“D’ya know the time, boy?”
This was delivered in a rough bawl from the porch of the shack that was home.
Pa held up his watch. “It’s past noon!”
“I’m sorry, Preacher was--” Fear silenced me as Pa lurched down the steps, stopping inches from my face. His breath reeked of moonshine.
“Preachers!” Pa snorted. “Preachers an’ church goers! Bunch o’ namby-pamby, goody-goody…makes me sick…” The sentence became an unintelligible mumble that was drowned completely in another swig from the jug he always carried.
Familiar rage and hatred rose in me as I looked at Pa. He was a mean drunk, but he made me want to be meaner, to snatch the heavy crockery jug and break it over his head. I wanted to--
“Well, git up to the still. I’m feelin’ poorly, an’ it needs lookin’ after.”
The anger I felt made me temporarily forget my fear, and I protested, “Pa, don’t make me go on up there! I don’t wanna have nothin’ to do with that still!”
“Git up thar! Or I’ll give ya such a hidin’ ya’ll hafta sleep standin’ for a week!”
Despite everything, I was scared enough to obey. I headed toward the thickly wooded hill beyond the creek, where Pa’s still produced moonshine day and night.
I hate him, I thought. I didn’t want to be like him, but, at twelve, rage already filled me. Yet these emotions felt so incongruous since Jesus had come into my heart last spring, and I knew I had a Heavenly Pa to look up to.
Praying for peace, I walked through the beautiful leaves of that Kentucky autumn and let my mind drift back to the church meeting.
Preacher had talked about discernment, how we should pray earnestly for it, to better understand the people in our lives. Right there, I asked God to help me, to show me about Pa. I needed to know.
Three days later, a neighbor stopped by. Pa was loafing in the yard; I was sorting beans by the open window.
Got a little ‘shine for me?”
“Yup, new batch, too. Wanna taste?”
“Wal, I should say so! It’s mighty fine stuff. Nobody makes it like you, ‘cept mebbe your pappy did, but I ‘spect it’s the same recipe.”
Pa swore something terrible. “My daddy didn’t do nothin’ worth a lick his whole life! He was a useless drunkard. Oh, he could tan a hide real good, long as it was mine! I hated that man! I--”
I saw Ben back up a bit.
“Awright, Zeb, awright! Don’t let it bother you none, I was just… now don’t let that bother you.” He stepped nervously toward his horse and mounted up. Pa handed him the heavy jug of liquor and turned away. Ben kicked his horse to a trot. They both forgot payment.
Everything was clear as spring water, now. Pa treated me the way he did because it was all he knew. My hatred was gone, replaced by a strange sadness. God let me hear Pa’s rage at his own pa, so I could understand. If only Pa would discern what he was doing to me! Again, I asked God for His help.
That Sunday, Pa said he didn’t think we had enough wood in, so the Day of Rest was spent out in the woodlot. He hadn’t drunk very much, knowing he had to handle an axe.
We were slaving away when I blurted out, “Tell me about Grampa.”
“Huh! Ain’t much to tell.” Pa stopped chopping. “Big, real strong, always beatin’ the tar outta me, drank like a fish…”
I stared at him. Even as he said spoke, he picked up the jug and uncorked it. Then he seemed to realize what he was doing. He looked at that jug for a long moment. Then he suddenly hurled it away with an oath, sat down and covered his face with his hands. His shoulders shook. I gaped, full of wonder.
“I didn’t wanna be like Daddy,” he wept. “I swore I wouldn’t treat a son o’ mine the way he treated me. ‘Til the day he died I wished for him to care, but he never…” His voice trailed off and he raised his head, his eyes full of sorrow. “Then I done it, too.”
I walked over and sat next to him, taking his big rough hand in both of mine. “Pa,” I said, “you can still have a Daddy who cares!”
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