Worstville: that’s where they said my father came from. They said it at the family reunions, Sunday after church, even in the meat & deli section at Miller’s Grocery. Worstville: Peter Furst the worst of Worstville. I heard it on the playground, in line at the cafeteria with my laminated Free Lunch Card in my hand, & from Sherry Miller every Wednesday in study hall. She called me Peter Furst the Second, which almost sounded like a name out of the Bible or Sir Gawain.
Fact is, I never believed it. I knew he was a petty man, bad card player, & a drunkard, but he wasn’t the worst, Furst of the Worst, or anything like that. He was just a dirt farmer from Barbour County—they all traded their vegetables for whiskey & they all played cards. The difference was my father never won & drank all his whiskey in one setting. On top of that, there never was a Worstville I could find on any map of Alabama. Even when Judge Wallace went to Montgomery & they started paving the roads & printing better maps, I never found a Worstville. There was Clio & Louisville, Clayton & Eufaula, but never any Worstville. As Tom Sawyer might’ve said, maybe it were a myth.
Maybe. But Mr. Pringle in homeroom once said to Sherry Miller that even myths begin with some reality, so I took their punches & ate my free pears & chicken-fried steak & moped around the fifth-grade world of Whose Father Is The Best. Sherry Miller had an opinion on that because hers owned the grocery. Drew Sparks’s daddy was in the highway patrol, & Midge Landry’s was a tailor. They had their claims. What could I say? It all depended on the weather, the radishes, & the hybrids trucked in from Atlanta. I thought it best not to say anything at all. Hell, they could count the whiskey bottles piled up in the trash can. They could put two & two together.
The Fursts, my mother would say, had all been drinkers. Which—looking back—meant they’d all been ne’er-do-wells, but that never crossed my mind at the time. Like all the fathers, mine had gone to war & beat up the Nazis, shaved on Sundays & went to church, & bought bread from the bakery on Christmas & Easter. Mine bass-fished (sometimes on private water) & only kept the big ones. Mine drove a Ford pick-up he waxed most Saturday afternoons & raised heirloom green tomatoes in the garden. Without whiskey in the world, Peter Furst the First might’ve been a saint. But Alabama’s full of whiskey & he liked it. He liked it the way some men like pussy or gravy. He just liked it. For him, it was a ritual.
Drink. Get drunk. Sleep an hour, then drink more. Tick-tock. Every night but Saturday ’cause he feared God. “Jesus don’t listen to a man hungover”—that’s what he always said. I never thought Jesus cared, but maybe he was right. Probably it was more about stinking up the pew than getting right with the Savior. There was also ham, potatoes, greens, & pie on Sunday after church, & he always took his fill, smearing it all with black pepper so that the whole plate looked something like the front page of the Montgomery Advertiser—inky & undistinguished. For a thin man, he ate like a Catholic on Saturday. And outdrank all three mackerel-snappers in the county.
My father died the day I turned fifteen. Car crash out on the Miles Road north of Clio. I saw the mangled, twisted wreckage because of Mr. Sparks, & I was impressed. He’d lived through it; he died only later because they couldn’t locate his type of blood, something with a negative, I can’t remember. Mother says I have his blood in me, & that’s one of those things that’s both scary & reassuring. I don’t wanna be like him, but maybe I already am. Maybe—as my friend Cuckler used to say—it’s not what you have but what you do with it. I’m gonna cede the land to the mortgage men this fall for a few bucks & maybe start up a hardware store or a bait shop. I have to do something. Mother’s in Montgomery in hospice with the lung disease & I know a little about bass.
Carl Boon is the author of the full-length collection Places & Names: Poems (The Nasiona Press, 2019). His writing has appeared in many journals and magazines, including Prairie Schooner, Posit, and The Maine Review. He received his Ph.D. in Twentieth-Century American Literature from Ohio University in 2007, and currently lives in Izmir, Turkey, where he teaches courses in American culture and literature at Dokuz Eylül University.