The first time I can recall seeing a drunk was when I was about 6, I’m guessing. I hit a trifecta plus one. I saw four.
My family had a grocery store in my hometown of Jonesboro, Indiana that was bookended by beer joints on both sides. One Saturday morning I was taking the trash out back to the burn barrel when a black 1948 Chevy four-door sedan pulled in behind Mick’s Tavern. After a minute or two, the doors flew open and four recently relocated ex-Kentuckians wobbled out onto the cinders. Three had knives and one had a hatchet. They stumbled and fell and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with them. Couldn’t understand much of what they said either which only added to my confusion. Scared the shit out of me, all of these semi-armed men, speaking in a foreign tongue, staggering and flailing all over the place. Would they come after me? Ah, the best was yet to come.
After some unintelligible discussion, one made his way around to the trunk, grabbed the t-handle and yanked it open. When he did, turtles went everywhere. Snapping turtles, mostly, with a couple of softshells. He just stood there, dazed and expressionless as all sizes of turtles poured over his legs and feet. Two very large ones among them, making a nasty hissing sound and generally scrambling in all directions, including mine. Either too scared or fascinated by the surreality of all this, I watched their drunken pursuit of their quarry all over the parking lot and down the alley. They would cuss and fall down, all the while attempting to behead their recalcitrant charges. Hatchet guy was too.
All this was all too much for my young ass so I headed inside and asked my granddad what was happening out there. He knew them so he went out the back door and stood there in his classic stance, hands folded behind his back, as he monitored their progress. A couple of minutes later he came back in without comment. Late that afternoon, the tavern sent over a bowl of turtle soup for him.
Years later, I found out from one of the participants, one Bill Turner, possibly one of the inadvertently funniest men I ever met, what had transpired. Seems they would fuel up on Kessler’s Reserve (whiskey) and go down to the river at night and “feel for turtles”. According to him, snapping turtles can’t snap downward so you run your hand along the bottom until you find one then you find a notch on the shell that tells you which end of the turtle you have. Most of the time they are facing away trying to hold themselves in their holes with their front legs and you just grab the tail and pull. Damn.
One question looms to this day. How did they get all of those pissed off turtles into the trunk?