Discover more from Poiema
Papaw's 200 Proof
*If you've ever thought about supporting my work by becoming a paying subscriber, now is the perfect time! I am offering access to all of our stories and essays, and a full year's subscription, for only $30!
Granddaddy says, “I wasn’t raised, I was snatched up.” When he was just a boy, his daddy, Papaw Reg, was stricken with a brain tumor that left him unable to work. So Granddaddy, as the oldest of six kids, became a grown man when he was nine and a half.
He could sit a horse and plow a mule before he learned his multiplication tables. But he learned his math pretty fast too since it’s mighty hard to know how many ears of corn you get per field without being able to factor the number of stalks by the number of rows.
His mother, Mamaw Elsie, taught him to drive that year so he could go to school and run errands. Since he was still so short that he couldn't see over the steering wheel, he had to pile saddle blankets in the seat. That helped his height situation, but it didn’t do anything about his length problem. So he cut wooden blocks from old railway ties and strapped them to his boots in order to reach the pedals. “With those blocks on my feet, Ridin’ with me was a noisy affair,” he said. “It sounded like an iron-shod Clydesdale trotting across a pine box.”
He said, “I didn’t do chores when I got home. I went to work. Tending the fields and mending the fences. Hunting and cleaning whatever hog or deer or squirrels would be supper that week. But still finding time to get into enough trouble that momma was able to keep her fishing arm limber by switching my behind.”
But although Papaw Reg wasn’t able to do a lot of the hard work on account of his condition, he was able to do the harder work of turning boys into men. Granddaddy said, “I talked back to momma one time and was fool enough to let daddy hear me do it. Daddy never looked up from his plate. So I wasn’t expecting it when the back of his hand landed across my face. He said, ‘I reckon you think a grown man don’t have to mind his momma. That’s fine. But ain’t no grown man gonna’ disrespect my wife without dealin’ with me.’”
Papaw Reg was a rough character, but at least he had some character. And that is precisely what he passed on to Granddaddy. Work hard. Tell the truth. Take care of your family. Stand up for the flag. Bow your head to pray. And help those in need whenever you’re able.
“Daddy took us to the old Ebenezer Presbyterian Church every Sunday. He thought his kids should know the Lord and the Bible. And he figured the plowing mules could use a break,” Granddaddy said. “But I never remember him going inside the church. He would sit outside and wait for the service to finish. But every Sunday, those poor Presbyterians went home with fresh vegetables or jars of jam or pickled meat, appearing to them like manna in the backs of their rusted out Fords and Chevys.”
I asked Granddaddy once why Papaw never went to the services. He said that it had something to do with a conversation the pastor had with Papaw in support of the temperance movement. It was known that Mamaw made corn liquor. She used to say, “Jesus turned water into wine. I have to turn whiskey into grits and gravy.”
“Before he died,” Granddaddy said, “Your Papaw did tell me that he didn’t do right by not attending the services. Even though he was just trying to avoid causing a scandal. He believed in pure religion. He called it “200 Proof Religion.” He’d quote the Apostle, ‘Pure religion and undefiled, is to visit the fatherless and widows, and to keep yourself unspotted from the world. Daddy saw himself as spotted by liquor and general meanness. So while we were inside the church singing, he was loading pickups down with groceries even though we barely had enough for our own table.”
Papaw Reg must have taught Granddaddy well. I’ve spent my entire watching my grandfather work long hours and take extra shifts so he could have just a little extra. For others.
I remember going to the store with him once when I was a kid. And like most kids, I was always asking for something. “Can we buy a toy?” I asked. “Yes,” he said “But not for you. I know a little boy about your age whose daddy ran off and left him and his momma. He don’t have nobody to buy him toys, and nobody to play with. How’s about we go pick out a toy for him?” I still remember the shocked joy on that boy’s face when we showed up with the He-Man action figure I had picked out.
Even though Granddaddy is now in his seventies, he’s still the man the little old ladies of the church call. He’s their maintenance man, chauffeur, dog wrangler, snake charmer, tree feller, wood splitter, and lawn mower. When he has free time in the spring and summer, you’ll find him fishing. But even that is just so he can stock the freezers of widow women with a taste for crappie. And for the past several years, he’s spent the Saturdays of December getting snot all over his britches legs. Crusty patches of affection formed by the happy tears of the kids at a Little Rock children’s home. A lot of kids have caught their moms or their dads playing Santa on Christmas Eve, but I watched my Granddaddy outgive St. Nick all year long.
He’s got that “Pure Religion.” The kind of religion that is best practiced in public, but always quietly. The kind of religion where one hand is so busy tending widows and the other with looking after orphans that the left hand doesn’t even know what the right hand is doing. The kind of religion where all of the law and the prophets can hang on a single word–Others.
Unlike his father, Granddaddy does go inside the church for the Sunday services. But unlike many others, he never leaves his religion in the pew when he walks back outside.
Please Consider Supporting Us
If you have found value in my work and writing, then this may be an opportunity for you to support my future endeavors. Given the time and resources it takes to research and write books, articles, lessons, and all the rest of it, I can’t do this work apart from your generosity.
If you would like to support our work on a monthly basis, consider doing so as one of our patrons through Patreon.
If you would like to make a one time donation, you can do so by sending it directly through PayPal.