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Thursday, February 19, 2009

February Newspaper Column

No new art to post yet. Had a couple of things in the works that didn't work out.... but they were good practice! Starting a couple of new pieces and hopefully will have something to post before too much longer.

In the meantime, here's this month's newspaper column.

A Tale from the Family Tree: Ed, Jim and the Still in the Woods

I can tell this tale because those involved live only in the memories of the people who knew them, or knew of them. I cannot guarantee 100% accuracy, having never met the participants, nor was I witness to the events I am about to relate, but the basic facts are as I tell them to you today. The names have been changed to protect the innocent... and the otherwise.

Those of you who are acquainted with my husband know that he is a great story teller and loves nothing more than an entertaining tale that captivates an audience. This follows a custom thousands of years old. In days of old, when the average person could neither read nor write, family traditions and legends were passed on to younger generations through the art of storytelling. At some point, as literacy became the norm, a family member usually committed the stories to paper to preserve them and to make them more widely available. Which brings us back to the hubby and his stories. After several years of hearing all kinds of colorful tales, I thought I should follow custom and ink the tales before they disappeared like a wisp of smoke on the breeze. 'Course, some stories remain better unpublished, and those we allow to settle into quiet obscurity. But others, like today’s story, is one that could never happen in our day and time because things have changed so much, and if for no other reason than that, this tale merits preservation.

The "gentleman" in our story today is a few generations back in the family tree. I enclosed the word gentleman in quotes because, since it’s my hubby’s family I’m making an effort to be polite. Truth is, "rascal", "scoundrel" or "scalawag" would be much more suitable, both for the family member and the employee he hires. But on to the story.

As you know, country folk are generally a hardy, independent and resourceful lot. In days gone by, folks purchased far less "store bought" goods than they do today, especially during the Great Depression, which is when our story begins. Money and goods were scarce. Most families either made it themselves, grew it themselves, or did without. This self-sufficiency not only saw them through tough times, but was also a point of pride. Folks were satisfied, even smug, in their knowledge that homemade was tastier, more tender, or stronger, than store bought. This held true for everything from sausage and hams from the smokehouse to mustard greens and corn from the garden to. . . stump hole liquor from the still in the woods. Yessir, buddy. Nothing like that old timey shine. Store bought stuff wouldn’t touch it... folks with good sense wouldn’t either. Like a lot of homemade products it was versatile- you could drink it, or you could run your car or tractor off it.

Making moonshine ("shine") was at one time an activity engaged in by a surprising number of people. Bootleg liquor has been the basis for more than one family fortune. The profits from such a venture were substantial enough to tempt a lot of folks, both city dwellers and rural.

Which brings us back to the family member in our story (who we'll call "Ed"). Ed and some kinfolk decided to get in on the liquor business. Make a little money and manufacture a supply of liquid encouragement for Saturday night get togethers. Ed, his brothers, and a couple of cousins, soon became quite proficient at the distilling process, enough so that a delivery person was needed so they could concentrate on production. They already had a man picked out... one Jim Riverton of Jaspersonville who had a reputation as fast thinker and nobody’s fool. Times were lean and dollars were scarce so Jim was enthusiastic about his new job. ‘Course no one could know of his employment, being illegal and all, but Jim wasn’t worried, he’d easily outwit the local law.

Jim arrived to pick up his first batch of shine in his new investment: a used ambulance he’d acquired just for the job. It was in decent shape, and since at that time there were not nearly as many rules and regulations for folks to abide by as there are today, the previous owners had kindly left all the goodies on the ambulance including the paint job denoting it as a medical vehicle, the lights, and the siren.

Well, this was no doubt one of the most perfect setups there has ever been. Once a week or so, Jim would gently ferry his patients (‘bout 100 gallons of them in recycled glass pickle jars, canning jars, and the like) right through the main street of Jaspersonville. Whenever he chanced to see the local lawman, Jim would offer a polite wave. When the patients were safely delivered to their destination, Jim collected his pay and everybody was happy.

We really don’t know how long this little setup went on, but it was long enough that Jim began to get more comfortable and less cautious. Not only was he transporting shine, he was sipping it. Just a little at first, but you know how that down hill slide goes. One night Jim slid quite a way, until, with a too generous helping of stump hole under his belt he left for a run and decided to try out some of the goodies on the ambulance. Heck, with a siren and lights a man could ignore the speed limit, couldn’t he? After all... this was an ambulance.

He scooted through Jaspersonville on his way to Bayson, well above the speed limit with lights flashing and siren loudly wailing. He didn’t even make it out of the city limits before he was joined by another set of lights and a siren. Yep, it was the law.

Jim rolled down the window as the lawman walked up.

"Jim, you sure been hauling a lot of sick folk lately." "Mind if I take a look back there?

Well, with all those "patients" tightly packed in the back of the ambulance, the lawman’s find spelled the end of Jim’s delivery days. It was also the end of Ed’s production days; and, it is the end of our tale. But, no doubt we'll climb the family tree again and see if there's another story there waiting to be told in another column.


Anonymous said...

I great story to be cherished by your family down the centuries. A good idea to document them. I just finished a family tree for my American grandchildren to read when they grow up.

Laure Ferlita said...

Oh, yes, don't we all have a few nuts, squirrels, and a rascal or two up the old family tree! Fun tale, Teresa!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Lovely story. All families have these stories about "skeletons in their cupboards" - it would be lovely to write them all down. I just wonder though, if they are passed down by word of mouth they probably get embroidered a bit and so gain all kinds of exciting little twists. Maybe that is the best way to preserve them.

twincedar said...

Too Funny! Unfortunately with the present economy we may have to go back to use it up, wear it out or do without!

Cathy Gatland said...

What a fun story - and such a gift to be able to tell them well, and embellish. There is a huge tradition in Africa of storytelling, and a few people trying to get them down on paper in case they disappear.

Rosie said...

Great story, Teresa, very entertaining. What a good idea to get all these family tales down on paper so that they will be remembered:)

Teresa said...

Jean: Yes, it is good to write such things down. I tell my "kids" (my two grown sons) if they want to know about their heritage, just go back and reread my columns... guess I use it as a type of diary!

Teresa said...

Laure: Boy, do we ever. I would write about my side of the family, but my family isn't nearly as interesting as the hubby's! (and the hubby doesn't mind me publishing his stories... in fact, he enjoys it!)

Teresa said...

Weaver: I guess a little embellishment here and there does help out.... kind of like seasoning on food? :-)

Teresa said...

Lori: May have to go back to the English WWII slogan "Mend and Make Do" !!

Teresa said...

Cathy: I love the art of storytelling. It's so much warmer and more personal than, say, a TV show. Wish more kids had adults to sit with them and pass on the family heritage in this relationship-building way.

Teresa said...

Rosie: I think you're doing a great job yourself preserving both people and history on your wonderful blog!

Jo Castillo said...

Thanks for the story and education! :) Congratulations on your reward above. I'll be scarce in these parts this week, my art buddy is here. I will think of you and tell Sue your story.

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