me. I had no choice. My imagination at that time had started to come alive so my "story" this time went too far and I found myself walking outside of our yard and walking northeastward toward the home of "Dalt," "Lillian," and "Bud." I never made it, thank God, to the home of these aforementioned people.
Life stopped for a second or two. I had drew down on two Comanche's ready to throw a sharp spear at me and surely take my life when I pulled the trigger on my official "Have Gun-Will Travel" pistol with black imitation pistol grips. (Richard "Paladin" Boone would have been proud). And there he lay, "Clyde," not Boone, in the water and red mire that all roadside ditches have in abundance. "Clyde" was sitting perfectly still holding a near-empty pint bottle of what looked like to be either vodka or homemade liquor (like "Bud" and "Dalt" drank). Although he was not moving, his eyes were glued right on me and smiling as if he had swallowed a bumble bee. I continued to stare while my little heart was beating out of my chest. Pray tell where was "Paladin" when I needed him?
"Kee------eennn----yyyyy! Get here right now!" my mom yelled from the near-dump of a house from the inside. And what a voice. She could have sung Opera in Carnegie Hall if the opportunity had afforded itself. My fear was now focused from "Clyde" who was still sitting perfectly still to my mom whose voice had just shocked me into reality.
When I ran down a little hill that led to our dump, I told mama everything and I mean each detail about how "Clyde" looked, what he wasn't doing, and how he did not bother me. It was just me and my mom. Dad had went to do an errand in our hometown and my sister was making a nice home out of her brand new Jim Walter home that sat about two miles from us. But we knew better than to yell for help. So we just stayed quiet and didn't make a sound.
I guess that you are now soaked in suspense at what or where "Clyde" went. Honestly, I cannot tell you. Neither did my mom reveal where "Clyde" had walked or crawled out of that road ditch. When my dad returned, the question about where "Clyde" went was the first thing my mom asked.
"Clyde?" my dad asked very surprised.
"Yes," I yelled. "he was sitting in that ditch up there and not moving at all--but he was holding something that looked like whiskey," I added to make sure that I had not forgotten one detail.
"Never seen him. Guess he up and vanished," my dad said quickly and without as much saying anything further. I sat near our living room window staring at where I had seen "Clyde" only a few minutes later.
In eight years time, it was now 1970. My family (apparently my dad loved to move from home-to-home so to speak) and I were living at another home on a main county highway north of town. I was enjoying my driver's license and listening to Johnny Winter; Ten Years After; Steppenwolf and all of the Rock that us teens liked.
I went riding by myself in our car and decided to stop at a small general store and gas station just outside of our hometown. I shut off the car and walked inside the store to buy myself a soft drink. And there he was. "Clyde." In the flesh. Standing proud and smiling like the free man that he was. I spoke to him. He spoke back and thanked me for my business.
The atmosphere suddenly turned tense. But not in an angry, suspicious way.
Finally. "Are you Kenny?" "Clyde" asked so humble and yet so firm.
"Uhhh, yeah. That's me," I said taking a sip from my Coca Cola. "Where have I seen you?"
"Oh, it's tough. Really tough. Why?" "Clyde" asked in a very serious tone.
"Oh, I don't know. You'd think that I crawled out of a road ditch somewhere," he replied and then there it was. He winked and went about this business in his store.
Any other time I would have jumped on that opportunity to let my curious mind kick into gear and gently remind him of me, when I was a kid, seeing him laying perfectly still in our road ditch. But as I walked out of "Clyde's" store, he nodded good-bye as I left. I too, nodded as I walked to the car.
My chance encounter had taught me one valuable thing: the "Clyde" that was now the owner of this country store was as sober as a circuit judge. I was so proud.
And although I did let the question of gently reminding him of me when I was eight, seeing him in a wet road ditch near my house, but I didn't.
Sometimes just by asking someone about a bad decision that they made was just like kicking someone while they were down. And who really needs that?
© 2017 Kenneth Avery