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The Time My Southern Baptist Grandma Had Whiskey

jack daniels whiskey

Guest Post by ObstacleChick

Before I became a mature ObstacleChick, my mom and I lived with her parents and her maternal grandmother just outside Nashville, Tennessee. My grandparents were active in their local Southern Baptist Church: my grandfather as a deacon on the Buildings and Grounds Committee, and my grandmother who served sometimes in the choir, as a Sunday school teacher, as a Women’s Missionary Union teacher, and on the Pastor Search Committee. We attended church services three times a week (twice on Sunday and again on Wednesday evening). When my grandfather wasn’t working, he was doing something at the church, helping people in the community, or hanging out at the local gas station/convenience store connecting with more people to help in the community.

Grandma was a strict complementarian who ran the household on a hierarchical structure. She considered Grandpa to be the head of household, and thus we were all instructed to obey him. Grandma’s mother was next on the totem pole as we are supposed to “honor our father and mother that our days may be long upon the earth”. My mom and I were somewhere way down the line, and Grandma considered herself to be the obedient servant. Grandpa did not subscribe to the complementarian plan, and he taught me that I should prepare myself to become a financially independent person, but he did not spend a lot of time arguing with Grandma’s sincerely held beliefs unless she tried to ban TV again. That’s when he used his executive privilege to ensure that he could watch his favorite sports teams and WWII-era movies.

Grandma’s sincerely held beliefs were often dictated by the latest culture wars that she heard about on Christian radio. I think she meant to be as obedient to what she thought God wanted from his creatures as she could possibly be, but she had a long laundry list of what was considered appropriate and inappropriate behavior. For example, she would not play any games with a regular deck of cards because she believed that decks of cards were tools of gambling. Grandma would not consume alcohol in any form, and she didn’t even want to patronize a restaurant that served alcohol. She never went to the movies and only watched the news on television. Substitute swear words were omitted from her vocabulary. Christian media were the only media sources that Grandma partook in (except for the evening news).

When I was 15 years old, I had pneumonia and Grandma had tuberculosis. You can imagine the amount of coughing that was happening in our house. Both of us were prescribed cough medicines, but nothing was working well. My grandfather was at his wits’ end, so he went to the store and brought home a bottle of whiskey, some lemons, and honey. He proceeded to make his family’s cough suppressant concoction from these ingredients plus a heavy dose of sugar, and he told Grandma and me that he wanted us to try it because it had worked when his grandmother (who by all accounts had been a skilled healer) gave it to him and his siblings. I thought, cool, I’ll be able to find out what whiskey tastes like. Grandma, however, was incredibly distressed. She was caught between the two sins of consuming alcohol and disobeying her husband. Unable to decide which was the greater sin, she told Grandpa, “I am only taking this because you’re my husband and I am supposed to obey you, but I do not agree with consuming alcohol.” I am pretty sure that was the first night in a while that anyone in our house got a good night of sleep as Grandpa’s home remedy soothed the coughing beasts. I guess after a good night of sleep, Grandpa took pity on Grandma and did not ask her to use his cough concoction again. Of course, I continued to use it despite the fact that whiskey tasted nasty, even with copious amounts of lemon and honey. My mature ObstacleChick version made with Fireball is much tastier and works better (in my opinion) than the over-the-counter cough syrups. I wonder which Jesus would have preferred?


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar
    Karuna Gal

    OC – What a great story! I would like to know how your grandmother got tuberculosis. Wasn’t she endangering all of you in that house, and why wasn’t she sent to a sanitarium? Was this before they had the vaccine for TB?

    • Avatar

      Karuna Gal, great questions! This was 1985. I don’t know how she got it, but I do remember that each of us had to get tested for TB after she was diagnosed. She was never sent anywhere (though it’s possible that was recommended and she refused but I wasn’t told anything about that). None of the rest of us got TB though.

  2. Avatar
    Karuna Gal

    Wow! In 1985? That’s so strange, especially since your family didn’t live in a really big city like New York. (I knew a doctor who worked with the homeless in the 1970s and he said that TB still occurred in that population.) Maybe your grandma had the latent type and it showed up later in life. Wonder where she was exposed to it. Maybe in childhood, if she lived in poverty and in close quarters with others.

    • Avatar

      Karuna Gal, my grandma grew up in Birmingham, AL during the Depression. Her dad worked but she remembers that there wasn’t a variety in their diet. She actually dropped out of high school at age 16 because she had anemia so badly that she couldn’t drag herself to go to school. I suspect those early years of nutritional deficiencies set her up for her health problems which were myriad….

  3. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Obstacke, this is a great story! It shows that it’s really all but impossible to be a consistent Christian, however one defines that, because so many dictums–whether from the Bible or someone’s interpretation or recollection of it–contradict each other. Do you partake alcohol–or dress “immodestly” or dance–because the head of the household tells you to?

    By the way, my grandfather used to slam down a cupful of whiskey, tea and lemon whenever he felt a cough or sniffle coming on. One of those questions you didn’t ask was about the ratio of ingredients. One thing I do know is that it’s the only way my grandfather drank tea!

    • Avatar

      MJ, exactly. With so many rules, some are bound to conflict!

      My grandfather was a lot less anti-alcohol than Grandma was. He chose not to drink because his father and 2 of his brothers abused alcohol, and he was concerned that it was familial. But he admitted to liking beer.

    • Avatar

      Grandpa made it in a Mason jar. About half of it was honey and sugar. He mixed in juice from 3-4 squeezed lemons, and the rest was whiskey. I prefer using Fireball as the cinnamon flavor tastes better. 😋

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Bruce Gerencser