Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Drinking Gene

If you’ve got any “westering” blood in you, you probably also carry the “drinking gene.” Just think about it. Why would men leave the cozy safety of fireside and feminine company for the wilds of the unsettled if they didn’t have something that drove them to it?

You might respond that they were looking for opportunity. Well, that’s all and good except there’s opportunity about everywhere one looks. It’s just a matter of hard work and stick-to-it-ness that turns anything into success.

I suspect many a lazy drunk headed west because his wife drove him to it. Can’t you just hear the conversation?

Her: “Get your lazy rear up and get to work. You won’t never accomplish anything settin’ there with that jug!”

Him: “Ain’t nothing here to accomplish! All the good land is already taken and so are all the good jobs.”

Her: “We got land that could be cleared, wood that needs cuttin’, huntin’ to do and hogs that need butchered and here you sit, sippin’ from a jug and complainin’. All it takes is some industry to turn it into a pretty good livin’!”

A few days go by during which he makes a trip to town where he and his buddies share a jug and a little conversation. They hear tales about the glorious west with furs for the taking, gold for the plucking and land that stretches clear to the horizon. So, filled with liquid courage, our good man goes back to his young bride and says, “You’re right honey, you deserve the good life. I’m gonna head west and make us a fortune and then send for you to come out and join me.

She responds, “You just do that. It can’t be any worse than what I’ve already got. I already do most of the work around here. Don’t come back ‘til you’ve made your fortune.”

That was one scenario. Here is another.

Lewis and Clark are putting together an expedition to map the Louisiana Purchase. They scratch their heads in perplexity at the daunting task of finding a group of men to go with them. They realize they will face hardships and hostile Indians. They know that many of them won’t return. Finally one looks to the other (I’ve no idea which) and says, “Jefferson gave me a good bit of money to get this expedition going, why don’t we head down to the waterfront to one of those bars and see if we can make us a few friends. We’ll get ‘em drunk and then get ‘em to sign on. We need lots of booze because we may have to keep ‘em drunk ‘til we’re half way there. It will need to be far enough out that they will be safer sticking with us than heading back on their own.”

So, they went to the bar and ordered drinks for everyone. Then they issued a challenge: “I’ll bet there ain’t a one of you sorry cases that’s tough enough to join us on a little expedition out west. We only want the meanest, toughest, orneriest types to go with us. We’ll cross some of the wildest lands and fight some of the deadliest Indians on the continent until we get all the way to the Pacific Ocean and I’ll bet there ain’t a one of you that can handle the trip!”

Well, you know that courage pours out of those bottles right along with the colored liquid they contain. Nearly every man in the joint took offense at the challenge and signed on immediately along with belittling and bullying any laggards into doing the same. It only took one stop to fill the quota of men needed and the expedition was ready to go. It only needed two wagons of rotgut booze to make it to the Mississippi and another boatload to start west.

Or, let’s try another scenario.

This one occurs in the Deep South in the early 1800’s after a round of drinking that impaired the judgment of the participants.

“You have impugned my honor for the last time, sir. I challenge you to a duel at 30 paces!”

After the challenger and the challenged have raised their level of courage to a point sufficient to the event by sipping from the little brown jug, they meet at the appointed time and place. Such events were generally considered outside the law even in those perilous times, yet they occurred nonetheless. The trouble was, often the victor became outside the law but was in a better position than the loser who was perhaps, dead. Hence, the victor often traveled west where his past could easily disappear into, well, the past, and no questions were asked.

So, you see, many of the ancestors of us folks out west had a little of the “drinking gene” that drove them beyond the borders of civilization and into the wilds. It makes you wonder if the West would ever have been settled without the little brown jug.

[The idea for this brief piece came from the 1927 book, “Trails Plowed Under” by Charles M. Russell.]

[Since this was published I came across the following linked article:  Genes Influence Your Response to Others' Drinking Habits  -- hmmmmm......]


Plowing and Sowing said...

So what are you saying? We all need to hit the bottle and go conquer something?

That is pretty funny to think about.

Cimarron said...

So what is your excuse? This 'westering' yearning of yours...
I seem to have inherited it from you. I get the 'itch' to move on and find someplace else...different house, different job, different scenery.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

Maybe the answer is in the old gospel song:

"This world is not my own, I'm just a'passin' through...."

Anonymous said...

I work construction. I have a house I have owned for 15 years and have slept in it less than my Airstream. This is a business where a person with maybe a high school education but a lot of drive can make easy six figures. But I have yet to see anyone who has done this for over 3 years and become successful has or is in recovery from either drugs, booze, women or a combination of the three. I think it is because we cannot handle the day in day out boredom of a normal life. My daddy commented I had quit more good jobs than most men ever had.
True. And I have drug up on 2 of them because of issues that I would not bend on and the person I was working for would not take the advice they were paying me for.
So I agree. There is something that will take a perfectly reasonable person, and instill wanderlust and a desire to see or do something new.
Someplace else.