Carol and I were to be married August 30, 1961 at Market Street Church of Christ. I asked my good buddy, Dan Williams to be my best man; I figured he would bring me good luck. But first, my future love nest, a downstairs apartment in an old house on South Beaty Street, would have to be scrubbed and cleaned. I recruited Dan and our buddy Brown (not his real name) to help. “We’ll make it fun,” I said.
It was a hot Sunday afternoon in August. There was no air conditioning, not even a fan. The day before, I had driven over to the county line and purchased a case of beer and iced it down in a No. 3 washtub. Our timing was perfect. Mama, who despised all forms of alcohol and constantly warned me of its danger, was at home taking her Sunday afternoon nap. To be lectured by her on the evils of drinking, quoting scripture and verses was more mental torture than a normal human being could endure.
We whistled and laughed as we swept, mopped and dusted. The tub of beer sat in the middle of the bedroom floor, growing colder by the minute. Brown was working in the living room. “Hey Barksdale, yo Mama and a carload of women just drove up.” “Don’t mess with my mind,” I replied. “I ain’t kidding,” he said, to which I replied “Yeah right.”
“They’re getting out of the car!” he said. I walked over and peeked out the window to confirm he was lying. My heart stopped. Mama and several of her church friends were almost to the front porch. I panicked.
“HIDE THE BEER!” I yelled to Dan. “Where?” he asked me. “Under the bed,” I said. “It won’t go,” Dan replied.
The front door opened. “YOO HOO, ANYONE HOME?” It was Mama.
“DRAG IT INTO THE CLOSET!”I said. Dan snatched the tub of beer and ice and dragged it into the closet.
Mama and the women browsed through the apartment, inspecting cabinets, pulling out drawers, opening doors, oohing and ahhing about how nice everything was. Dan stood in front of the closet door like a Swiss guard protecting the Pope.
“Don’t let ‘em open that door or I’m a dead duck,” I whispered. Mama spotted the closet and headed straight toward it. My heart tried to jump out and run. “Can’t look in there, “ I said. “Why not?” she asked. “Uh – oh, honeymoon stuff. You know.”
The women smiled and snickered knowingly. They finally drifted out to the front porch, where they wished me much happiness. I needed some. I had lost more happiness in the last 20 minutes than I had experienced in a lifetime.
“Y’all come back anytime,” I yelled as they loaded into Mama’s red and white Nash Rambler and departed. I collapsed with relief. Mama was happy and proud of me, her only son, a forthright, honest and sober young man. I was so weak from fright I didn’t want a beer.
As always, Mama was right. Messing with alcohol is dangerous. In addition to breaking up homes, causing car wrecks and cirrhosis of the liver, it almost caused me to have a heart attack at age 19. And, it gave my best friend, Dan, a bad back for life.
A couple of years after we married, Carol and I moved to Tuscaloosa where I was attending the University of Alabama. We lived in a tiny furnished apartment on the edge of campus. Dan came down to visit and slept on a vinyl covered couch with wooden arm rests. It was past midnight, when screaming and loud thrashing about brought me straight up in bed.
“HELP!” It was Dan. My buddy was in trouble and needed help. “Home invasion!” I thought as I sprang from bed and ran to assist. “What’s wrong?” I asked looking around.
“Someone was choking me” Dan said, as he dislodged his head from beneath the wooden arm rest. An investigation of the crime scene revealed that while asleep, Dan slid his head beneath the arm rest and when he tried to turn over, it caught his neck.
Several years later, when Dan was Mayor of Athens, I saw him wobbling down the sidewalk. He was moving all catawampus, like a wrecked car with a bent frame. We stopped and chatted. He said he was down in his back again and had just seen his chiropractor.
“I’m sorry to hear your back’s bothering you ,” I said. “You should be. It’s your fault.”
“My fault?” I asked. “Yeah, I hurt it trying to hide that tub of beer from your Mama just before you got married,” he said.
“Which marriage?” I asked. “Your first one,” he replied.
Carol and I divorced after three children and 25 years of marriage. I always told Dan he was my friend, but a sorry best man.
When my son, Mark lay dying at Decatur General Hospital, Dan was there. He helped organize a Celebration of Life Event and he and his children sang and lifted our broken hearts.
He was the best.
By: Jerry Barksdale