October 05, 2007

Driving to See Mama

By John "Falstaff" Hartness © 2007

This is a story my father told me, in the best re-creation of his words I can devise. The year is 1950, the place is Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh, IN.

So this ol' boy Briggs come into the barracks one afternoon and says "Johnny Bob, you got any money? They're giving out three-day passes and we got a quart of liquor and a tank full of gas, but we ain't got enough money to get all the way to Asheville. If you got enough money to get a tank of gas in London, Kentucky, I can get more money in Asheville."

Now this was 'long about the end of the month when didn't nobody have no money, so I told him No.

"C'mon John, I know you always got a dollar or two ratted away, count up your change and see how much money you got."

Well, I did have a dollar or two stuck back, and I had two dollars in my pocket, and when I counted up all my change I had $5.30. We decided that was enough for a tank of gas, so off we went. We had us an Oldsmobile 88 convertible, and it was February, so we had the top up, and the windows rolled up, and as soon as we pulled out of the base, Briggs tore the top off that quart of liquor and threw it out the window.

Well, we got to London, Kentucky, and we filled up, and it cost us four dollars and a quarter for a tank of gas. Now I had $5.30, and that's all the money that was in that car. The other boy had done spent all their money on that quart of liquor and the first tank of gas. So we bought another quart of liquor, on credit, from that store in London.

Now I always did wonder why that ol' boy let us have that liquor on credit, but come to think of it, there was six of us, all of us big men, all of us MPs from Camp Atterbury, and all of us about half drunk. Hell, he mighta been a little scared!

But the funny part of the story is this - Briggs had it in his head that that Oldsmobile was the fastest thing ever been made. Now this road from London to Asheville would go from four lanes to two, then back to dual lane for a little while, then back down to two lanes. And we're clipping along right real good on one of these dual-lane parts when we saw lights in the rear view. I think they were red lights back then, but it don't matter, it was the police.

Well, Briggs said "What kind of car is that that thinks they can catch me?" We told him it was a Chevrolet, and that ended that. Briggs stepped on the gas and thought he was gone pull away from the police car. Well, that didn't work out so good, and the faster Briggs went in that Oldsmobile, the closer that Chevrolet got. I tell you, he couldn't get no farther apart from that police car than I am to you. Well, he kept going 'til he finally got scared, and said "I guess I gotta pull over."

Well, there was six of us in that car, and we'd been drinking and smoking cigarettes since we left base, so when Briggs rolled down that window, all that smoke just chimneyed up out of that window and that policeman had to jump back.

"Damn! Smells like y'all been brewing whiskey in there!"

Well, he made us all get out of the car, all six of us. And then - now Briggs was a big man, about 6'6",250 lbs. and he didn't have no gut on him. He was just broad through the shoulders, a big man. And Briggs, he just starts to sob, right there on the side of the road. And he's just weeping, and out he comes with this.

"I'm sorry officer, but my buddy Warren here's mama is dying and we're just trying to get him back to Asheville so he can say goodbye to his mama. We just gotta get him back to see his mama before she dies."

Now Warren was an orphan, and never knew he even had a mama, so this was all news to him! And that policeman thought about it for a minute and finally he said "I don't know if I oughta believe that sob story, but if I take you in and lock you up, and then I find out it is true, well then I'd feel like a real heel. So if you'll let the soberest one of you drive, I'll let you go."

Then he comes over to me, and says "I don't know if you're any more sober than they are, or if you just handle it better, but if I let you go, will you drive?"

I said "Yes sir, and I'll drive carefully." And damn if he didn't let us go!

Gold, Pop. Pure gold. He told me he's been telling that story for 57 years, and it's still funny. I agree.

John "Falstaff" Hartness is a hillbilly from Bullock Creek, SC and now lives in Charlotte. Check him out at Poker Stage.

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