When I was young, I

Sep 09 2001 Kelly Norton
When I was young, I had a great uncle Bill and as people say in my home town, Uncle Bill would take a drink. Actually, Bill seldom stopped at one drink…or five. His capacity to imbibe and his weekend odysseys were well known, almost legendary.
just like Raoul Duke! right?
But times were different then. This was a time before stricter drunk-driving laws provided politicians a non-offensive platform to popularity. It was a time when local law enforcement was more likely to help you on home than throw you in the tank. There were many weekends that Uncle Bill made it home under the watchful guidance of a local sheriff's cruiser; that and some sort of unwavering divine providence. As with most drunks, if they can manage not to kill themselves or others, they will play the lead in stories so outlandish they seem implausible to all but fellow drunks. Uncle Bill was the hero in so many of these stories that almost every member of the family has their own personal Bill-story. One Friday so very long ago, for instance, he and my great aunt were in town to eat dinner with my grandparents. Food preparations were well underway when they realized that they needed a bag of flour. Since Uncle Bill had the least to do, he was charged with making the four mile trip to the local grocery store to pick up the smallest bag of flour he could find. Well, apparently he had a bit of trouble finding a suitably small bag. He missed dinner that night, and dinner had to go on without the flour. In fact, he missed dinner the next night as well. Uncle Bill may have never found the small bag of flour, but on Sunday night he showed up with a 20 pound bag of sweet potatoes on his shoulder. There is still some mystery as to where his search took him, but he was rumored to have been drinking in an Alabama bar that Saturday night. Where he spent the rest of his time that weekend, no one has a clue, and it's probably better no one knows.

When we used to spend Thursday nights at the Fox and Hound drinking pints of Guinness, I would tell my Uncle Bill stories. They always seemed popular, though everyone assumed that they were completely fictional. Unfortunately, they weren't. My Uncle Bill was one of the many "characters" that I knew growing up. It amazes me sometimes how shocked people are at the stories, as if a crazy uncle is so foreign to them. Everyone has at least one crazy relative and everyone has stories. Some shamefully forget, as if the behavior of some alcoholic great uncle will reflect poorly on them. Regardless of what people think, though, I consider Uncle Bill a hero of sorts. Not because he wandered dangerously around two states in a drunken search for flour, sweet potatoes, and whatever else might have crossed his intoxicated mind; but because he lived a life worthy of retelling. There is something in that…there must be.