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 

running back. 

 “Grandma, Grandma!” they cried. 

“There’s an old man lying in the road by 

the bridge. He’s all covered with mud and 

looks terrible.” 

 “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 

mother said. 

 “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 

exclaimed indignantly. 

 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 

smoke, too.” 

 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. 

I followed. 

 “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 

said nothing. 

 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.” 

Proverbs 23:21 

 “The Man that Rum 

  Made” Copyright 1912