Aphorism: a terse saying embodying a general truth, or astute observation.

My father and his Protestant friends had many strange sayings that get no reaction from younger folk these days, except perhaps a questioning glance. Quite often I had heard one of them describing drunks as, “Boy, he’s three sheets in the wind with the forth one a-flopping,” or “He is as drunk as the Lord.”

The “three sheets in the wind” was obviously handed down from previous generations of folks who had migrated to southwestern Louisiana from Kansas or Missouri or Michigan, as had my grandparents and all of our close friends. How this obvious nautical expression ever got into the language of Midwestern farmers is a real mystery.

Wise sayings, heavy with meaning, have even made it into song. A few of the many from the country and western repertoire of the recent past include the following:

“You have to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,” from “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers; “Don’t Get Above your Raising” by Flatt and Scruggs; “Thank God and Greyhound She’s Gone” by Roy Clark; “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed” by Barbara Mandrell; “She Just Started Liking Cheatin’ Songs” by Alan Jackson; and “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time” by Mickey Gilley.

In each case, some experiential knowledge is needed to fully appreciate the song.

But “Drunk as the Lord” bothered me for many long years. We were churchgoing, noncard-playing, nondrinking Methodists, and my father was one of those rare and decent people who only used about 10 swear words in his entire life. It always jarred me when I heard him using this expression.

I had begun drinking, smoking and, by expert instruction from my Marine Corps drill instructors, elevated my juvenile cussing to an art form before I became callus enough to not cringe when I remembered my Dad using the saying.

Then, in 1963, the movie “Tom Jones” appeared. One scene in this movie is perhaps the most sensual, sexy and salacious ever produced in filmdom. Tom and his paramour are in a public tavern seated across a narrow table from each other. To the accompaniment of knowing, side-long glances they gnaw the legs of roasted fowl in unison, lick grease from their dripping fingers slowly with consummate thoroughness and slurp raw oysters from the half-shell.

But it was elsewhere in the film during a harvest scene in which the landowner ranged drunkenly about the wheat field groping the women gatherers, that I received my epiphany. “Drunk as the lord” wasn’t about any deity. It was the lord of the manor who was drunk, and there was no higher authority in those old English times to gainsay his behavior.

After all those years of bemused tolerance to that misunderstood, rustic phrase, it was with a huge sense of relief that I discovered my father had never really compromised his decency by defaming God.

I was 29 years old.

— Wright lives in Baton Rouge

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