Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Uncle Zeke’s War on Booze: Now That’s What I Call Drunk

by David Parmer

Uncle Zeke was an avowed Prohibitionist. During the period of Prohibition, Uncle Zeke constantly railed against his friends and neighbors who violated the law by drinking moonshine whiskey or home brew. Uncle Zeke also criticized the law enforcement community for not enforcing the laws against whiskey and other illegal spirits. According to Uncle Zeke, anyone who drank and went to church were “hypocrites” and those who drank and didn’t go to church were “going to hell in a hand basket’

After the Volstead Act created the period known as Prohibition and outlawed the sale and manufacture of alcohol, many citizens of the Orlando area felt this law was an infringement upon their right to take a drink of liquor or to have a beer. And, where there is a disagreement with a law there is going to be open disregard of the law. Such attitudes got under Uncle Zeke’s skin. In a 1921 column in his Buzzardtown News, Uncle Zeke wrote: “Some people think that the Devil may swap his interest in the infernal regions for a little patch up here on earth. Well, I have the very spot picked out for him already equipped with the Devils, and I am sure he would like it if it isn’t too tough a place for the old gentleman. If he ever comes to see about it he had better bring a gallon or two of moonshine and a deck of cards and I think he would be sure to make a deal. He couldn’t make it any worse.”

Just a couple of weeks later in his news column, Uncle Zeke again lambasted the “alcohol crowd.” “O, when will prohibition prohibit? I would like to see the time when officers of the law would do their duty and put a stop to such cussedness as is being carried on in most every community. Shame on the young men and the older ones too who are ruining their reputations, their health and their immortal souls. Listen, the Good Book tells us that no drunkard can enter the Kingdom of Heaven and if you miss Heaven you miss it all.”

Uncle Zeke (P.N.Blake) is second from the left in this photo.
Uncle Zeke appeared to be feuding with the Orlando correspondent of the Braxton Democrat who apparently did not consider alcohol the mortal sin that Uncle Zeke thought it was: “The Orlando correspondent says he is drinking normalcy tea, but we call it ‘pickhandle of old hen.’ He says a few years ago a person had the money to buy flour but now they have to buy it on time. He forgot to tell you that it was no trouble for the person to pay five dollars for a quart of moonshine whiskey these days.” To further his thesis that Orlando was becoming a den of iniquity, in a December 1928 column Uncle Zeke wrote “Orlando seems to be much noted for its boozing, especially on Saturday nights; but will say it is mostly by boys from the other neighborhoods. It is evident that moonshine is being made by some person or persons not many miles away. I think the people of Orlando should warn these bootleggers when they come to town to take their goods and hike…” Orlando also was a haven for bootleggers, according to Uncle Zeke: “One, two, three, four, five. Five bootleggers, it is claimed, were disposing of their wares in Orlando one day last week He that is filthy, let him be filthy still. We also read where the dog doth return to his vomit and the sow to her wallowing in the mire. And the day is here.”

Uncle Zeke also was quite emphatic about what he thought would be an appropriate penalty for drinking the “Devil’s juice”: “I believe that every man who makes moonshine whiskey, and every man who sells it, and every man who drinks it and makes a pig of himself should be beaten with many stripes until they would bawl like a dying calf every time they looked at a drop of moonshine. I believe the whipping post would be a worse punishment to inflict than imprisonment. Any how it would be cheaper on the taxpayer.”

Uncle Zeke was fond of putting his feelings about a subject to verse:

A beer parlor or liquor store,
Is the devil’s church and nothing more.
My brother, sister, friend or foe,
To the devil’s church don’t ever go.

Old Satan’s name you can’t besmirch,
And many voted to build this church.
Him who doeth all things well,
Says the end thereof is a burning hell.

As you grow older day by day,
And your locks of jet begin to gray,
Ask God that you the right way choose,
And always fight the curse of booze.

Of course, Uncle Zeke was lamenting in his verse above the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment which had outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcohol. With the repeal of the prohibition amendment it once again became legal to manufacture and sell beer and whiskey. Uncle Zeke was highly critical of the voters who brought about the repeal of the law: “People who pray dry prayers and vote wet may expect such prayers to catch fire before they reach the ears of the Lord.”

At other times Uncle Zeke was bitingly ironic about the change of conditions: “O, well, all we need is a bottle of whiskey and a cigarette so what is the use of work?” And of local conditions, Uncle Zeke wrote: “Oil Creek has been pretty full several times since whiskey has been legalized.” Saloons also came under fire from Uncle Zeke’s pen:

The Saloon Bar
A bar to heaven, a door to hell,
Whoever named it, named it well.
A bar to manliness and wealth,
A door to want and broken health.
A bar to honor, pride and fame,
A door to sin and grief and shame.
A bar to hope, a bar to prayer,
A door to darkness and despair.
A bar to honored useful life,
A door to brawling, senseless strife.
A bar to all that’s good and brave,
A door to every drunkard’s grave.
A bar to joy that home imparts.
A door to tears and aching hearts.
A bar to heaven, a door to hell,
Whoever named it, named it well.

Uncle Zeke was not shy about naming names of those who imbibed too freely: “Homer Skinner and old John Barleycorn had a little knockout recently. Old John knocked Homer out the first round. Homer surely forgot that old John “Hell” Barleycorn has knocked more people out than John L. Sullivan ever did.”

Uncle Zeke reserved his most biting criticism for one of his Buzzardtown neighbors:
“I have been informed that a real bachelor of our town who answers to the name of Burr did on a certain evening recently imbibe too freely of a beverage known as moonshine. After arriving at the point of real booziness and sleep weigh upon his brow, he crawled into Joe Riffle’s hog pen, there to snooze. Sometime during the night the hogs seemed to tire of their intruding visitor and decided to arouse him from the don’t-give-a-dam state to which he had attained. When he awoke the hogs were chewing at his mustache and he evidently thought they were trying to kiss him goodnight until he discovered they had eaten up a new hat, chewed the sleeves out of his shirt, and the back of his vest was also missing. It doesn’t pay to take up lodging in a swine pen. This will be remembered as the same person who on a former occasion took up lodging one night in Ezra’s Posey’s hen house and became cock sure of the roost, and it was said that about the break of day he actually flopped his wings and crowed.”

Now, that’s what I call drunk!

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