Guest Blog: “My Papaw JB” By Shawn Stevens

Hey Gang, sorry for the lag in posts lately but festival/reenactment season as well as harvest season and several runs of gin at the distillery have kept me hopping.  Lots more to come in the near future as I work on articles regarding the “Lincoln County Method” and Rectification as well as some local Hoosier Distilling History.  Until then I’ve been looking for a few guest bloggers here and there.  You guys may remember Shawn Stevens from a few months back in one of our five questions with segments and no doubt many of you Vendome fanatics already know of him as he’s been fabricating for those guys for many years.  Enjoy Shawn’s memories and give them a like and share.  This one is a very personal one and quite touching!

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My Papaw JB

By: Shawn Stevens
My Grandfather’s name was John Baptist Hauss. He was born on November 16, 1913 and was raised in Louisville, Kentucky. He was a talented child stage performer and was featured in lots of Vaudeville shows as a tap dancer. His stage name was Little Johnny Hauss. When I was younger I would look at the photos of him in his little tuxedo and top hat and dream of being just like him. Unfortunately, his Father was a hard-drinking man and squandered a lot of JB’s earnings before they could be used to help the young man in his future.
He wasn’t very big even as an adult (5’ and some change and about 115 pounds), but one of JB’s first jobs was driving a beer barrel wagon for Fehr’s Brewery. Loading and unloading huge wooden barrels of beer in and out of tons of small pubs was something he would tell me were some of his favorite memories. When he found out I was friends with the infamous pub owner Jack Fry, Papaw told me a story about one of the cigarette machines in the bar during Prohibition. If Jack knew you well enough you could purchase a special token from him that would produce a small bottle of whiskey instead of a pack of smokes. World War ll interrupted his job the same as a lot of other men and regardless of his small stature he became a Marine and was sent to the Pacific Theater. He witnessed the raising of the United States Flag over Iwo Jima. He never talked about it much unless I snuck into his bedroom and started looking at some of the souvenirs he kept in some cigar boxes on his dresser.
He continued to work for Fehr’s after the Second World War until they closed in the early 60’s. He took great pride in his company and I still have a college style sweater with one of their logos embroidered on the front “It’s always Fehr Weather”. Their most popular marketing program was having wind-up metal toys made with their logo on them and I had quite a few by the time I was 3. When they closed he took a job with Ready Electric as one of their warehouse men. He started drinking Falls City beer then because it was the “other” local brewery. We didn’t live in Louisville back then but came to visit at Christmas and in the summer. We would always be at his house when he got off of work and his routine was to take his empty Falls City bottles when he had a case up to the local pub for the deposit and to exchange for another case. While there he would drink several “short slips” of beer, buy me and my brother a Big Red each and give us a handful of nickels to play the pinball machine. When we ran out of the change it was time to go home. After we got better at the pinball machine the short slips got more numerous.
I moved back to Louisville when I graduated High School and was a fixture at my Grandparent’s house because he and my Grandmother didn’t mind me drinking beer at 18. His opinion was I was old enough to vote and go into the military so why not?! By this time JB had retired and would hang out at the Longfield VFW Post in the afternoons. When I got off work as an apprentice I would go get him and we would go across the street to Churchill Downs for the last three races. Back then you could get in free after the start of the 6th race. He was a wonderful handicapper but never bet enough to hurt his pension and Social Security. Always won just enough to buy us a couple of drinks and maybe a hotdog.
Once while sitting with him at the bar in the Post I watched a man go to the US Postage Stamp machine more than several times. I mean he was buying a LOT of stamps. I mentioned this to Papaw and he busted out laughing. Apparently this particular machine had been altered to give out single Pull Tabs instead of stamps. Another time after Mamaw had passed I got a late night phone call from him. He needed me to come down and bail him out of jail. He didn’t want to call my Mom or my Aunt because he was embarrassed. The whole way there I kept thinking about how he had a habit of driving home the 4 blocks from the Post and a DUI was going to cost him a lot out of his monthly checks. When I got there I was told the charges were stemming from an illegal poker game in the back of the Post and JB was one of the players. I paid the bail. He was mad as a hell going home. There had been 6 old guys playing nickel/dime poker and the police had confiscated $4.95 from the pot. When they were all brought in front of the judge the charges were dropped and the arresting officer was called out for how ridiculous and what a waste of money it was.
I spent a lot more time with him after Mamaw passed and one summer started painting his house inside and out. This was one of those horrible Louisville summers and the outside work was miserable especially after 8-10 hours at my vocation. He would always make sure that I had some supper and a couple of Falls City beers for my work. One evening he decided that we would have a “wee bit of the Nancy” along with our beers and instructed me to go to the basement and bring up the decanter of the 100th running of the Kentucky Derby. I was excited enough to be sharing a whiskey with him that I hadn’t noticed the Tax Seal had been cut very precisely. I uncorked the decanter and began to pour out the most ungodly mess of chunky, moldy liquid. He said that maybe the cork had shrunk and caused this so ‘go get another one’. Opened it and poured out the same yucky slime. By the third one (he had probably 20) we realized the Tax Stamps had been cut and the corks replaced in exactly the right spot. We talked about this for some time and he eventually came to the decision that Mamaw had gotten pissed at him, poured out all of his whiskey and replaced it with water or something. She had been deceased a few years and he would say ‘she got me good’ when he would tell the story. Until he died he could never figure out what he had done for her to get this mad.
My Papaw was one of the best men I ever had the pleasure of knowing and he taught me quite a bit about being a man. He loved me unconditionally and bragged about me being his first Grandson to whomever would listen. He gave me my first beer, my first whiskey and took me to my first horse race. He wouldn’t recognize today’s Fall City but I’d sure love to share one with him. I miss you Papaw.

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