In my family drinking was something you did not something you avoided. Not that it was ever said out loud when I was a kid but it was implied by action and word that one could simply not be a real man (or woman for that matter) unless one could drink whiskey. By that they did mean Bourbon as we were from Western Kentucky. So the challenge was to learn how to drink properly and like most folks that took me way too long to get it right.
My dad died from a lightning strike when I was three and I lived with my good Scots-Irish stock grandparents until I was seven years old. In that time I remember my grandfather hunched over his console radio set listening to the St. Louis Cardinal and Chicago Cubs baseball games. He would pull a chair up close to the radio and chew apple brand tobacco (spitting in a Folgers Coffee can) and drinking Early Times on the rocks with a splash of water. No one was allowed to disturb the ball game…..no one.
Occasionally he would have a Falstaff beer but usually it was Early Times or ET as we all called it (way before the movie about the long fingered alien). The ET bottle lived in the pie safe snuggled deep in the pull out flour bin buried by pounds of Gold Medal flour. Sometimes I would come in from playing out in the yard to find my grandmother and 4 or 5 of her blue-haired buddies seated around the kitchen table each with a shot glass of Early Times and a Kool cigarette. The bottle standing proud in the middle of the table still had a generous dusting of flour still clinging to its shoulders. The ladies were gingerly smoking each puff as if they were kissing the cigarette I don’t know to this day why they all did that. If grandma smoked a pack a year I would have been surprised. The flour bin hiding place was of course so the minister would not see it (or any other tee totaler that might happen by), it was all about appearances in small town Kentucky. It was a dry county but every other person drank to some extent. While Granddaddy and Grandma were discrete and I never saw them smashed ever, most of the towns folk only knew one way to drink and that was…..until it’s all gone. Probably an evil created by the dry county, no one wanted to get caught so everyone just killed it off to destroy the evidence. They really did not get the concept of social drinking. I will never know for sure but I do know that those early childhood memories and that of my stepfather (who was the very best and also drank ET), cemented my future as a drinking man who could appreciate a good drink. If you were going to be a man you were going to drink and drink responsibly it was not a choice. Several of these folks were familiar with the art of making Moonshine but usually it was bourbon that folks drank. The drink was part of our culture and it was there for ball games, black and white TV shows, dances, and in the evenings sitting on the front porch swing with crickets chirping and lightning bugs flashing out in the yard. It was something to be enjoyed and appreciated. I proudly carry on that great family tradition.
The Whisky Warrior