Editor’s note: Some words are not misspelled but authentic Appalachian words such as ‘heared.’
Tink enjoys looking out a window to see me meandering through the yard, talking to imaginary people.
Usually, I’m working out a story but, not infrequently, I’m talking to someone special.
Recently, I was out in the yard, picking up limbs from river birch trees that prune themselves, constantly. While I dragged the sticks to a burn pile, I was in serious conversation.
When I came back into the house, Tink was in the kitchen. He chuckled, “Who were you talking to?”
I looked at him quizzically. “When?”
“Just now. Outside, in the yard.” He had been standing at the bay window, observing — with humor — my talking out loud while the dogs scampered around.
“Oh. I was talkin’ to the Lord. Connie’s mother is havin’ medical tests this afternoon, and I was prayin’ for her.”
Tink’s laughter faded into a smile of understanding and appreciation.
The incident brought to mind this story: About 12 years ago, I was visiting a small mountain church whose walls are encrusted with a lot of my family history. Within its tiny interior, my folks had found salvation, redemption, and down its short aisle have crept many simple caskets carrying the ones I loved.
I was only 11 when my grandfather, a farmer and a preacher, “laid a corpse” in the altar and the gathering of friends and family filed past the open casket to say goodbye to one of the humblest (‘umble, in Appalachian language) men the mountains ever knew.
The day I visited the church, a man approached me in the churchyard. His face was lined with age and his hair had been silvered by the passing years. I knew him not, but he knew whose granddaughter I am.
“I have a story for you,” he said. “But, now, don’t write this ‘til I’m dead and gone.”
This, I could feel, was going to be good. I nodded, moving closer so as not to miss a word.
“Your granddaddy was a good man. I run from the Lord most of my life, but he sowed the seed that brung me back into the fold.”
Several decades before, the man had been out to check his moonshine still. He pointed to a nearby mountain. “Right over yonder, at the top of that ridge. That’s where I kept it.”
Revenuers are the bane to any moonshiner but, in the past 20 years, a more insidious, deathly enemy has replaced it in the law’s eyes. Moonshine seems harmless compared to a little white pill.
But back in the day that the man was telling about, moonshiners still feared the law powerfully.
“I was easin’ back down the mountain when I heared a man talkin’. I thought it was a revenuer because it was awful high up the mountain.” The moonshiner cocked his shotgun and scooted behind a tree. He sneaked from behind one tree to another until he could see the man.
“It was your granddaddy, all by hisself, down on his knees.” He paused and held my gaze for a moment before continuing. “He’s talkin’ to the Lord, and I’d never heared nothin’ like it. He was havin’ a conversation. He was tellin’ the Lord all about his life. His blessings. His sorrows. Just like talkin’ to a friend.”
The moonshiner lowered his gun. For almost an hour, he stood behind the tree and listened to Pawpaw. “When he got finished, he stood up, said, ‘Thanky, Lord’ and off, down the mountain he went.”
The old man’s eyes softened, perhaps glistened a bit. “Best sermon ever was. It took a lot of years and a lot of runnin’ but what I heared that day, eventually brung me back here.” He threw his head toward the steeple. “Nobody ever knowed that ‘til now.”
It’s a story I cherish. And I’m grateful to know that I’m not crazy talking by myself. It’s what was born in me.
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