The Long Road To Ruin
It was a beautiful spring day. The sun
was shining brightly in the clear blue sky
and flowers were blooming everywhere.
Betsy, Hank, and Max had talked
grandma into going for a walk. Betsy
walked with grandma while Hank and Max
ran on ahead. Pretty soon, they came
“Grandma, Grandma!” they cried.
“There’s an old man lying in the road by
the bridge. He’s all covered with mud and
“Probably Old Joe,” sighed grandma.
“Let’s go see if we can help him. He might
be sick, but he’s most likely drunk.”
Grandma hurried toward the bridge with
the children following. By the time they
got there Old Joe had staggered to his feet
and was continuing unsteadily toward his
home. He was a sorry sight. His coat was
soaked with mud and slime that dripped
onto his ragged pants. His hat flopped over
his face and looked even worse than his
slimy coat. His dull yellow hair and beard
were long and matted. His nose was big
and red, his cheeks puffy and his eyes
He didn’t seem to see grandma and the
children but mumbled something they
couldn’t understand, as he staggered past.
The children drew back from him in
disgust. But grandma just shook her head
and sighed. “Poor, poor Joe,” she said. “He
wasn’t always like this. I remember when
Old Joe was just five years old. You never
saw a handsomer or sweeter boy.”
“Really? You’ve got to be kidding,”
cried Betsy. “How did he get like this?”
“It’s a long story,” said grandma. “When
we get home, I’ll tell it to you.”
As soon as grandma had sat down in her
rocking chair, Betsy, Hank, and Max
gathered around her.
“Please grandma, tell us about Old Joe
now,” said Henry. “I just can’t imagine
him being anything but the old drunk he is
Here is Grandma’s story:
You see, Joe was an only child and his
parents loved him very much. But they
died before Joe was five years old and he
went to live with his aunt Maggie.
Aunt Maggie was a good woman, but
she made one mistake. She let Joe have his
own way in everything. And if there was
one thing Joe liked more than anything
else, it was food. He loved candy, cake,
ice cream, and anything spicy. Aunt
Maggie liked to cook very rich and spicy
food and let Joe eat all he wanted at any
time he wanted. She never said no to him.
Pretty soon he didn’t even bother to ask
her but would help himself right from the
Because my father had been such a good
friend of Joe’s father, my parents let me
spend a lot of time with Joe. When I was
little he was almost the only person I ever
played with. He was a year older than I
was and so full of fun and ideas.
But he never learned to control himself.
He used to sneak food out of the kitchen
and eat it while we were playing. I asked
him why he had to sneak it out when Aunt
Maggie let him have anything he wanted.
He said, “It’s more fun to sneak it out and
besides she might think I’m eating too
much.” I told him he was eating too much
but he laughed at me. One time he ate so
much that he was sick for a whole day, but
even that didn’t cure him.
One day he came to visit us and stayed
for supper. As soon as our plates were full
he demanded pepper. “Pepper is not good
for you Joe. I never let Jennie use it,” my
“If I can’t have it, then I’ll go home
where I can have anything I want to eat
and I’ll never come here to play again,” he
I pleaded with mother to let him have the
pepper because I was afraid of losing my
playmate. At last she consented and he
poured pepper on his plate till everything
was black with it.
When Joe was eight he began pleading
with Aunt Maggie to let him have coffee in
the morning like she did. At first she didn’t
think it would be good for him but finally
she gave in and let him have a cup. It
wasn’t long and he was sneaking cups of
coffee when she wasn’t around. When I
threatened to tell Aunt Maggie he said,
“But I love it, if it doesn’t hurt Aunt
Maggie it won’t hurt me. If it’s good for
women, it’s good for boys, and I’m going
to have what I want. If Aunt Maggie thinks
that was the first cup of coffee I’ve had,
she’s wrong. When I’m a man, a big man,
I’m going to eat and drink anything I
“Oh Joe, you aren’t going to be a drinker
are you?” I asked.
“I’m going to be a man like my father
was,” he said. “Real men aren’t afraid of a
little social drinking and most of them
With that he walked away pretending to
be smoking a pipe.
I should have told mother or Aunt
Maggie, but I was afraid Joe wouldn’t play
with me anymore, so I said nothing.
Well, a year or two later I was playing
with Joe at his house. We had been playing
for quite some time when he announced
that he was thirsty. “Go get a drink of
water then,” I said.
“I’m not such a sissy to drink water when
there is something much better to drink.”
He winked at me and ran toward the cellar.
“Joe, what are you going to do?” I asked
“I’m going to have a drink of Aunt
Maggie’s cider. She’s been saving it for
weeks to make vinegar but I like it just the
way it is now.”
