I was raised a Baptist. This was back in the olden Baptist days where in addition to the Ten Commandments we had the Five Baptist Commandments:
Thou shall not drink
Thou shall not smoke
Thou shall not go to movies
Thou shall not dance
Thou shall not have sex while standing up
There was no actual prohibition against having sex standing up, but good Baptists didn’t do it because they were afraid God might see them and think they were dancing. (Okay, it’s an old joke, but I always liked the irony it addressed.)
My dad always told me about how his dad, my grandfather, and his brother-in-law would go on a day trip and stop and buy a bottle of beer. They’d split the bottle between them. I doubt if a half bottle of beer gave either of them a buzz, but it wasn’t the buzz they were looking for. It was sneaking the beer behind the backs of their righteous Baptist wives. Of course at the same time my grandma and my great aunt were probably pounding down a bottle of hard cider, putting one over on their righteous Baptist husbands.
In the summer when it got hot my father would say, “A beer would taste good in weather like this.” He’d go buy a six-pack of Schlitz and a big can of tomato juice. He’d pour about an inch of beer in the bottom of a glass and fill the rest up with tomato juice. I doubt if he could even taste the beer, but it wasn’t the taste of the beer he was looking for; I don’t think he even liked beer. It was the burn-in-hell sinfulness of a Baptist drinking alcohol. When he had finished his tomato beer, Mom would take the rest of the can out to the kitchen to pour it down the sink. Mom was raised Catholic and became a Baptist when she got married. As soon as she was out of sight, she’d chug down the beer. If the only sin was having five rubber muskrats in your bath tub, half the country would have five muskrats in the tub and the other half would have four in the tub and a fifth teetering precariously on the edge of the tub.
My favorite uncle of all time was Uncle Bill; not that I didn’t like all my uncles, but Uncle Bill never took himself too seriously nor would he let you. He had been in World War II, definitely a part of “the greatest generation.” He had been a deputy sheriff when he was younger and perhaps that is part of the reason he was my favorite uncle. Uncle Bill told me a story once about how he and a couple other uncles took my dad out drinking. My uncles weren’t alcoholics, but they definitely consumed adult beverages from time to time. My dad had his couple of tomato beers every summer that were more tomato than beer. Of course Dad tried to keep up with the others that night. Soon he was drunk and then he was very drunk and pretty soon, Uncle Bill said, it was like all the bones had disappeared from his body. It came time to go home, and they didn’t know what to do with him. Finally they dragged him over to our house, dumped him on the porch, pounded on the door until the lights came on and “ran like hell.” Uncle Bill said they were two blocks away and could still hear my mother yelling some very unBaptist-like things at them.
I heard the story when I was grown and had kids of my own. My father passed away a few years ago, and I never told him I knew about the episode on the front porch. It’s good to find out that your parents were just as flawed as you. Sometimes we want our kids to think we never made mistakes or did anything wrong. I think humanizing parents helps the kids accept their own imperfections and mistakes. I’m sure my kids have found out about some of my mistakes, and there are plenty more left to be discovered. I’ve never claimed to be perfect. I can take it–as long as they don’t find out about the incident with the Cheez Whiz.
Read an excerpt from the soon to be released novel GRAVES OF HIS PERSONAL LIKING
Read an excerpt from IN THE STICKS