Mama always had a lot of interesting stories to tell.  None of the women in my family were heavy drinkers.  Most, in fact, did not drink at all.    Papa was a weekend alcoholic.  So were most of his friends.

By the time that I was five, I had gotten into the habit of greeting Papa’s friends with, “Get lost, you’re drunk.”

Two of Mama’s favorite tales of our alcoholic menfolk concerned how they were scared sober.

One of them, Charles, passed out drunk next to a Mobile Oil gas station in the 1940s.  You have to picture the dusty Texas towns, weedy lots scattered everywhere and clumps of grass browned by the summer heat, thrusting their spiky spears up through cracks in the pavement.

Mobile’s sign was that of the bright red flying horse.  Mama and his wife had gone looking for him.  They found Charles passed out under the sign.  Mama was in favor of kicking him, but his wife argued her out of it, knelt and gave Charles a shake.  He came spluttering awake and then let out a loud shriek of panic, pointing at the sign while caught in the mists of alcohol and probably a case of delirium tremins.

“The devil’s come to get me!  He’s come to get me on a red horse.”

Charles remained convinced for the rest of his days that if he got drunk again, the devil on a flying red horse was going to come collect him.

The other story was one that Mama heard as a young girl.  Her mother, who we called Mammy, had an Aunt Mary.  Mary’s husband was a very nice man when he was sober, and a very bad man when he was drunk.  Once he would start drinking, he would beat Mary and their children.

One day, Mary and her husband came to visit Mammy.  He had his arm in a cast.   Mama asked what happened, but the adults were reluctant to explain it.  His arm healed up and soon he was back to drinking and bashing the family.  That went on for a few more weeks, and he showed up at their home one day with the opposite arm broken.

That’s when the truth came out.  Mary had gotten tired of being beaten.  Back then, divorces were very hard to get and no one, not even the law, offered help to abused women.  Mary had waited until he was passed out drunk, put a chair beside the bed, laid his arm across it and applied some cast iron diplomacy to his elbow.  After the second broken arm, Mary’s husband stopped drinking, fearful that what she broke next would be of far more intimate usage.