Sunday, June 20, 2021

Sweet Mash and White Lightening


Defined as “illicitly distilled or smuggled liquor”. Other names include: mountain dew, choop, hooch, homebrew, mulekick, shine, white lightning, white/corn liquor, white/corn whiskey, pass around, firewater.

My Daddy drank bourbon for years, then later in life he changed to Scotch. But, always included in his bar stock was a mason jar of sweet mash moonshine.

As a child, my family had a farm in the mountains of North Carolina. High Acres, as the farm was named was our haven. Daddy referred to it as his favorite tax write off. It was where he could play weekend farmer, which he found “relaxing”. He found getting up at the crack of dawn, mending fences, branding cattle, and anything else his farm manager needed help with, pure joy. 

This brings me to Stanbury Franklin, the farm manager. Now Stanbury was quite the personality . He resembled a version of the character that was on the old cans of Mountain Dew soda. He didn’t say much. However, when he did speak it was always pearls of wisdom. 

He was very dedicated to my Daddy. I’m not sure if that dedication came from his fascination with this pharmacist from the flatland who wanted to farm. Maybe it was Daddy’s odd projects - such as breeding Angus Cattle - years before many people did in the North Carolina mountains. Or those spotted horses (Appaloosas) that Daddy bought. Of course the fact that Daddy provided free prescriptions for Della, Stanbury’s wife, who had some health issues didn't hurt. She required a lot medication, which was pretty expensive and they had no insurance. But, I digress.

Stanbury always had a jar of sweet mash when Daddy needed it. He never volunteered where it came from, and I doubt Daddy ever asked. He would frequently bring us tasty things from Della's kitchen - including Rhubard Pie and Apple Butter.

Besides the cattle and the horses and goats. Truth be told, the goats were a fascination of Daddy’s, something Stanbury never understood. That fascination ended when the neighboring farmer called, for the third time, and complained that the goats had escaped and were found feasting on apples in his orchard. After much apologizing and payment of reparations, that was the end of the goats.

Stanbury had overseen the construction of the stables, the hay barn, the pond house (more like a glorified picnic shed), and the house, (but that’s a whole ‘nuther story). 

The hay barn was the first structure you came to after entering the front gate. It was usually full the bales of fescue and bags of sweet feed.  This was all necessary to get the cattle and horses through the cold mountain winters. To this day, I can remember that sweet smell of the hay and sweet feed when you entered the barn.

All was well until the Friday afternoon we arrived to find the hay barn burned to the ground. As Daddy and Stanbury stood there surveying the smoldering remains, Daddy said, “It must have been struck by lighting. You said there was a storm last night. No doubt the hay fueled this.”

Stanbury, shuffled his feet, and in his halting country voice added, “That and the still in the back.”

Daddy turned to him, “Still? What still? Liquor still, seriously?" Thankfully, Daddy was more amused than upset.

“Yep, and there was a full barrel sweet mash in there. Just finished it.” Stanbury looked at Daddy, “Where’d you think your mash came from? Like I would trust the Juston’s 'shine, second rate stuff from that still they kept hidden in the woods?”

Daddy just chuckled, “Well it was good stuff, but a bit expensive.”

“Why you say that, never charged you a dime for it.”

“Maybe so, but it cost me a barn.” Daddy smiled, shook his head, and continued, “Guess we need to rebuild it. This time without the still.”

Months later the barn was rebuilt. Stanbury continued to provide Daddy with a steady supply of sweet mash. And Daddy never asked where it came from. However, he enjoyed telling the story of his barn burning to the ground, the result lightening from the thunderstorm and white lightening from the still.

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