"...everything in life is writable...if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."..... Sylvia Plath

Monday, September 10, 2012

Roxie Alfred and Me

Author's notes: I'm writing a new memoir; the working title is Roxie Alfred and Me. I've drafted around six chapters so far. What's different about this memoir is the increased amount of research I'm having to do. Besides trying to remember what happened over fifty years ago, to whom it happened and where, I'm having to research information on World Was II, Cherokee Herb Doctors, and Moon-shining, among other things.

I've decided to start posting some of my research, chapters, and notes on this site, so I can check out photos, videos, and text easily and in one place. Today I am researching Moon-shining in North Carolina. I found a video and some pictures. I've posted the excerpt from my mss and detailed what I'm hung up on. This is one of my favorite parts. I remember, though it was so long ago, sitting around the dinner table listening to stories about my infamous family. My sister didn't think I should write about it. Guess it embarrassed her. But I want this memoir to be as close to the real truth as possible. I don't want to leave out the seemy parts.

     Great granddaddy had four sons, who followed in his footsteps, courageous, resourceful, and stalwart. They worked the stills mostly at night, when the rising smoke could not be seen by the revenue officers who roamed the area looking' to shut down "them blasted stills" and with whom they waged war continually. There were also rival gangs who ventured into great granddaddy's territory. Shooting or cutting the throats of livestock was the favorite method of revenge, but when gunning for his rivals the avenger either shot him from ambush or pounced upon him and slit his throat in the same manner he would his cow, horse, or any other animal. I like to think that great granddaddy never engaged in this type of activity.

     One Thanksgiving, when we were all gathered around the dinner table,  after a healthy helping of Pumpkin Pie, papa recited great granddaddy's famous quote. We got to hear it every Christmas and Thanksgiving.

     "As my granddaddy often said, back in them beautiful piney woods, 'God almighty made apples an' peaches and 'ef he didn't want 'em made into brandy by we mountain folk, he'd a kep' the secret of stillin' all to hisself... If a man caint be 'lowed to do as he wants with his own fruit, it's a damned poor country'. " And he believed this with all his heart.

     "I remember so many close calls up there in them back woods," papa said.

     "What kind of close calls?" my father asked.

     "Running from them damned revenue officers."

     "How'd you get away from them." I asked.

     "Well, mostly we just ran all the way to the coast and jumped into the Intracoastal Waterway. They could never catch us that way. They weren't about to jump in after us."

     "Yeah, my daddy was a great swimmer...still is, my mom said.

     "But those waterways were pretty rough, weren't they, papa?" I asked.

     "Papa, weren't you afraid of going to jail?  Bebe said.

     "Honey, we spent half our time swimmin' up and down them North Carolina waterways between the Atlantic and Wilmington. And them back woods? Fortunately, most of that area was pretty well cleaned out after great granddaddy got put in jail. Me and my brothers decided to stick to farming after that."

     "Jail?" I said. "Why was he in jail?"

     "Well, honey, they finally caught up with him. And threw his butt in the slammer for evading the law and not paying his taxes."

     "But how'd he get out? Bebe asked

     "He was very popular with what few neighbors he had, so they got together and came up with enough to pay for his bail. After that, he spent years paying off those back taxes...nearly killed him."

     "Wow," Bebe said. I'm gonna always pay my taxes."

     "Yes, I'm sure you will, honey."  Roxie gave Bebe a big hug and kissed the top of her curly head.

     I was very young when great granddaddy died, but I still remember sitting around the dinner table on Thanksgiving or Christmas and listening to everyone go on about our jaded family. My sister begged me not to scrutinize our genealogy too closely. She was afraid of what I might find. It didn't bother me though, I just keep thinking about what a hard time those early pioneers must have had and how resourceful and strong and courageous they were. Let's not kid ourselves, when it came time for the first ships heading for the new world from England to load up, they just opened up the jails and said "bon voyage"....and that is what America is built on: courage, strength and incredible resourcefulness.

Notes: My proof-reader has pointed out that I stated great-grandaddy was a farmer, Moon-shining in the mountains and my grandfather and uncles would run from the revenue officers and jump into the Intracoastal Waterways at Wilmington. Her questions to me were:

     1. Did they really run that far?
     2. Were they really farming in the mountains?

I think she has a point. I have to work on this and talk to my sister about it. She's the only one living that knows any of the details. And no one left a log or diary or even notes. I have to rely on my memory and hers.

Making Moonshine


  1. I thought the "piney woods" area was also in low country -- coastal area of South Carolina. Pineywoods Cattle, brought by the Spanish to the S.C., Georgia, Florida coastal areas??? That would make "jumping into the water" plausible.

    1. Jenny, Thanks for the comment. I think you're absolutely right. Since I've been doing a lot of research lately, I've found that there are lots of areas referred to as "the piney woods". I'm still working all this out.