The talk surrounding Ken Burns’ “Prohibition” dislodged a memory from my earliest days as a newspaper columnist, when I wrote about the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Jay County, Ind.
This would have been…1984? Not a day later than ’85, certainly. And the WCTU, one of the driving forces behind a century-old social movement almost universally believed to have been a terrible mistake, was still alive and kicking. Even considering that Jay County was decades behind the times, it was surprising.
More surprising was the meeting itself — the members not as old as I expected, but the form of it, the structure, was 19th century. There was a sermonette, a short two-woman play, ending with a call to take the White Ribbon Pledge, a promise to not only live a life of abstinence from intoxicating liquor, but to raise one’s children the same way. I don’t recall if fathers were mentioned, although surely they must have been. The message, however, was that alcohol was yet another mess made by men, to be cleaned up by women.
Those who read “Last Call” know the material in last night’s episode of “Prohibition,” how many parallels exist between that time and ours, not the least of which was the conflict between urban and rural America. Jay County is pretty rural, with a few small towns here and there. The people I’ve known from places like this, the ones who had problem drinkers in their families, describe a pattern of imbibing that more closely resembles crack cocaine than convivial tippling at the local tavern — crack seal, pour glass, repeat until violent, abusive or unconscious.
(Terry Ryan’s father, as described in her most excellent memoir, “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio,” followed this model as well.)
So it’s not surprising that, faced with this level of consumption, eventually the pendulum swung as far as the Volstead Act. I haven’t seen the documentary yet, but as I recall, much is made in the early chapters of how much Americans drank in the years leading to its passage; visiting Europeans were staggered by it. It was a way to avoid dodgy water supplies and blunt the pain of daily existence, which was grim in both cities and towns — back-breaking labor in farm or factory, a child every year, and of course, a terrible war that stacked bodies like cordwood without resolving much of anything. Average consumption then was about three times what it is now, if I remember correctly.
I’ve been doing some reading on college binge drinking, and it has a ring of familiarity — the pounding of shots, consumption with the goal of getting as ripped as possible as soon as possible. It sounds positively…rural.
Those who watched last night — what did you think? Did it make you want to take the White Ribbon Pledge?
So. Monday. I HAVE to change my life. I never have time for anything, especially on Monday. And Tuesday. And, increasingly, most of the other days, too.
Jim at Sweet Juniper has a photography show coming up. More buildings, I gather, like this one. Never seen that …place before. I bet it’s seen its share of shot-pounding.
On the subject of obesity, a weight-loss story to inspire you on a Monday.
After almost a year of carrying the bag, I turned concert-chaperone duty over to Alan Friday night; he took Kate and a friend to see Wavves down at the Magic Stick. I asked him for the report and he said, “Very young crowd, very intense. I was trying to find Kate up at the front, and the next thing I know, she goes surfing past me.” He got out the camera for the second pass, but she never made one. Fortunately, someone was packing video. I asked, “Do you do that often?” She said, “I needed to get to the back, and that was the fastest way.” I guess. Just try not to get dropped on your head, OK?