Not all men make good fathers from the get go. Some have to learn it. For some, it takes a long time. For others, they never figure it out.
This is an ode to a man who, much to his credit, tried for 50 years. He felt a bit of shame in that, but he shouldn’t’ve, because despite countless mistakes and misjudgments, he kept picking himself up from the rocky red dirt and trying again.
The evil drink didn’t help. “Devil’s Brew” is what the Appalachian folks called it back then. Wives and children suffered under its influence and the bylaws of every mountain church included it in the Church Covenant. In addition to a strong command to avoid all tattling and backbiting (an instruction that would do well to be remembered in today’s churches), the Covenant stated: to abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drink as beverages.
In the case of most of our families, it should have also included: abstain from making it.
Men were “turned out of the church” over such. Not that many of them were going in the first place. Some “stayed turned out” all their lives but, usually, if they had been in church in the first place, they found their way back. A man who’d stand in the altar, nervously fingering his battered hat and humbly (umbly saith my people) asking forgiveness, was given it immediately. He’d stand there while they’d sing “Amazing Grace”, and then the congregation would file around to shake his hand or hug his neck.
More than likely, he’d fall from grace again until the time came that he, good and ready forever, gave it up and became an admirable man and father.
This persisted through the 1960s until either one of two things happened: the man found a good job then got right with the Lord and the church; or the church’s people got tired of the constancy of it all and just decided to overlook it and love the unlovable.
Or maybe the tattlers – who, as far as I know, were never turned out for tattling on the men involved with Devil’s Brew – just got weary of the drama and decided that the time required to keep up with the sinners could be better used seeing after their chores and families.
Necessary to remember is that most mountain men who used moonshine for commerce did it for a primary reason: to feed their families. To survive. Which may be another reason the churches began to look away. Very little grew in the unforgiving soil of the mountains but corn grew. And it grew plentiful.
It was my own preacher Daddy who once explained to me – he always put things in terms a child would understand – “Them men could take a bushel of corn and sell it for 50 cents. Or they could mix water and sugar with it and sell a quart for two dollars and a half. If you had a starving family, what would you do?”
I learned that when I was 10 as well as a bonus lesson: don’t judge people who are doing the best they can to keep their families going.
My PawPaw (Daddy’s Daddy) laid aside the Devil’s Brew when the state highway department decided to blast a road through Blood Mountain, alongside the Appalachian Trail toward Blairsville, Georgia. In his late 40s, PawPaw was able to get a good job with good wages and a pension. Though it was hard work in the hot sun, it was easier than moonshine making which is nothing short of back-breaking. It requires lugging 50 pounds of sugar up deep and treacherous mountains and finding a good place to hide it.
Although it took my Granddaddy many years and even more mistakes to become a good father, he became a much beloved, respected man.
There is always hope.
Ronda Rich is a best-selling Southern author. Visit rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.