Lush was a gifted artist, but a hopeless alcoholic
Demon Of Intemperance
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The Mississippi Delta is known for its characters. Just as flatlanders nuance miniscule rainfall differences, ranging from “spits” to “frog drowners,” they also categorize characters, from those with benign idiosyncrasies, to those shockingly short of scruples, to raving lunatics roaming unrestrained among their fellow Alluvians.
Everybody in the Delta knows everybody else in the Delta, and everybody knows a few characters, is kin to a mess of them, or IS a character. I’m a Deltan, and folks claim I’m a character. I’m not, although I flocked with a few when I farmed the flat land.
One of the strangest Delta characters I knew was Lloyd “Lush” Llewellynn. His jovial red face framed a varicose-veined, bulbous nose and intelligent blue eyes, fixed always in a bemused, faraway stare.
Even in the Delta’s soup-thick humidity and heat, when gills would serve better than lungs for respiration, he wore heavy, Victorian Era clothes, so old and shabby that Victorians might actually have worn them. He spoke with what he claimed was a Welshman’s accent, but to us sounded more like a Yankee’s Welch affectation.
Lush loved beer. When he entered the local watering hole, he tapped his derby with a cane, unknotted a large bandanna, and counted out enough money to buy several quarts of warm Falstaff beer, which he lauded as fine English lager.
Lush lived in a tiny Winnebago that listed to starboard. To feed himself and a dozen cats, and maintain an ample amount of Falstaff, he painted. I hired him once to paint a sign on my dad’s cotton gin.
When I pulled up to his hovel, he opened the door and wheezed, “Top o’ the mornin’, Guvnuh. By Jove, our appointment slipped me mind. I’ll pop on out in a jiffy.”
I asked Lush to paint the gin’s name in calligraphic letters, large enough to be read by truckers coming to pick up cotton bales. He knew how, but couldn’t start; in palsied tremors, his hands shook.
“Your Honor, I need to quaff a dram or two to settle me nerves,” he said. “Please advance me enough for a couple of quarts.”
When he had swilled the first quart, his eyes focused and his hands became as steady as a surgeon’s. He sketched the lettering without using a stencil, and set to painting. As we drove away, he gulped down the second quart. Artists never look back. Lush didn’t; he knew his handiwork was perfect.
Lush was a gifted artist, but a hopeless alcoholic, who seemed to have materialized out of thin air one day, and dematerialized the same way. Only his caterwauling cats and ramshackle hut remained. We never saw him again.
Of talented people whose lives alcohol destroys, Abraham Lincoln once said: “ … if we take habitual drunkards as a class, their heads and their hearts will bear an advantageous comparison with those of any other class. There seems ever to have been a proneness in the brilliant to fall to the demon of intemperance.”