Another good old friend of Dad's was a fellow named Hake Paige. Hake and Dad had known each other since they'd gone to school together as children. Over the years, they'd worked together in the potato houses, gone on hunting and fishing trips and been downright good friends. They'd shared a good many butts, brews and stories in all the time they'd been acquainted.
Hake was a known lover of alcohol and there wasn't anything that he wouldn't or didn't drink. In his lifetime, he'd been known to drink any and all of the following for their alcohol content: wine, beer, mouthwash, vanilla, whisky, vodka, gin, airplane fuel and even sterno. If it contained alcohol of any kind, he drank it.
Mother used to swear that Hake was like an old bloodhound when it came to sniffing out alcohol because every time she allowed Dad to brew up another batch of homemade beer, it wasn't too long before Hake was payin a visit to his good friend and neighbor, Bill Stevens.
Hake was a trend-setter in those days and he didn't even know it. He was a man way ahead of his time and he would have fit right in with all the "punkers" that were to come along years later. He'd mastered the art of body piercing long before it became "fashionable" around the world.
Sometimes, when Hake was very inebriated, he'd punch carpentry nails through his ear lobes or pound building nails into his legs. Hake claimed that he "didn't feel a damn thing en I never bled a drop!" He'd boast to Dad. Dad often wondered why Hake didn't get blood poisoning or worse. Hearing this, mother would look at Dad and with a flash of her dark, brown eyes, reply, "I don't see how a man, who has pure alcohol running through his veins, could possibly catch anything!" Dad knew that he'd better drop the subject right then and there or he'd never be able to brew another batch or get to drink another cool brew again in his life time.
One time, when Hake decided to visit Dad, it was nearly the death of him. Hake had started drinking early one Saturday afternoon and by nightfall he was rip, roaring drunk. As he stumbled about his house, he got to thinkin about his good friend, old Bill Stevens, who lived just down the road and he suddenly got the urge to pay a visit to his best drinking buddy.
In the county, in the dead of winter, the weather is totally unpredictable and plain old rain can quickly turn to freezing rain and freezing rain can quickly turn to ice. Hake gathered up his remaining bottles of Narragansett beer, thrust them into a brown paper bag and staggered down his icy steps, skidded down his slippery driveway and out to the Goding Road that by now was a sheet of glare ice.
Between intervals of crawling, skating and falling, he'd only gone about a quarter of a mile when the heavy rain had turned to sleet. He desperately tried to protect his exposed face from the stinging needles of frozen rain with the soaked sleeve of his coat but then he couldn't see at all.
For a man who was totally sober, it would have been treacherous underfoot that night but for a man who was close to being embalmed, it was pure suicide! Hake would walk, skid, slip or slide a short distance and then his feet would go out from under him. He'd hit the glassy surface of the dirt road with a grunt and a crash. Amidst the tinkling sound of broken beer bottles and spilled beer, he'd pull himself upright again, clutch the tattered remnants of his brown paper bag to his chest and continue on his way.
He'd left his house around eleven thirty that night and by the time he finally crawled up our driveway onto our front porch, it was a little after two in the morning. He was one sad sight to behold. His clothes were frozen to his body and it was anybody's guess as to whether it was from the beer or freezing rain. His straggly gray hair was plastered across his head and his hands and face were cut and bleeding from all the falls and broken glass. He lay across the top step of the porch with the soggy paper bag clutched firmly between his teeth.
Dad, awakened by our dog Tippi's growling, went out see what was ailing her. When he opened the porch door, something heavy and smelly landed at his feet. There lay Hake. He lifted his head and grinned weakly up at his old pal and said, "Jayus Bill, you don't happen to have a beer do you?"
Dad laughed, brought him in, cleaned him up and put him to bed on the couch for the rest of the night. Inebriated as he was, Hake was still smart enough to know that if mother caught sight of him lying on our sofa in the early morning light, he'd really be in for it because she wouldn't mince any words about the evils of drinking. He lay where he was until his teeth stopped chattering and the chill had dissipated from his bones a little then he slid off the couch and headed for home across the frozen potato field behind our house long before the sun and mother were up.
The next morning when we went out to skate on the icy road, we found all kinds of evidence of Hake's ordeal. Every time Hake fell down, he'd break some beer bottles and lose some change. We collected two dollars and twenty-five cents that we had to dig out of the icy road, not to mention all the shattered pieces of broken beer bottles. We never understood how Hake had made it to our place without getting badly cut or killing himself.
Jake, happily counting all the newfound money, declared that he liked old Hake a lot and he sure hoped that Hake was gonna take another trip down our road this winter. Mother, overhearing our conversation, just laughed and shook her head.
Hake continued on in his bizarre alcoholic ways throughout the rest of his years and mother, ever the hater of drink, kept predicting that alcohol would eventually be the death of him. When Hake finally died, I read his obituary in the Bangor Daily News and felt sad for him.
When I went home that summer for a visit, Dad was sitting at his usual place at the end of the kitchen table reading the paper and I commented to him, "It's too bad about Hake, Dad. I guess all that drinking finally killed him."
Dad looked at me for a long moment and then he turned away and looked out into the pastures at the back of the house and he had a faraway sound in his voice when he finally answered. "Nope Toots, it wasn't drinking that killed him at all. Didn't you now? Old Hake drowned in the Squa Pan River. He took his old canoe out this spring when the Aroostook River was just a little too high and you know that darn fool never did learn how to swim."
Mother, hearing the sadness in Dad's voice as he told me about Hake's death, looked at me for a long moment and then she said, "I heard that old Mr. Simpson, the undertaker, didn't have too much work to do at the funeral home when they brought in Hake's body." How's that?” Dad asked. "Well, you know as well as I do that Hake's been embalmed all his life!" Dad looked at me and then he slid his paper a little higher so that mother wouldn't see the smile on his face. He knew as well as I that there was no changing mother when it came to her feelings about alcohol.
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Memories, Another Place - Another Time
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See also Vengeance is Mine a short mystery novel published at Magic City over 4 days.
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