Not Real Neighborly

 

It’s mid-March and it’s cold.  I know, I know, I know.  You Yankee types pull out lounge chairs and sunblock whenever the temperature gets above thirty.  According to my new Dollar Store thermometer, it’s twenty-nine this morning so don’t you bring out the bikinis yet…well, the thermometer only cost a dollar.  It could be off just a bit.

March cold in the foothills of the Blue Ridge is a different kind of cold from the rest of the winter.  The cold is driven by the March winds coming in like a lion and the moisture it collects.  It’s not a dry cold just like in the summer it’s not a dry heat.  The wind is heavy with moisture this morning.  Why we’ve been known to get late March snowstorms that totally shut down the area with its half-inch deposit.  The dairy and bakery businesses revel in their collusion with Mother Nature’s late-season lessons in capitalism.  (If you don’t know what that means message me, I’ll explain.)

Today was clear, no late season snow, and I felt good…really, really good after a winter of arthritic pains, Afib, and seasonal affective disorder.  Good enough to walk the old logging road that connects my home on the Scenic Highway with the more scenic sounding Chicora Road a mile and a quarter to the north.  I walk it when I feel good and when it’s not hunting season.  I walk it when I feel good because I need the strength.  The road begins with a third of a mile thigh and hamstring hammering trek up the side of a small mountain…or steep hill.

I don’t walk it during hunting season for obvious reasons.  One of those crazy AR-15 toting hunters might mistake me for a Buck or a Tom and turn me into a sieve.  My name is Don anyway.  Today I had no excuse.  I felt good and it’s not hunting season.

The old road meanders through a mixed forest.  I was almost immediately greeted by a Pileated woodpecker working the top of a hollowed-out hardwood.  He must have thought I was funny huffin’ and puffin’ as I was.  He laughed and laughed as he flew away.  They are beautiful birds and I do love their distinctive call.

I’ve walked this old road for thirty years now…when I’ve felt good.  It’s changed little.  I’ve got a few more downed trees I need to remove so I can get the tractor or the jeep through.  One of these days…maybe…they’re easy to step over.

What has changed is the ownership of the road.  I don’t own the whole road, there are three of us whose land it runs through.  On the Chicora end, old Vessy has leased his seventy some odd acres out to hunters.  They have turned ole Vessy’s cabin into “a hunting lodge” complete with a new burning pit.  It’s right nice for a hunting lodge…but I wouldn’t like to live there.  There must be a slew of them because the road is now marked with deer stands reminding me of watchtowers.  I actually thought of Jimi Hendrix singing “All Along the Watchtower.”  Understand now why I don’t walk here during hunting season?

Seems they might be doing something else during their offseason.  I smelled the tangy fragrance from a quarter mile away.  Snatches of the sour aroma of fermented corn being carried by the March wind.  I should have turned around then but curiosity got the best of the old geezer.

I saw the smoke wafting above the chimney and they saw me before I saw them.  Three ‘good ole boys’ of ample girth, in camouflage and baseball caps…all carrying hunting rifles.  I should have been afraid…and I was.  Chills chased each other up and down my spine.

Maybe I can disarm them with my smile and winning personality.  Cheerfully I greeted them with a “Morning!  How y’all this fine March morning?”

“We’s good.  You’re trespassin’.”  Not a “How are you?” or so much a “La-di-da.”  I decided not to ask any more questions myself and realized my smile and personality meant nothing to them.

“I’m Don.  I live at the other end of the old logging road.  I’ve been walkin’ it for thirty years and always check on Vessy’s cabin when I come by.”

“Well, we check on it now and with us huntin’, it might be safer if you stay on your land.”  The speaker jutted his chin out and nodded.  His two friends followed suit and jutted out their chins and we all became a cluster of bobbleheads.

Continuing to nod, I decided not to point out, “I ain’t huntin’ season.”  They weren’t very neighborly at all.

The leader of the pack continued, “Yeah, iffin I wuz you I’d probably just stay on your land,” and without so much as a “by your leave” or an offer to taste their homebrew, turned and headed toward the cabin with his two companions in pursuit.

“Well bless your heart.”

Addendum-two days later

It’s not as cool in the foothills of the Blue Ridge this morning.  A bit of warmin’…and pre-April showers on the way.   I feel good but I’m not walking the old logging road today.  Seems like we had a bit of a commotion on the upper end of Chicora yesterday.  Zane, from across the road called me to let me know, telling me a story that brought a smile to my face.

