We Used to Call them Drunks


When I was a kid we didn’t use the word alcoholic when referring to someone who drank too much.  We called them a drunk.  We all knew who the drunks were…everyone did.  When someone mentioned Mr. Powell down the road the word drunk usually was coming before long.  And yes, Mr. Powell was usually drunk when you saw him.

One good thing about those times is that when my parents or any adult talked about Mr. Powell around us kids they never referred to him as Ralph Powell.  It was a respectful Mr. Powell.  In those days we treated people with more respect and even a drunk was afforded basic respect.

I knew several drunks.  A few kids in our class had dad’s known as drunks.  Once, during a revival, a friend’s father was laying drunk in the ditch just outside the church only a couple of blocks from his home.  The word made it to us kids that a drunk man was laying in the ditch and we all went to gawk at him.  It surprised us a little that no adult came to his rescue.  I know now that this was not an unusual scene for them and they were leaving him there to sleep it off.  He did seem to be sleeping peacefully.

Our parents didn’t seem to discriminate against these drunkard dads.  Our parents never forbade us to go to their houses and we were in and out of their homes regularly.  It didn’t hinder the popularity of their children either.  They were often the most liked and popular kids in our school.

Some of these dads held down a regular job and seldom missed a day while others had a difficult time holding a job and the mom often had the steady paycheck.

I recently heard an interesting story about one of these gentlemen I knew as a kid.  I have changed the names in this story to protect their children.

Growing up my grandfather and father owned a farm together.  I spent a lot of time there with my grandfather since my dad had a day job in town.  On their farm was a small house not much more than a shack. It had no running water nor indoor bath.  My grandfather allowed Mr. Powell to live there.  When he wasn’t drunk he would give my grandfather a hand.  My grandfather usually gave him a few dollars which he used to buy the meagerest of groceries, usually sardines, saltines and bottle of cheap booze.

Mr. Powell had two friends in the community and just so happens that both friends were also drunks.  I guess you could say they were drinking buddies.  As the story goes Mr. Powell, Mr. Strickland and Mr. Dilashaw were in the middle stages of tying one on.

As would sometimes happen between them they began to talk religion.  Mr. Strickland who had a church going wife began to talk about Jesus and some of the miracles He performed.  Some said Mr. Strickland knew the Bible backwards and forwards. Then Mr. Strickland looked at Mr. Powell and said, “Ralph, have you ever been baptized.”  Mr. Powell sort of looked down and shook his head no.

Mr. Strickland said, “well you believe in Jesus don’t you?”  “Well of course I do,” said Mr. Powell.  “Well then, you need to get baptized.  Albert Mize’s fish pond will do the trick.  New Hope Baptist uses it all the time to do their baptizing.”

So right then and there Mr. Strickland, Mr. Dilashaw and Mr. Powell walked over to my grandfather’s fish pond and Mr. Strickland and Mr. Powell walked down into the water and Mr. Strickland baptized Mr. Powell.

I heard this story for the first time today, but I do remember walking past the pond with my grandfather when he said, “I am afraid all my fish are going to die.”  “Why do you think that,” I asked. “The Baptist at New Hope had a baptizing here on Sunday and I am afraid all those sins that washed out into the pond are going to kill my fish.”

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