My maternal grandfather was an alcoholic. Not an everyday alcoholic, but he did have a schedule and he stuck to it religiously. I lived with him and my grandmother in Winnsboro for one year before escaping to Honey Grove to live with my father. My grandmother was a librarian working at Gladewater High School, about fifty miles away. She kept a small apartment there and would only come home on the weekends.
Granddaddy’s routine was to get drunk on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sunday evenings after my grandmother had hit the road back to Gladewater. His preference was cheap bourbon: Ten High. When I first moved in with them I had never seen anyone drunk before. My first thought was “He must be ill.” The old dog that lived with us knew better and from the first drink of whiskey he would disappear. I should have asked the dog what was the problem. Dogs can be very perceptive (and smart). But it didn’t take me too long to figure out nothing wrong with the old bastard, ‘cept he drunk.
He would sit beneath the ancient pecan tree in the back yard and have conversations with people from his past—rather one-sided conversations from my perspective, but fully engaging from his, as he would pause frequently to allow his guests to respond, then light into them again. Freaked me out at first and gave me nightmares, but later I became fascinated and would sneak up and hide in the bushes close by so my young ears could catch all the juicy bits. My cuss-word vocabulary increased exponentially. He would rant and rave at people who had wronged him, owed him money, or had just pissed him off in general. This could go on for hours and he was very animated, waving his arms and thrusting his finger in the face of folks who had probably been dead for decades. He apparently saved grudges like cash money. And there was nothing wrong with his memory.
A few times he threatened to beat me, but never quite got around to it. He was a boxer in his youth, but I really wasn’t concerned. Pretty much I just ignored him when he was hell-bent on terrorizing me.
I did have one little moment of sweet revenge. I was a bit of a hunter, nothing substantial, just varmints, small birds, water snakes, and the occasional tin can or empty Smuckers jelly jar–Just another burr-headed young Texan with a twenty-two rifle and a blood lust. One afternoon while trudging through the lush pasture which surrounded our house, a full box of .22 long rifle shells fell out of my jacket pocket. I searched diligently for the shells, as they had cost me real money, but I could not find them in the tall grass. I gave up and wrote them off.
Several weeks later my grandfather was on his John Deere tractor shredding the pasture. I was just coming out of the back door when the shredder found my long lost .22 shells:
“POP! POP! POP! POP! POP!” Vietnam had come to Texas.
I hit the ground and watched my grandfather desperately trying to drive his tractor out of the firefight he suddenly found himself in the middle of. I just couldn’t help myself. I laughed hysterically at this comic old fucker, spittin’ and swearin’ and doing his damndest to drive the hell out of Dodge.
After the bullets stopped flying, he started ‘tractoring’ back toward the house. I took this as my cue to make myself scarce. He had not heard my laughter over the burst of bullets going off all around him. When he found me in my bedroom earnestly playing at doing my school work, he was still visibly shaken and not just a little enraged.
“Boy! Did you lose a box o’ shells in the pasture?” he shouted.
“Uh… maybe. Why, did you find ‘em?”
“Ya coulda killed me! That’s why! I oughta beat your ass.”
“Yeah, well maybe you oughta an’ maybe you ought not,” I said with a bit of a mockery, then was betrayed by my overwhelming amusement at his standing there, trembling with rage and sweat pouring out from his grizzled old dome. I broke out in uncontrollable laughter.
Then he beat me, but it was worth it. Oh yeah. Worth ever’ lick.