When I was young and had potential, way back years ago before I had gotten all beaten down by life, I was a Legal Services lawyer over in Forrest City, Arkansas, a town in the Arkansas Delta that is named for you-know-who. The guy who pretty much founded the Klan.
Anyway, before I passed the Arkansas bar exam, I mainly did administrative hearings that paralegals often handled. In that august capacity, I represented a lot of folks in disability hearings before the Social Security Administration’s Office of Hearings and Appeal.
It was during those days that I represented an African American gentleman who had filed for disability based upon rapid onset blindness. If I recall his testimony correctly, he claimed that he basically woke up one day not being able to see. SSA’s doctors who reviewed his file naturally didn’t believe his story and denied his claim.
The Administrative Law Judge that heard his case sent it back for more medical evidence. The ALJ told me after the hearing that if my guy was faking it, he was doing a damn good job of it, but he needed to make a better record of his condition. And as it turned out, they sent him to a black ophthalmologist there in Forrest City. A few weeks later the eye doctor gave me a call.
“Your man is definitely not faking it, “the doctor said. “I suspected that when I saw his address on the chart. “
“How so?” I asked.
“Wellllllllllll, I grew up around here so I know that your client livesover in the bottoms by the L’Anguille River. Those old boys have been making whiskey down there since I was little. I confronted the patient about this and he fessed up to it.”
“My grandfather was a moonshiner,” I said. “I never heard of moonshine making you blind. Can it do that to you?”
“It can if you make it in an old truck radiator like he was doing. It’s the benzene in the anti-freeze. It can make you blind as a bat.”
Like I told the good doctor, my grandfather Paul Bivens made moonshine. His still was back in the woods behind the barn on their little farm in Cleburne County. As I understand it, he was a pretty important guy up there during the administration of Orville Faubus. And the local politicians offered Grandpa Bivens’s product to folks in order to get them to vote right.
My grandmother, Johnny Esther Bivens, didn’t hold with drinking. The kindest woman on the face of the planet, she evidently tolerated things she could not change. But she was a tea totaling Baptist. And she was shrewd. Despite being married to the meanest son of a bitch in the county, she meant to put a stop to Grandpa’s side business.
So, after she set her mind against it, she started sneaking into the woods behind the barn. Whenever the coast was clear she would pour water she had drawn up from the well into the batch that was percolating in Grandpa’s still. She did this whenever she suspected that he was up to his surreptitious alchemy.
After repeated batches of inventory wouldn’t “make,” he gave up his part time business. Paul Bivens thought he had lost his touch. He also accepted Jesus around this time thereby doubling down on his new path of moral rectitude. But to his dying day he had no idea that
Grandmother Bivens had been spiking his whiskey with water from the well. Or at least that’s the story I have been told.
And while making whiskey was certainly illegal and arguably immoral, at least the booze manufactured by Paul Bivens back in the woods in Cleburne County never struck anybody blind.
He had that going for him.
Arthur Paul Bowen is a lawyer and writer who lives in what he calls the “People’s Republic of Hillcrest” in Little Rock. He may also be found on his blog, The Moving Finger Writes.