He took a straw and inserted it in a small
hole in the cider barrel. He drank long and
leisurely. “Mmmm, that’s good,” he said.
“Here, try it.”
“No thank you.”
“Don’t be a sissy.”
“O.K. I’ll try it.” But it was so bitter I
couldn’t drink it. I should have told my
mother but I was afraid I wouldn’t be
allowed to play with Joe anymore. So I
A few days later he came over to play
but acted very strangely. He slurred his
words and his eyes were red and dull.
“What’s the matter Joe?” I asked.
“Nothin’ smatter. Little too much Aunt
Magsh Shider. Bezzer go home now.” He
walked away unsteadily.
I didn’t realize that he was drunk. I just
thought that he was sick or something.
About a week later I went over to his
house to play with him. I couldn’t find him
for the longest time. Finally I found him in
the barn. His face was very white and in
his mouth was the old clay pipe we used to
use for blowing soap bubbles. The smell of
tobacco smoke was very strong.
My father always said that tobacco was a
nasty, wasteful habit and just the smell of
it made me feel sick.
“Why Joe Brandon!” I cried. “I’m going
to tell Aunt Maggie.” I turned and started
for the house.
“Jennie, you come back here! Don’t be a
tattletale. If you tell, I’ll never play with
you again,” yelled Joe.
I’m sorry to say that I turned back. Then
Joe started teasing me, telling me that he
was going to tell my mother that I had
stolen the tobacco for him.
“But that’s not true, Joe, and you know
it!” I was shaking all over. We had never
had a fight before.
Joe laughed. “I’m no sissy, the best men
in town all smoke. Even the new minister
does. It’s no worse for me than it is for
them. You’ll hold your tongue, Jennie.”
“That wasn’t very nice,” said Betsy. “I
don’t think I’d ever want to play with a
boy like that.”
As a matter of fact, that was the last time
I played with him. For just then Aunt
Maggie came around the corner. She was
disgusted with Joe and demanded to know
where he’d gotten the tobacco. He said
he’d been doing odd jobs for Mr. Green at
the store and that Mr. Green refused to pay
any other way but in tobacco.
When Aunt Maggie talked with Mr.
Green he told her that he paid Joe in cash,
that he didn’t even sell tobacco in his
store. When Aunt Maggie told my parents
about it, my father wouldn’t let me see Joe
anymore and very soon they moved away
to the city. I didn’t see Joe again for a long
time. My mother talked to Aunt Maggie a
couple years after they moved away. She
told my mother that Joe was fast going to
his ruin and that she couldn’t control him
It was another five years before I saw
Joe again. He had grown into a very
handsome and attractive young man. But
his idle habits gave him a recklessness that
I found very unattractive.
About this time he met a very pretty
young woman named Martha Grey. Her
father was one of the most respected men
in the city. Joe started courting her. He
could be very pleasing when he chose to
be and he hid his dissolute habits from her
and her family. He had a good mind and
did very well in school, going on to study
law. He could have done very well for
himself but he couldn’t let alcohol alone
and soon lost his practice. Nobody wanted
to hire a drunken lawyer.
He couldn’t hide his drinking from
Martha for long and one day wandered
into her father’s store very drunk. Her
father was very upset and forbade Martha
to ever see him again. But she insisted
upon meeting him. I went to visit her and
talked long and earnestly with her. Her
face turned very pale, but she said low and
firmly. “I know you think he’s very bad.
But he’s not completely bad; he has
promised me that he won’t drink anymore.
I believe my mission is to reform him,
make a good man out of him, and I’m
going to try.”
Soon after this Aunt Maggie died. She
was worn out and grown old before her
time by Joe’s wrong ways. In spite of all I
could say and the efforts of her father,
Martha soon ran away and married Joe.
But Joe did not reform. He had periods
when he was sorry for his ways and vowed
to change, but without Jesus in his life he
was unable to change his lifelong habits.
His father-in-law gave him a job as clerk in
his store but Joe didn’t give up his drink.
Martha soon learned that Joe could be hard
and cruel when drunk, and that she could
do nothing to help him. Several years later
the beautiful Martha Grey died, worn out
and brokenhearted, just like Aunt Maggie.
Then Joe went away to sea. Many, many
years later he came back here, drunk and
outcast, like you saw him today. It’s a
wonder he’s still alive.
The children sat silent for a long time
thinking about Old Joe and the story
grandma had told. Then Hank said. “I feel
so sorry for him grandma, I’ll never touch
drink as long as I live!”
“Me either!” said Max.
“I won’t either!” said Betsy
Grandma smiled. “I’m glad to hear you
say that. There’s a verse from Solomon I’d
like you all to remember. ‘For the drunkard
and the glutton shall come to poverty; and
drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.”
“The Man that Rum
Made” Copyright 1912