Friday, September 25, 2009

A drunken story ( a fictional account loosely based on actual events...the names have been changed to protect the guilty)

     Every town has one, the resident drunk. You see him stumbling up and down the streets in the morning, not quite sure if it's day or night. He's sleeping in the doorways of the churches, and hanging around the dumpsters in back of the stores, but he's there, somewhere, in every town.
     The town of York, South Carolina had their fair share of drunks, which made certain holiday rituals quite entertaining.  Each year at Christmas, we would drive up to see Grandmother and Grandaddy and help them with their holiday errands. There were presents to wrap, fruitcakes to deliver, mantles to decorate, and the annual back lot bum run. Grandmother's idea of spreading Christmas cheer was to drive through all the back lots in town, passing out dollar bills to the resident drunks that lingered by the alleys as she wished  them all a "Merry Christmas!" She had been doing this for so many years that the resident drunks had come to expect her arrival, sort of like Santa Claus, and on the bum run day there always seemed to be a larger number of thirsty hobos hanging around the lots than usual.
      "Grandmother, he's just going to go buy liquor with that money," we told her each time. But she always had the same answer.
     "That is not for us to decide. I'm giving it to him, he can do whatever he wants to with it. He just might buy a hot meal. Now drive me out behind the drug store."
     So off we'd go, searching for another drunk who was going to be delighted to get a free Christmas toddy out of Mrs. Louise. She had no idea how much cheer she was actually spreading around those back lots each holiday.
     We had one in our own town, of course. His name was Willie Taylor, junyah, but his friends all called him Hambone.  He was a terrible drunk, stumbling around town in a wine-soaked haze, but he was a gentle, simple soul who loved to make friends with anyone willing to give him a minute.  A smile always lit up his face as he petted you on the shoulder while declaring "You's my buddy, you's my best buddy."
     He worked when he was sober enough, delivering fresh, hot donughts for a local restaurant. Problem was, he couldn't stay sober long enough to get through the day. Hambone would have to start nipping early on his delivery route, just a little sip here and there, to get him through the morning, steady out the shakes.
     He'd make it to the first few stops, slightly intoxicated but still somewhat coherent.  He'd nip a little more along the way, and by the time he passed the high school, Hambone was feeling so fine and carefree nothing bothered him. The students knew his routine well, and being hungry and devious, they also knew how to work it to their advantage. To his delight, the kids would call out, "Hey Hambone, howya doing? You gonna  be my buddy?"  It was widely known that Hambone wanted to be everybody's buddy.  He would amble over to the students,  pat them on the shoulder and say, "You's my buddy, you's my best buddy." To prove his devotion, he would start handing out the fresh donughts from his delivery box to all his best buddies, and before long, Hambone had no more goods to deliver.  He also had no more job for the day, so once again, he headed  to the back lots, dumpsters, and wine bottles.
        He had family in town, but had long ago abandoned living with them.  The siren call of the streets and the bottle seemed to be all his feeble mind could hear. They regularly tried to dry him out, sober him up, but never got anywhere. The liquor had too strong a grip on him, and Hambone didn't have the strength to fight it anymore. The years of drinking had drained him of all energy. Tired, weak, and bloated, he could only manage to shuffle around town looking for his next bottle and  his next best buddy.
     "You's gonna die of roaches in the liver," his mother would cry. "The doctuh done tole me and tole me that if you's ain't stop drinking, you's gonna get roaches in your liver. I don't know why you wanna die that way. Why, Willie, why you wanna die like dat?"
      But Willie, too far gone to listen to his mama anymore, only answered, "You's my buddy, mama, you's my best buddy."
     "I ain't yo buddy, Willie. I's yo mama. Now git on out of here and don't come back till you ain't likkered up no mo."
     They both knew that day would never come.
     He died one chilly spring morning behind a dumpster in the back lot, curled up like a sleeping baby, with a smile on his face.  The doctor had been right about those "roaches in the liver." Cirrhosis of the liver was the only thing Willie had left in the end, and it took the last drop of life from that gentle soul who only wanted to be someone's best buddy.

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