The Memoirs of Armand Charest Part I

Chapter 3

Of making moonshine during Prohibition and the onset of the great depression…

I must add one final story. It concerns the making of moonshine.

The 1920-decade saw the enforcement of prohibition laws against the making and selling of liquor. Some misguided people back in 1913 believed that the working class, at that time consisting mainly of immigrants from Europe, was spending too much of its money on liquor and not enough on supporting the families. The real culprits were the miserable living and sanitation conditions that deprived the older people of a chance to enjoy the benefits of democracy.

In defiance of the law many people decided to make liquor at home a process that became known as, “making bathtub gin.” In the early 1920s Alphonse had a food concession at the construction site of a J.P.Coats Company factory that would become famous as a producer of sewing threads.

One day so the story goes the manager approached Alphonse with a proposition too good to turn down. He had a problem, he said. The work schedule was falling down because the workers would head to other cities on payday, get drunk and then they would show up whenever they sobered up. He could no longer tolerate that. As an alternative he proposed that Alphonse should undertake the task of making moonshine himself. We could, said the man, dig under the stand and built you facilities to make the stuff while guaranteeing freedom from police interference. In return Alphonse would make quality liquor and sell it to the workers at a reasonable price. Management hoped that the workers would stay in the vicinity and thus be able to work on Monday morning.

Things went swimmingly for some time. Alphonse equipped the apartment with first class furniture including an electric sewing machine and washing machine. To Emilie’s questions about the origin of so much money, Alphonse would only say that business was good. The construction work retained its schedule. All was well in Mudville until one day, a day that still lives in infamy disaster struck the Charest family and J.P.Coats Company. The mother-in-law came for a visit.

Grandmother Charest had a taste for the finer things of life that tragically included the love of liquor. She asked Emilie to go with her to the stand. While there she asked Alphonse the $64,000 question.

“Can I have some of that good liquor that you are making?”

Emilie replied in a shocked tone, “Liquor, what liquor?” (I am merely reporting what I heard through the years. I am not making it up.)

Alphonse is reported to have stammered an answer, mixed with a barrage of accusing daggers at his dear mother. He is also reported to have shrugged his shoulders in total defeat. Emilie went on the offensive.

“You are making moonshine here? Is that where all the money is coming from? Shut that business down right now!”

Needless to say management was in an uproar; Alphonse faced the danger’ of a broken or damaged family; the workers face a crisis about their drinking activities. Alphonse merely, shrugged his shoulders one more time and shut down the still. Thus ended an enterprise founded in noble ideas but destroyed by an unfortunate trick of fate.

In 1932 dark times intruded into the Charest family and made life very unpleasant for Alphonse and Emilie: the Great Depression was on.

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