I was just a few years out of high school. I was working a summer job, having finished another year of college, and needing money for the resumption of classes in September. One of my co-workers at the shop was also a college student, a year younger than me; an acquaintance from high school; one of those small rural high schools where everybody knows just about everybody.
Sometime in the course of that summer, this acquaintance made it known to me he was going to have a party at his house. His parents were going to be away for an extended period of time, and he was going to take advantage of the opportunity to have a beer party.
The context of this intended party would involve a number of people like him and me who had recently graduated from our local high school, but were not yet of the legal age of 21 which, in our particular state, was the minimum age for the legal possession of and/or consumption of alcoholic beverages. Understand dear reader that one of the reasons for waiting for over forty years to tell this story is that the statute of limitations for any violation of the laws of the state detected in this saga has long since ran out. Nevertheless, names will not be used so as to protect the guilty as well as the innocent.
The other context coming into this story was a personal one for me. Over the past several years of college I had encountered that existential crisis of philosophy, life, and faith that in the end, much to my own surprise, took me into a conscious embrace of the Christian faith. There was much about that personal world view change that I had yet to work out in my own daily life.
The appointed day came. Through the provision of some legally of-age friends of my co-worker, the stage had been set. I cannot remember if I ever really thought about just not going at all. It would be an occasion of seeing some people I had not seen since high school. At the time I more or less left the whole under-age alcohol thing in an ethically grey area; a place that at this point in my life over forty years later, I would not be able in conscience to go to.
It was late in the afternoon when I drove down the dirt road to the farmstead where my acquaintance lived. I suppose looking back, the location was relatively ideal for the purpose intended; a dirt road with not much traffic; the farmhouse some distance from any neighbor’s ears and eyes. I turned in the driveway, parked off on the lawn by the barn. It was a warm summer evening, but not overly humid or hot; the sky clear and blue with a few fluffy clouds here and there; the sun slowly sinking towards the western horizon. I don’t remember how many people were there. The people who were there were familiar faces; some I had known most of my life. There we were, young adults pushing the boundaries in a way many of us had not done up unto that time. There was a keg of beer there. There was some bottled premium beer. There was also some hard liquor, Crème d’ menthe, and what else I do not remember; probably whiskey and rum or whatever.
I sampled the brew from the keg. I walked around and watched what was going on. Imagine a bunch of little kids greedily grabbing for some chocolate candy. Add ten or so years to their lives, and substitute the alcoholic beverages for the chocolate. I will admit my memory could possibly have distorted some things over the past forty pluse years, but that is how I remember it.
I don’t know if I stayed there even a full hour. At some point as I was watching it all, the question hit me right between the eyes.
“What am I doing here?”
Looking back later, I could see that the purpose of the whole affair stated or not, was to get soused; that is out right drunk. And even if those there did not consciously have that intent, there was a certain inevitability that such was where many of them would end up, unless they had more discipline over their alcohol intake then I gave them credit for.
At that point of epiphany, I knew I did not belong there, and needed to just leave. I went into the house to the kitchen. The teakettle was on the stove. I made sure there was water in it, and set it on the burner and switched the burner on. In a cupboard I found the instant coffee.
One of my acquaintances made a surprised comment, “Bill’s making a cup of coffee!” Another friend replied to him, “He’s the only smart one here…”
I finished the coffee, rinsed the cup and set it on the counter. I went out into the yard, got into the car and drove away.
Thankfully there was no public fallout from my friend’s booze party; no automobile accidents on the way home by inebriated guests; no surprise visit to the farmstead by the local constabulary with resulting embarrassment and public scandal. As far as I know most if not all who were at that party went on to become responsible and mature adults. Oddly enough, the guy who hosted the whole affair ended up in the Christian ministry. Such are the mysterious ways of grace.
Copyright © June 2014 by J. William Newcomer All rights reserved.