It was 5 am when I stepped out my front gate a decade or so ago. A pre-dawn fog still hung low. Swirled by a light breeze, it periodically blotted out a particularly bright September full moon that glowed brightly enough to cause shadows. There was just a hint of chill in the morning air to mark the change in seasons soon to come. I would walk and jog an hour until Linda Gail joined me for a forty-five-minute walk before I showered, shaved and began my thirty-seven mile drive to work.
There was just a hint of an aroma hanging with the fog. As I stretched before beginning my jog I tried to recall what I might be smelling. As I inhaled the redolent odor I found it almost “tasted” sour in a pleasing way. It was almost familiar. At that moment the fog briefly cleared revealing a beautiful full moon and like a “light bulb” going off in my head I had it. Corn whiskey being made “by the shine of the moon.” Sour mash being turned in to “moonshine,” “white lightnin’” or “corn squeezins’”. The making of illegal corn liquor was, AND IS, a time honored tradition in these foothills of Appalachia called the Dark Corner of the Carolinas.
We have a rich tradition of “boot legging” in the United States. From “rum running” to avoid the British tax on molasses to the Whiskey Rebellion when George Washington would again ride at the head of his army to “compel” Pennsylvania farmers to pay the first federal excise tax and remain in the infant United States. Folks in the United States just don’t like having to pay taxes on…well…take your pick but in this case it was home brew. During Prohibition and the Great Depression, making “shine” became a way to make ends meet for Dark Corner farmers who could not have survived without it. According to local historian Dean Campbell, the Squire of Dark Corner, a poor farmer, and they got no poorer than those in the Dark Corner, could expect to realize a profit of about two dollars and fifty cents on five bushels of corn. The same amount of corn could be turned into twelve gallons of moonshine and a twelve-dollar profit with no “spoilage”. I ain’t no mathematical genius but…that would be nearly a four hundred percent increase in profit.
Through the depression and into modern times, the Dark Corner was known for its production of moonshine. Not just any moonshine but what has been described as a particularly “fine moonshine.” That is not an oxymoron. The smoothness supposedly came from the water. In the late Seventies it was also known for producing a particularly high grade of “killer weed” known as “Glassy Mountain Gold.” Despite capturing the “Best Domestic” award in a magazine catering to those activities, “GMG” did not replace moonshining because moonshining was the traditional drug of choice and “them good old boys ain’t about to change.” I also wonder how I might know such things.
Linda Gail and I have spent many hours engaged in exploration, in and around our little piece of heaven. We have seven, year round streams, three which bubble to the surface on our land. Over several millenniums I guess, all three have cut deep ravines. If you explore, back into the deep and dark recesses of those ravines, you will find the metal barrel hoops that held wooden barrel staves together along with newer metal barrels with curious holes shaped like those made from “buck shot” or an axe. I wonder if those damn “gubment” revenuers paid the moonshiners a visit sometime back in the fog of time. Recently we added a three-acre parcel of land to our little piece of heaven mainly to keep people from moving in next to us. Yes, we are hermits. While exploring, I think we found the still I smelled “cookin’” a decade ago on the wide stream at the base of our waterfall. Not in good enough shape to fire up but in good enough shape to be recent.
I was somewhat shocked to see the face of a distant neighbor pasted across my TV screen on the Six O’ Clock News. He was, and is still, a respected “gentleman peach farmer” of high means. His offense? Making “shine.” His defense was that his daddy had made it and his daddy before him had made it and…. He did not need the money to pay his taxes or even take the kids to Disneyworld, nor did he appear to be very apologetic or remorseful. It was a time-honored tradition to make the “family recipe” free of “gubment” taxes and he was “sot in his ways.” My guess is that despite the hefty fine that he paid, he is still “sot in his ways.”
This is an excerpt from Don Miller’s soon to be released book THROUGH THE FRONT GATE. For more humorous non-fiction go to check his site at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM