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by Frank Shortt
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The Hurd boys, Uncle Clar, some of the Lows, and myself, were sitting in the back
of Simm's store one cold winter evening. The Hurds were strumming on guitars, a banjo, and a mandolin singing Bluegrass music.
Mrs. Simms came in the room carrying some Nabs, some Seven Up, and some canned sardines that one of the Hurd boys had ordered. Her
apron looked as though someone had wiped their nose on it for a year, in fact, every time her nose ran, she just picked up the end
of the apron and blew heartily into it. Mrs. Simms ran a local grocery story just across the Tazewell County line that served also
as post office. How someone this nasty could have gotten the commission to run a post office was anyone's guess.
The room where we sat, some on nail kegs, some on wooden powder boxes, and a couple on hickory thatched chairs, stank of week old
vomit, stale beer, and home brew. Mrs. Simms did not seem to mind the stench or the company just as long as they were paying customers.
"I wonder what Ralph Shott would think if he knew we were a'settin' here drinkin' illegal
hooch and gittin' soused," one of the Hurd boys asked. Ralph was the local deputy sheriff in that region of Virginia.
"He'd probably shoot us all like he did his brother the other day!" spoke up Mrs. Simms with fervor.
Ralph had indeed shot his brother
in the leg when he tried to resist arrest. We found out right then that he was not respecter of persons.
"Aw, Ralph ain't so bad once you git to know him," spoke up Uncle Clar. Ralph had given Uncle Clar rides up the hill a few times when
he was too drunk to walk up.
"Give the devil his due," opined Mrs. Simms.
The evening droned on and the Bluegrass songs became terribly monotonous to the young teenager, that I was, who yearned for some Elvis
and blue suede shoes. I had wanted a pair ever since I heard Carl Perkins singing about them on WRIC when they had a short rock and
roll segment in the early evening. Rock and roll seemed to mesmerize every teenager in the late fifties and early sixties. The old
folks kept warning us that every devil in hell was being let loose by them 'heathen twistin' demons'! In my old age I am convinced
they were right. It made girls do crazy things and the boys did not have enough sense but to go along with their shenanigans.
Uncle Clar declared, "Boys, I've got ahold of some new stuff! It's quick and powerful and will take the varnish offen the walls."
Everyone assembled, of course, became instantly 'all ears'!
"What is it Clar," one of the Low boys inquired.
Most of us in the room were so broke we
could not have afforded an old setting hen so we were game for anything. Times there in Tazewell County were pretty bad in the fifties
as coal had taken a downturn at that time. The only jobs were cutting brush for some farmer and getting stung by hordes of yellow
jackets and hornets. I was probably the most broke of any there as I did not even have a paying job at the time. The downturn in coal
had stopped the timber cutting business that my brother and I had going. We hoped this was a temporary setback.
"Wal, this here is called Grain Alcohol! Uncle Clar declared. If it don't make you drunk, nuthin' will!"
"What proof is it?" we all wanted to know.
"Aw, it's only 190 proof, but that's why we
have to soften it for the greenhorns with a little Seven-Up.
This all happened after Mrs.
Simms had gone to the front of the store to pick up some peanuts and Pepsi for the Hurd boys. They liked to pour the peanuts into
the top of the pop bottle and drink them as the Pepsi was dispensed. They said the fizz was what made the peanuts taste better. Had
she been there Uncle Clar would not have mentioned the Grain Alcohol. Mrs. Simms kept plenty of home brew around for the boys to get
high on of a cold Saturday night. Now it dawned on me what the Hurd boys had ordered the Seven-Up for. They were privy to Uncle Clar's
scheme and the Simms boys were smart enough to not say anything to the old lady. The Hurds had a pretty bad reputation.
soon, they began passing the brew around, each taking a sip and chasing it down with the Seven-Up. One could almost see smoke coming
out of the ears of the dumb clucks. Every time one would take a slug, chase it down with the Seven-Up, he in turn would dare the next
fellow to do the same, that is, after he was able to get his breath. Young hillbillies are pretty stupid sometimes. Uncle Clar was
sure getting a kick out of the proceedings.
Then it came my turn. Talk about a cheechako!
King Solomon had said that strong drink is a brawler! Strong drink is raging! I was led like a sheep to the slaughter! I turned her
up just as if I knew exactly what I was doing! It was like liquid fire! My whole insides seemed to want to retch all at once! The
Seven-Up did nothing to quell the burning. I almost went into apoplexy! Why my uncle allowed me to partake of the concoction I will
never know. He must have already been a little high himself or he might have had better sense. Did I quit and admit defeat? The next
time it came my turn, I did exactly the same thing. Why? I was young and stupid and did not want to appear to not being a man. What
man in his right mind would put his body through the tortures of Grain Alcohol?
going on in here?" Asked Mrs. Simms.
You could have heard a pin drop as Uncle Clar hastened
to hide the quart fruit jar that held the potent poison. It is a good thing Mrs. Simms was nearsighted.
Wy, we ain't a'doin' nothing!" one of the Simms boys averred. We's jus' settin' here enjoyin' the Bluegrass music.
I was indeed doing something. I was retching like a fountain, praying to die, and wishing I was somewhere else.
"What's wrong with him?" Mrs Simms wanted to know.
"He must have got hold of sum of
your ole rancid lunch meat!" one of the Hurd boys replied.
We could all tell that this
had hit a raw nerve. She had been known to scrape off some little green patches before wrapping someone's order in the cheap old butcher
paper that the flies had blown all day.
Rancid lunch meat would have tasted much better
than the taste I had in my mouth next morning! Plus, my head felt the size of a watermelon. It was a week or two before I got up the
nerve to try Grain Alcohol again.
Your comments about this column are welcome ~ e-mail Frank at
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