“Seal Whiskey, Nightcaps, Highballs”
Mama tended to consider herself a social drinker and would have a beer, a “high-ball” or a
“nightcap” concocted with “seal whiskey”, which was store bought alcohol. Since we lived in a
“dry” county (where liquor sales were illegal) alcohol could only be acquired from a bootlegger.
One of which was, Mama’s brother, Bud. He owned a three room, unpainted shotgun shanty
that he bought for four hundred dollars. Mama said he paid it off in weekly installments. Uncle
Bud sold “stoop” also known as “moonshine, corn likker, white lightning and rot-gut”. Seal
whiskey could also be bought during an out of state trip. Mama’s social drinking opportunities
occurred during the occasional weekend, holiday or on trips to, the Cresent City, New Orleans.
as far as I could tell, Daddy was a social drinker as well. He seemed to imbibe just enough to
acquire a light buzz. That, or he was really adept at “holding his liquor”. I never saw him
anywhere “near” drunk! Not Daddy!
As a youngster, I would hear the phrase “nightcap” every now and then. Being curious but
terribly naive, I actually surmised that a “nightcap” was a some type of fancy hat and a “highball’
was surely a kaleidoscopic carnival-like accessory. I could almost touch the swirling flames of
fruity colors dancing in my head! All I know is that both sounded fun and festive. While on
weekend trips to Louisiana Mama and Daddy would be always be offered a highball by their
hosts. Of course, they’d accept and their New Orleans best friends, Mama Lee and Uncle
Frank would retreat into their compact, faded-looking, wonderful smelling kitchen to fix the
highballs. Before long, they’d re-appear in their narrow and dimly-lit living room balancing a
serving tray that held fancy “company” glasses of beverages that just looked just like plain old
Coca-Cola. What a letdown! No colorful hats, no crepe paper streamers attached to round,
bouncy fabric covered balls, nothing but drinks! No hats. No caps! Just drinks! Each time, I
vividly remember feeling somewhat deflated. I never saw that “highball” or that “nightcap”,
although I really expected to and really wanted to! Years later when I told this story to Mama
and Daddy, they thought they’d die laughing. To them, my adolescent innocence was an
amusing and wonderful thing!
B. Falling Down a Flight of Stairs…Drunk
B.’s drinking was anything but social. In all fairness, it probably started out that way, but ended
up differently. She was able to consume large amounts of hard liquor and often got quite
“toasted”. B. was open to all types of alcohol, she’d drink anything. I vividly recall her reaching
down inside the bodice of her dress (always a dress) and from that ample bosom, fishing out a
half pint bottle of amber colored liquor. She’d expertly twist off the bottle cap and take a long a
swig. She’d let out a long satisfied sounding, “Ah-h-h-h” then plaster on that impish grin and
get the party started. Seal whisky, beer or stoop, it was all the same to Alma.
She loved laying out in detail, each of her drunken episodes, at least the ones she was able to
remember the next day. She laughed about getting “sho-nuff” drunk one night and tumbling
down a steep flight of stairs at a local nightspot. She said she was at the Elks Club, but
everybody knew they had no stairs. Mama said, “Girl, you wudn’t at no Elks, you were at the
Cabana Kela! That’s the young folks club! (B. Had to be in her mid to late 50’s at the time.) I
know good and dern well you wudn’t at no Cabana! But, you had to be there ’cause that’s the
old Love’s Dance Hall and I know they the only ones with a long steep flight of stairs. You ain’t
had no business at no Cabana Kela! In response to that rebuke, B. laughed and said, “I don’t
remember where I wuz, but I know my big butt rolled down a whole heap a stairs, all the way to
the bottom, ‘til I hit the flo’! I sho’ll thought I was at the Elks!” You can only imagine the look on
Mama “hit” B. will a barrage of questions, firing them off without taking one breath in between.
Of course, all of the questions went unanswered anyway. “Alma, who did you go there with?
Why did you go up there? How did you get up all them steep stairs? Did anybody we know see
you? How did you get home? I swanney Alma, Cudn’ Lillie was such a nice lady! Whatever
happened to you?”
To top it off, B. proudly said, “Girl, I don’t know. You know I will plain show out when my head is
bad”. (“Head is bad” means sloppy drunk.)