“Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer. Take one down and pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall.” And when you’ve passed the last, “go to the store and buy some more.”

In most of our state, if it’s Sunday, go to the store for more after 10 a.m. We’re one of 28 states still suffering blue laws blues. Blue laws don’t mean B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Billie Holiday or Ana Popovic. Blue laws give you the blues.

For whatever reason, 18th century Puritan leaders printed Sunday trade restrictions on blue paper. They didn’t stop with booze. They shut down everything fun, so worker-bees had nowhere to go but church.

Our Supreme Court pretty much followed suit when it OK’d blue laws in 1961. It quoted English jurist Sir William Blackstone, who essentially said the government needed to set aside a day of rest (namely, Sunday) to keep the lower classes in check.

Justice William O. Douglas couldn’t buy that. Douglas said, imagine that Seventh-Day Adventists grew in number to control a state’s legislature and enacted a law restricting commerce on Saturday; or if Moslems, who made it a crime to do business on Fridays. Ahem, what then?

But back to beer; that stuff’s been around since folks in Chinese village Jiahu cooked up the recipe like 9,000 years ago. And those Puritans that landed at Plymouth Rock; well, they landed at Plymouth Rock because they needed to make more beer. Fact-check, if you must.

Beer’s baked into America. George Washington made his own. John Adams drank beer for breakfast when he enrolled at Harvard at the ripe old age of 15. (Note: Adams didn’t hold a candle to Ellerbe’s Andre Roussimoff the Giant, who reportedly downed 119 beers in a single session.)

There was no minimum drinking age in John Adams’ day. Nowadays, the U.S drinking age is 21, four years beyond the age when you can enlist and go get dead fighting anybody in the world, fighting everybody in the world. Our country’s age limit took effect in 1984 (Orwellian, huh?) when President Reagan threatened to cut off specific funds to states that didn’t fall in line.

So much for beer. What if you’re a-hankering for “distilled spirits” with 21-plus percent alcohol? In N.C., if it’s Sunday, wait till Monday.

It wasn’t always that way. In 1908, N.C. distinguished itself as the first state in America to outlaw booze every day of the week. Twelve years later, the nation caught up. Before the 1920s 18th Amendment enacting Prohibition, followed by 1933’s 21st Amendment repealing that nonsense, the nation endured, uh, Carrie Nation.

Carrie’s first marriage barely began when her husband died from his lifetime of hard-core boozing, leading Carrie to become a hard-core member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. According to Carrie, God told her to go to Kiowa, Kansas and smash up saloons.

Carrie, foot-soldier in the war against booze, followed orders. She appeared like a specter at Dobson’s Saloon and after announcing, “Men, I have come to save you from a drunkard’s fate,” loosed a cascade of rocks at Dobson’s liquor stock. Carrie’s brief jail stint merely strengthened her resolve. She traded rocks for a hatchet and became every barkeeper’s nightmare.

Somehow our nation survived Carrie’s frightening stunts. In 1933, FDR celebrated repeal of Prohibition with a “dirty martini,” his favorite.

The end of Prohibition helped end the “Great Depression” by creating jobs and revenue from a legal liquor industry. It also portended the end of bootlegging, “bathtub gin,” and speakeasies; and the end of “moonshining,” centered in the “Moonshine Capital of the World,” Wilkes County, N.C.

Ronda, N.C.’s “Junior” Johnson, who Tom Wolfe called “The Last American Hero,” stopped running illicit liquor, started running race cars, and became a NASCAR star. Today, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing holds races across the U.S., Canada, Japan, Mexico and Australia.

In 1967, public drinking of liquor was allowed in N.C. for the first time since 1908. It was called brown-bagging. Patrons could order “set-ups” to mix with booze they brought in bags, though not necessarily brown bags. Then, in 1978, according to a Campbell University Law Review article, one Hank Stoppelbein ordered the first liquor-by-the drink, a Bloody Mary, at Benedictine’s Restaurant in Charlotte. And last year, the state allowed public colleges to sell beer at athletic events.

Following Prohibition, North Carolina turned over booze control to 170 independent politically entrenched local boards, resulting in a hodgepodge of different regulations. H.B. 971, introduced last year, hopes to correct that by allowing private businesses to sell liquor like beer and wine.

“No more bottles of beer on the wall, no more bottles of beer. Go to the store and buy some more, 99 bottles of beer on the wall.”

Michael Smith is a Southern Pines writer.

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