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Tom Chaney: The Joy of Drinking

Of Writers And Their Books: The Joy of Drinking. Tom favors the 'Forty Gallon Baptists' as he recounts a long friendship of telling tales to each other. Click on headline for complete story with photo of Master Blueberry This column first appeared 8 June 2008.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Bank Robbery in Hart County

By Tom Chaney

The Joy of Drinking

Last week I had a quite special trip. It fell my lot to deliver a Charlie Williams sheep dog from the wilds of Hart County to the wiles of suburban Columbus, Ohio.

Bob and Candy Canzoneri are no strangers to Hart County or even to Williams sheep dogs. Master Blueberry is a replacement for his great uncle who recently died. In the past the Canzoneri made my kitchen a pit stop on their way to visit kin in Memphis and Mississippi.

Alas! The ranks of those kin are thinned, and time's slow malediction has affected Bob's ability to travel -- and to cook, for he has ever been one of the finest cooks I have eaten after.

So, I not only delivered Master Blue, but I stayed to fix a bit of fried chicken one night and catfish the other. And to tell stories!

Bob and I have been telling stories at each other for at least half a century. It doesn't matter that I've heard about his Uncle Tracey Barnett paddling three steps in mid-air trying to escape a water moccasin all those years or that he has listened to stories about Dock and Skillet Chaney till he knows the tale as well as I and can say the famous punch line, "Let me see that again, Skillet" with just the right twinkle in his eye.

The storytelling usually starts in dead earnest along about five or six in the afternoon. When Candy plugs in the neon cow over the bar, it is a signal for stories and a bit of whiskey. Bob has always favored Scotch. I take a bit or two of bourbon.

You must understand that we both come out of serious Baptist backgrounds. His father was a dedicated minister -- once serving the church in Lebanon Junction; mine a deacon at Horse Cave. Both our mothers were staunch members of the Women's Missionary Union. His sister and a cousin of mine knew one another as teaching missionaries in darkest Africa.

Neither of us will acknowledge that we are straying from the straight and narrow when the cow lights up.

We met, after all, at Georgetown College where Bob was teaching when I was a student. That college was founded by a Baptist minister known for the quality of his bourbon and whose name is emblazoned today on a single malt bourbon of which Reverend Elijah Craig would be proud.

Sometime after drinks are poured, the cooking starts. Culinary progress is often impeded by the stories and by continuing arguments over the correct way to fix cornbread. Bob's cornbread is quite good. He uses his mother's receipt which is well and good. But it fails at a crucial point or two. He argues for yellow corn meal. I opine that yellow corn meal is for hogs. He uses a solid vegetable shortening. I argue for lard or bacon grease -- yellow corn at one remove.

Be that as it may, the dinner gets on the table. I think Bob and I both agree that one should serve red wine with fish, red wine with chicken, red wine with beef or pork or possum. Candy takes white.

The dinner may last four or five hours.

Now, you may ask, just what has all this got to do with a book named The Joy of Drinking?

In the first place, this little book was lying on a table in Bob and Candy's living room last week. I picked it up and found it most useful and informative. At great risk to their property, they offered to loan it to me.

In The Joy of Drinking [Bloomsbury USA, 2007] Barbara Holland gives a thumbnail sketch of the history of alcoholic libations for about the last 10,000 years -- ever since agriculture provided stuff that would turn to alcohol.

Sure, folks have drunk too much from time to time, although Ms Holland points out that it is usually the well-soaked wealthy who accuse the working class of over indulgence.

Bob and I come from a religious tradition whose vintner/founder provided excellent wedding wine and more specifically the Baptist tradition of Bluegrass distillers. In fact, one of the stories that swirl about the table has to do with the Baptist church in Appalachia which split over the issue of drinking. One faction, the teetotalers, argued that drinking was a sin. The other faction said that the sin was not drinking, it was drunkenness. "You can drink 40 gallons and if you don't get drunk, you are not sinning."

We favor the Forty Gallon Baptists.

Tracing the use of liquor through the ages, Ms Holland observes some alarming trends. College students, she notes, once argued philosophy around pitchers of beer. Now they are more apt to play video games alone in their dark rooms.

My favorite college seminars in Lexington met at a bar near the University of Kentucky campus. I learned more music at Harry B's in Waco, Texas, fishbowl in hand, than I ever did at chapel at Baylor.

The former denizens of happy hours are now, Holland bemoans, apt to be watching television whilst they pump their treadmill.

And the little book even has a recipe section! Among the how-to-do-its are instructions for making applejack, blackberry wine, and dandelion wine. Alarums! How to build and operate a still!

So, let us be upstanding and offer up a toast to friendship, to sheepdogs now gone, to good stories, to Ceres and Bacchus, and to the prospect of a bumper crop of dandelions.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749

This story was posted on 2013-06-09 05:03:44
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Shaggy dog: from wiles of Hart Co. to wiles of Columbus, OH

2013-06-09 - Columbus, OH - Photo Candy Canzoneri.
IN REAL LIFE, Tom Chaney can often be found minding The Bookstore on Water Street in Horse Cave. But he once had occasion to deliver this Charlie Williams sheepdog all the way from the wilds of Hart County, KY, to the wiles of Columbus, OH, where events inspired him to review The Joy of Drinking and reaffirm his affiliation with the "40 Gallon" variety of the faith of Rev. Elijah Craig, Kentucky Baptist minister who invented Bourbon whiskey. - Robert Stone

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