It was in 1967 when I was returning to The Naval Seabee Base in Gulfport, Mississippi after two weeks leave in Iowa visiting my family. I had been stationed there for a little over a year and had made the trip twice before. Being a low paid enlisted man, I would drive the 950 miles straight through since I didn’t have money to spend on a motel.
I was somewhere in the middle of Mississippi. It was pouring rain and the bugs on my windshield smeared into a greasy film that my tired eyes could barely see through.
Now, mind you, this was before the Interstate System had made it south so I had to drive two lane roads through every little town along the way. It was slow going and I had been on the road for about sixteen hours and was looking to be back to the base and in bed. I had maybe two or three more hours to go.
Needing gas and barely being able to see the road with the downpour and smeared bug grease, I spied a sad lonely gas station with its lights on. I pulled into the gravel drive and up to the pump. The attendant came out to top off my tank. He was a grizzled old man with a bushy white beard wearing a blue farm jacket over bib overalls and a greasy baseball cap.
I told him to fill it and went into the station across a sagging porch and through creaking screen door, noticing the old grey unpainted, rotting wood siding. The floor inside was bare wooden planks, the counter was made of two twelve inch planks with a barrel at each end. The ancient cash register was open with its drawer looking like a ragged old tongue. The walls were bare wood, an old red ice chest with Coca Cola in large white letters embossed on the side sat in one corner.
There were several other men of equal age and disposition, sitting on wooden folding chairs around a card table where a game was in progress, all drinking Coca Cola. The game abruptly halted as they all turned to stare at me like I was some ‘foreigner’ which I most certainly was in that part of the country.
While I shuffled around waiting for the attendant to come back in so I could pay, I noticed the card players’ attention was focused on a fruit jar being passed around which they were topping off the their bottles of coke with. It was clear liquid in an unlabeled fruit jar and I could only guess that it was ‘Shine’. Some of my buddies and I knew where we could get fruit jars of ‘Shine’, illegal corn liquor, from a guy back in the woods north of Gulfport that we would take when we went camping for weekends on the beach. What I can say about the Shine we had gotten was that it went down smooth as molasses but kicked like a mule. I learned to be very careful of it because I would be a babbling idiot after only a few drinks.
To be continued . . .