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3.17.04 Lips That Touch Liquor

I am home from my quick visit to St. Louis. It was enjoyable just to sit and hear my parents' old stories. I think of my father's storytelling memory like a well-used 78. There are some stories that he loves to tell. ("A story worth telling is worth retelling.") But if you nudge that old tone arm out of a comfortable groove, you can get an unheard story or new details.

But sometimes his storytelling mind is more like a modern random-access hard drive on a computer. He can be telling a story about "Tom" (or Tim or Jim) and move without missing a beat from brother Tom, to cousin Tom, to uncle Tom, to son-in-law Tom. It is all very clear to me. I have a good feel for the family landscape.

But Jim (my husband Jim, not any of my cousins Jim) gets lost. He is the strong visual learner -- not comfortable in any new terrain without a map. Even when we drove through north St. Louis to see the old neighborhood, site for so many of the stories, Jim had to follow the route on his little map. I wonder how to make a family story map...

We also talked again about the favorite old quotations. My dad admitted that his love of poetry was well buried for most of his life. He was a Ball Player. And in his day, guys who played ball did not know poems. However he did manage to memorize "Gunga Din" and a few others.

He was trying to remember a passage from Shakespeare that he once knew. I found it this morning:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. [MacBeth, Act V]

We were also trying to remember a poem my grandmother recited in its entirety one night at the dining room table when she was ninety or so. I had thought it was "Face Upon the Floor" but all any of us remembered was "lips that touch liquor must never touch mine." Here's what I found, thanks to a Google search. I wonder if this is the poem.

Lips that Touch Liquor Must Never Touch Mine
by George W. Young (around 1900)

You are coming to woo me, but not as of yore,
When I hastened to welcome your ring at the door;
For I trusted that he who stood waiting me then,
Was the brightest, the truest, the noblest of men.
Your lips on my own when they printed "Farewell,"
Had never been soiled by "the beverage of hell";
But they come to me now with the bacchanal sign,
And the lips that touch liquor must never touch mine.

I think of that night in the garden alone,
When in whispers you told me your heart was my own,
That your love in the future should faithfully be
Unshared by another, kept only for me.
Oh, sweet to my soul is the memory still
Of the lips which met mine, when they murmured "I will";
But now to their pressure no more they incline,
For the lips that touch liquor must never touch mine!

Oh John! how it crushed me, when first in your face
The pen of the "Rum Friend" had written "disgrace";
And turned me in silence and tears from that breath
All poisoned and foul from the chalice of death.
It scattered the hopes I had treasured to last;
It darkened the future and clouded the past;
It shattered my idol, and ruined the shrine,
For the lips that touch liquor must never touch mine.

I loved you-- Oh, dearer than language can tell,
and you saw it, you proved it, you you knew it too well!
But the man of my love was far other then he
Who now from the "Tap_room" comes reeling to me;
In manhoood and honor so noble and right--
His heart was so true, and his genius so bright--
and his soul was unstained, unpolluted by wine;
But the lips that touch liquor must never touch mine.

You promised reform, but I trusted in vain;
Your pledge was but made to be broken again:
And the lover so false to his promises now,
Will not, as a husband, be true to his vow.
The word must be spoken that bids you depart
Though the effort to speak it should shatter my heart--
Though in silence, with blighted affection, I pine
Yet the lips that touch liquor must never touch mine.

If one spark in your bosom of virtue remain,
So fan it with prayer till it kindles again;
Resolved, with "God helping," in future to be
From wine and its follies unshackled and free!
And when you have conquered this foe of your soul,--
In manhood and honor beyond his control
This heart will again beat responsive to thine,
And the lips free from liquor be welcome to mine.

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