“Revenuers breakin’ up a still you say?”  Yes, I know we don’t call ‘um revenuers anymore.

Hum.  Believe I’ll call ole Vessy and see if it’s safe to walk tomorrow.  Wonder how they found out ‘bout that still?  Maybe those ole boys learned a lesson ‘bout bein’ neighborly.

Names and location were changed to protect the innocent.

Image from http://www.hotel-r.net/us/moonshine-cabin

Give a little love and follow Don Miller’s writer’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM or his facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/cigarman501/

 

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Southern Bias

“The past is never dead, in fact, it’s not even past.” One of the South’s greatest Nobel Prize laureates. William Faulkner

A blog follower of mine paid me a superb compliment…I think…I hope. Her comment was, “I love reading your musings. You confound my biases about Southern attitudes.” No, she ain’t from around here but sometimes I wonder if I should be. I guess I need to ask the clarifying question, “What biases?” I haven’t heard back yet and since our power went off due to a thunderstorm, I guess I shall attempt to saunter on alone.

I don’t believe she meant, “As one Forbes pundit overstated several years ago, ‘the common media view of the South is as a regressive region, full of overweight, prejudiced, exploited, and undereducated numbskulls.’” I wrote a previous post about our own contributions to those biases , “Sot in Our Ways,” but will not re-till this field since I don’t believe it fits her bias. The reason I believe this? She writes from her Michigan farm about chickens, goats and puppy dogs. She even has a story about possums. Sorta sounds like a female, Yankee version of me…except she’s probably a better writer than I am…no, not probably.

I realize the South is full of paradoxes and I know our paradoxes create biases. Sweetening our tea before adding lemon to make it a bit sour. Revering the past while seemingly revering little of the present. My great Grand Daddy preaching on the evils of alcohol while being drunker than “old Cooter Brown.” My guess was he was railing about the evils of “sto’ bought” rather than homemade. Going to family reunions to find our mates…that was a joke although I did date a very distant cousin once upon a time. I lived in a sparsely populated area and female company was at a premium.

I guess another perceived reason for bias is our murder of the “King’s English.” Droppin’ our gees, talkin’ slower than molasses running in the wintertime and usin’ the word y’all all of the time. I was once told the difference between Southern girls and Northern girls was that if you asked for a kiss, Northern girls might answer “You can!”, Southern gals might answer “Y’all can!” Remember, y’all can mean one…maybe. Well, y’all can is singular, y’all ALL can would be plural…kinda like “Youse guys.”

I know many Northerners who have biases about our food. No one I know actually eats Moon Pies while drinking a “dope” and I have never in my life eaten pickled pig’s feet…and won’t ever unless starving. Some folks above the Mason Dixon Line wouldn’t be caught dead sucking a crawfish head after eating a crawfish tail or eating grits even though polenta is nothing more than grits with a Latin name and probably a heftier price tag. Grits should be viewed as a “blank canvas.” Plain until you start adding color…say…mixed with cream cheese and covered with grilled or blackened shrimp “runnin’” in a brown roux featuring Tasso ham or andouille sausage and chives. Now that’s colorful. I will not discuss Cream of Wheat.

I have my own bias or at least an issue with the way certain folks use the verb barbeque interchangeably with the verb grill. Barbequin’ ain’t grillin’. Grillin’ is charring burgers, hot dogs, chicken or fish. Doing so is fine, I love a good chargrilled burger or chicken done right…with a beer can up its butt. BBQ, however, requires low, low temperatures, hard wood coals and large animal parts although we will sneak a chicken or five in for good measure. Most importantly it requires time…hours of time…sometimes a night of time…with lies and brown liquor to help you pass the time or pass out. Rome was not built in a day and good BBQ requires at least that long.

There is a true earned bias. Many Southerners believe if Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, their favorite college football coach sits to the left…regardless of how much he cusses. For sure, Southern college football is a religious experience of sorts. Even our most hated rivals brag about how they always fill their “House of Worship” no matter how many games they lose. Yes, that was a “hell fire and brimstone” missile aimed right at their little garnet and black hearts.

Okay, maybe I am the exception proving the bias or just the rule and no William Faulkner’s quote had little to do with this essay…except it might exemplify one of our greatest paradoxes and I just like it.

“Musings of a Mad Southerner” Stories from my Southern heart. New nonfiction from Don Miller at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss

If you are interested in reading posts from my Yankee, female doppelganger, use the following link to touch base with Nancy and her Bluestem Farm. https://bluestempond.wordpress.com/

TIME HONORED TRADITION

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