Together We Stand, a community organization supporting local law enforcement and first responders, triggers memories of Daddy. He supported law enforcement in his own unique way and, on at least two occasions, worked directly with the Sheriff.
The first time was when I was about 5 years old. I was playing in the dirt with my toy John Deere tractor when I saw a cloud of dust approaching down the dirt road. Not far behind was another cloud of dust. Daddy skidded into the front yard in his old black Plymouth and ran into the house. Close behind was a Deputy Sheriff.
The next time I saw Daddy was the following Sunday afternoon when Mama and I stood on the sidewalk looking up at him waving to us from behind bars in the Limestone County Jail. The Deputy had seen Daddy driving down the road, and assuming he probably had a bottle of moonshine in his car, gave chase. Daddy barely had enough money to purchase the pint, much less pay a fine and court costs. He stomped the accelerator. The old Plymouth was no match for the new County Ford.
Back then, possessing alcohol was considered a major offense. Poor folks were easy pickings. To my knowledge, Athens Country Club where liquor flowed freely, was never raided. Daddy was a kind-hearted, hardworking, two-mule cotton farmer back in the 1940’s. When his back ached from pulling a nine-foot cotton sack from dawn till dark, there was no pill to relieve his pain. A nip of whiskey gave temporary relief.
He drank an occasional cocktail straight from the bottle several times during the day, and especially on weekends. Mama hated alcohol. It had destroyed her parents’ marriage when she was a little girl. Daddy got high on alcohol and Mama got high on religion. She encouraged him to attend church and often quoted Galatians 5:19-21, that drunkenness would keep him from inheriting the Kingdom of God. Daddy had read the scripture too. “Fornicators are on top of that list,” he said. “Drunks are near the bottom. And I ain’t going to church with a bunch of fornicators.”
That set Mama off like a Roman Candle. The more she quoted scriptures, the more Daddy drank. She launched a different offensive – pouring out Daddy’s whiskey. He would save up money, buy a bottle from a bootlegger and hide it in the smokehouse, looking forward to cocktails on the weekend. When I was seven years old, I joined forces with Mama. I peed in Daddy’s bottle. Poor Daddy, he couldn’t win. “Boy, don’t ever do that again,” he said to me. He spanked me only once and that was after I kicked Sylvia Turner off the couch when I was 5 years old. She was tickling my toes. My kids never peed in my bottle of single malt scotch, probably because they were sneaking nips.
Mama relied heavily on scriptures. “Your sins will find you out,” she often said to me. That happened in 1972 when my son, Mark was 6 years old. Carol and I had moved into our new home. We lived perfect lives, attended church three a week and pretended that hog dung didn’t stink. I was your basic hypocrite. We had invited a dozen or more of our young church friends over one evening and while we sat chatting in the living room, Mark appeared in our midst, proudly holding up a bottle of Jack Daniels.
“Look what I found Daddy!” I had hid the bottle under a blanket in the bottom of an Army footlocker located in a closet beneath the stairway. I blushed and tried to shift blame. “I-I don’t know where that come from…” “It was in your trunk,” he said. I was nailed.
After Mama’s scripture quoting and whiskey pouring campaign failed, she took another approach. She would pretend to get drunk! Her behavior would demonstrate how intolerably repugnant drunks are, and Daddy, seeing that would instantly quit drinking. She staggered, wobbled and babbled. It didn’t work; Daddy thought she was funny.
In 1947, when I was in the 2nd grade at Piney Chapel, we were tenant farming cotton on Bean Road. After cotton was “laid by,” Coy Johnson and I went back in the woods to build a log cabin. While nosing around, we saw a metal contraption with a snout and coiled wire. It scared us. We tore out to the house and told Mama. “It looked like a snouted monster,” I said. “And smelled like puke,” added Coy. It was a boutique distillery where Daddy hand crafted fine whiskey from organically grown corn.
The following day, Sheriff John Sandlin chopped the snouted monster to death with an axe. It was hush-hush subject in the family. Years later when Mama was in assisted living, I asked her about the snouted monster. “Mama, was that Daddy’s whiskey still?” She dropped her head, embarrassed. “I’m afraid it was.”
“Did you call Sheriff Sandlin?” She hesitated for a long time. “I believe I’ll take the fifth on that,” she said. Alcohol brought Daddy down and broke up our family. Many people can’t handle alcohol. I know; it killed my son, Mark.
Fortunately, not everyone can say their father supported law enforcement in the unique way that Daddy did, and that’s good news. But we take our parents as we find them; honor and lift up their goodness and help them when we can. I have learned one valuable lesson is life: don’t be too judgmental of others. Nowadays, I like to think that I’ve progressed from being a basic hypocrite to a more enlightened one. I may be on a roll.
By: Jerry Barksdale