Social Distancing – Appalachia Style

With the COVID-19 pandemic steadily growing, many states, my own included, have initiated a stay-at-home order.  The introvert that I am, this hasn’t been too hard for me, with the exception of eating out and library runs. While not minding the lack of social interaction, I do miss food that isn’t cooked by me, and I miss my frequent trips to the local library. What can I say, I love being surrounded by books.  Oh, and being temporarily furloughed (I’m nonessential… who knew?) is also an issue, but to curb my ever-increasing anxiety, I’m ignoring that problem, you know, as one does.

As most of you may know from past entries, my parents were born and raised in the mountains of West Virginia as were their parents before them. Great-Grandma Mooney of Vinegar Valentines fame – among other stories and her husband were also Appalachian born and bred. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here or not while discussing my family, but my mother’s father died in the coal mines when my grandmother was very pregnant with my mom… so she and the kids (my mom and her brother) lived with Grandma Mooney in her house in the ‘holler’. For those of you who aren’t from the south, a holler is a small valley between mountains. Some people would say it’s a hollow, but they would be wrong. There was only one way in and one way out of the holler, and traversing that road was, well, let’s just say that it wasn’t for the faint of heart.  Now you know what all those country songs are talking about. You’re welcome.

I can’t help but think that they would do better at this sheltering-in-place gig than the rest of us.  I mean, they were nothing if not self-sufficient. Grocery store runs? Nonexistent. Mostly because grocery stores themselves were nonexistent. I was talking to my mother the other day about this very thing and she said that once a month, this one gentleman (the son of a preacher man… hmmm, sounds like a song, if you ask me) would come around to all the houses in their mountain community, which in and of itself was a trek, because it’s not like these were neighborhoods, these folks were spread out – which takes me to the point of social distancing. Since you had to walk a mile or more to see a neighbor, social distancing wasn’t an issue, but I digress.  This one gentleman would come around once a month and take your order for items like flour, corn meal, sugar, powdered milk, maybe cereal (puffed wheat) and a pound of bologna if you were lucky. A couple of weeks later, he’d bring the items to you.  Where he got them is a mystery, but got them, he did. The flour and cornmeal were always bought in bulk – 50-pound sacks, because everyone made bread, biscuits, and/or cornbread every day. When the stash was gone, it was gone. Then you’d have to wait until the next time he came around. If you wanted eggs or milk, but didn’t have chickens or a cow, you traded or bartered with a neighbor. In most cases, you could simply just ask nicely, and you’d find yourself heading home with a quart of milk and a couple of eggs. If you’ve even glanced at the news the past few days, you’d see that today’s masses are hoarding toilet paper, bread, Excedrin, and frozen vegetables. We’re a narcissistic society born of selfishness and greed. But back in the day, people shared what they had, at least in the hills where my parents grew up.

Throughout my mother’s childhood, my family raised chickens, pigs, and what my mother calls a vegetable garden, but was actually more like a mini-farm. Along with burying certain harvested vegetables like potatoes and cabbage (I found out recently from my mother, that this was a thing, and not only that, it worked perfectly to preserve these provisions), my grandmother canned vegetables, fruit, and homemade soup to put up in the root cellar. In addition to canning fruit of all kinds, she dried apples too, since that kept well.  She did this all summer long to ensure they had food through the fall and winter when the growing season was long over.  Since they didn’t live on veggies alone, my grandmother also put up canned beef, homemade sausage, and salted-down bacon… it was their only source of meat in the winter.

Quarantine?  Hell, it would just be like December for them, only warmer.

 

Of Myth and Moonshine

When most people think of great-grandparents, there is a perception of elderly, slightly demented people with mints and Kleenex in their pockets.  They sit on the couch knitting or telling stories of the “good old days,” their pasts a delicious whirl of somewhat ordinary lives well lived.

Enter my Grandma Mooney.

I have talked before of her exploits.  Her Vinegar Valentines, her sketchy use of Halloween masks to frighten a neighborhood boy and her subsequent lying about it to the boy’s parents. I won’t even get into the whole moth fiasco. There was an even deeper layer to Grandma Mooney (great-Grandmother if I’m being completely accurate), though, every bit as fascinating as the ones we’ve already uncovered.

Job opportunities back in the day weren’t quite what they are today, especially in the country, and when you have a houseful of hungry people, you do what you need to in order to survive and feed your family.  I think, in times like this, bending the law a little is easily excused.  And, in Grandma Mooney’s case, bending it until it broke was a way of life.

Grandma Mooney was a purveyor of frowned upon refreshments.  Okay, fine, she sold and stored moonshine.

In the days of prohibition and the depression, moonshine was a profitable enterprise. In fact, it still is today.

Well, as the story goes, moonshine runners would drop off their inventory to Grandma Mooney – she’d sell some, she’d store some, she’d…well, never mind. The great thing about Grandma Mooney is she wouldn’t have needed an enforcer to help protect her shady business. Everyone around for miles was already afraid of her. So, there was some money saved on personnel.

To stock brew, this ingenious old lady had a special crawlspace in the floor of her kitchen that she used just for this purpose. No external storeroom fees or the inconvenient industrial spy to get rid of. I’m telling you, she had the whole theory of commerce locked down.

In fact, she had just one serious concern. Government officials. Cue the supervillain music…Dun-Dun-Duuuun! Oh wait. Grandma Mooney is the supervillain in this tale. Nevermind.

One thing about the government; it never changes. In search of their fair share – I mean violators, yes of course, violators – agents would wander door to door, foaming at the mouth in the hopes that they could catch someone with illegal contraband.

Normal law-abiding citizens would have no reason to be afraid of these visits, but Grandma Mooney wasn’t exactly a normal law-abiding citizen.  I’m not sure she was ever afraid of anything, it just wasn’t in her nature. But knowing she would get into serious trouble if she were caught with white lightning, she devised a fiendishly clever plan to hide the storage space. And again, with the government being what it is, her plan went perfectly. Every. Single. Time.

Whenever these agents came to the house, she’d stick her youngest daughter Wanita, aka Neda – Needie to friends and family — into the bathtub, and put the bathtub over the crawlspace door.  The bathtub, it should be noted, was basically just a large metal bucket that was used for baths, dishes, laundry, and anything else that required a large-ish supply of water.

She used this wonderfully creative plan repeatedly over the course of frequent government raids, and her secret storage space was never discovered. Ahh…government agents – the cream of the crop, the best of the best, the finest civil servants you can ever find. Yeah, right.

The government agents were never quite bright enough to realize that every time they paid a “visit,” Needie was in the tub.  Now, I’m not sure if they thought Grandma Mooney was obsessed with cleanliness, or maybe they thought that Needie was simply a kid who enjoyed playing in mud and wrestling skunks – but whatever their thinking was, it never crossed their minds that Grandma Mooney was involved in the highest form of trickery and deception.

Maybe their money would’ve been better spent had they just put Grandma Mooney on the payroll as an agent.