He was the strangest goddam preacher there ever was. I’m serious now. Never was one like him before and I don’t there ever will be again. Word got around that he cussed like a sailor, and I can vouch for that. He did and does. Not at the church, mind you. But other places and a lot of the church folk didn’t like it. I know of at least three families that left the church because of it, which I never understood. A man says, “fuck” on a Tuesday afternoon and the following Sunday you leave the church you’ve been at for twenty-five years? That don’t make a lick of sense. It just don’t.
That and he drank whiskey, which was a bit odd being as he was a Baptist preacher and they don’t typically go in for cussing and whiskey.
I asked him about that once. About why he drank and cussed. He laughed and said he’d read the Bible cover to cover and never found anything in it that suggested the Good Lord cared if some poor sumbitch shouted out goddamit when he hit his thumb with a hammer.
“Moreover,” he said, “The gospel of Matthew says the religious folks of that day said Jesus was a drunkard. He didn’t appear to give two shits about what they thought so I guess I won’t either. And as far as taking the Lord’s name in vain, the rich preachers that fill their pockets with money from widows and orphans are the ones using the name of the Lord with vanity. Regular old cussing is just being human. And there ain’t no sin in that.”
He used to get kinda wound about stuff like that.
I titled this little story “Losing My Religion.” And I did lose it. But I feel the need to be honest and admit that I never really had much religion in me. What religion I had was because of the preacher. I went to church when he was there. And after he left I didn’t have much interest in it.
Now the preacher and me used to drink Laphroiag. Not all the time. But when something was up, something big and important, he’d show up with a bottle and we’d sit at my kitchen table and drink it. He said it was medicine for our souls. And that it was. So I knew something big was up in May or maybe June of 2004 when he showed up on a Friday night with a bottle of Laphroaig 18. We generally drank the 12, which was common back then. Nowadays they got the 10. But the 18, that was something special. That was the night he told me he was leaving.
“Leaving? You going to another church?”
“Fuck no. I’m not leaving this church. I’m leaving Church altogether. I don’t want anything to do with it. They’ve got it so twisted up and perverted that I don’t think Jesus would recognize any of it. Shit, if we were burning down the church I think he’d bring the gasoline.”
So why did we drink Laphroaig?
The thing about Laphroaig is this: it takes getting used to, but it’s so damn unique that the smell and taste of it stays with you forever. It burrows its way into your subconscious and never leaves. It’s not a nice whiskey. Fuck nice. Life isn’t nice. But it’s a rich, full bodied, and expressive spirit. And I fuckin’ love the way it tastes and smells. Don’t ask me about the tasting notes. I ain’t one of Daniel’s sommelier girls goin’ on about fudge and licorice and green apple and whatever bullshit comes to their minds. I don’t know any of that. But I can tell you what pairs well with Laphroaig. It pairs well with flesh and life, with grief, loss, joy, love, and pain.
And with death. When someone, some thing, or some way of thinking dies, this is the whiskey to drink. Trust me on that.
Everything goes with Laphroaig. All of it. All the things.
The church people say the preacher nailed a letter to the door of the sanctuary the next night – which was a Saturday – and never came back. I asked them what it said but they wouldn’t tell me. They never told anyone what it said.
I’ve gotten postcards from the preacher from as far west as California, as far north as Alaska, and as far south as New Orleans. He even sent one from Fort Davis, Texas, though I have no idea what he was doing in that godforsaken part of our state or why he thought to mail me a postcard from there.
And I always keep a bottle of Laphroaig at my house now in honor of the preacher. Always. Just in case he shows up and every once in awhile he does.
Hell, I’ll make this promise to you. If anyone reading this is ever in San Antonio, you can come to my house, sit at my kitchen table, and drink Laphroaig with me.
We’ll talk about what we’ve loved, what we’ve lost, and what we’ve left behind on the journey. We’ll talk about life. All of it.
All the things.