Mandy Newham-Cobb illustration
Forget gold. There’s nothing more precious to humans and nothing brings more pleasure to people than water. It doesn’t even have to be water we actually touch or even see. Just the sound of rain on a tin roof fills the soul with a kind of contentment like no other sound I know.
Regardless of what facet of life one may think of, somehow water is involved. Water sustains life; it cleans our bodies and even holds strong symbolic messages in our faith—from the flood, to baptism, to Jesus turning water into wine. While I’ve never known anyone who could change water into wine, I have known a fella or two who turned water and corn into something a little stronger.
Of course, making moonshine isn’t really illegal. Until you sell it that is.
There was a moonshiner down the road from where I grew up and pretty much everyone in the area knew about him. Bobby was rumored to make some of the best moonshine there was and that must have been true because he was never lacking for customers.
I knew Bobby not because of his ‘shine, but because he had three daughters. I must admit to being especially fond of one of them, but there was only one problem. She did not have the same feelings for me. I know. Awww. That’s what I said, too.
Bobby worked a regular job down at the factory every day, and after work Bobby would stop by the still and work some more. One day, he stopped the truck, walked into the woods, and as soon as he approached the still, was surrounded by lawmen. Yep. Busted—both Bobby and his still.
He hired a good lawyer who was rumored to have been paid partially in cash and the rest of his fee Bobby paid with “goods.”
In court Mack told the jury of Bobby’s selfless patriotism, his dedicated work ethic, his devoted family life, and his God-fearing church-going ways. He laid it on thick and by the time Mack was finished building Bobby up, the jury was almost in tears. (Some say the tears were actually from jury members who also happened to be “regular customers” and were afraid of losing their supplier, but there’s no proof that any of it is true.)
Then came the part where Mack earned his keep. He told the jury Bobby had just finished a shift at work (which he had) and on the way home had an urgent need to relieve himself (which he didn’t). He told the jury Bobby pulled the truck off the road (which he did) and stepped into the woods to get a little relief (which I guess he could have). Mack said as Bobby did, he noticed the still and was simply standing there looking at it when he suddenly was surrounded by lawmen who arrested him as if it were his still (which it was).
It was kind of a funny thing for everyone except those lawmen. They had pounced on poor ol’ Bobby so quick none of them gave him a chance to even stoke the fire, much less operate the still. Since not one of them could testify they actually saw Bobby operate the still, the jury (much to the relief of some) had no choice but to find him not guilty.
Some of the folks around here still wonder how the law could have made such a careless mistake. Others probably wonder why it took so long for the law to arrest him in the first place. It’s not like Bobby’s side job was a very well-kept secret. I think the local sheriff felt he had more important things to do than put a stop to something that gave pleasure to so many voters—and probably himself as well. Whatever the reason, Bobby continued to turn water into white lightning until his dying day, and I do not recall the law ever bothering him again.
I grew up, joined the Navy and saw the world. By the time I returned Bobby had crossed the River Jordan, taking his Mason jar elixir with him. Bobby’s daughter had moved to North Carolina and I haven’t seen her since, although I still think of her fondly.
As for me, my best memories of water were of swimming in Uncle Bill’s fish pond after family reunions, fishing for hornyheads in a small creek using a stick, a string, a rock for a weight and a hook (or sometimes a safety pin), and taking baths in a large galvanized washtub on my grandmother’s back porch.
In those days there was nothing but woods and lightning bugs surrounding Meemaw’s house so it was highly unlikely anyone would ever see our shiny hineys as we played in the suds under the lone light bulb hanging overhead.
I know some parents have a tough time getting their children to take a bath, but that could be because they do not own a galvanized washtub. Rather than be threatened with our life if we did not take a bath, we quite often had to be ordered out of that washtub. By the time we were finished there was more water around the tub than there was in it.
I eventually outgrew that old washtub, and the innocence that allowed me to bathe on my grandmother’s back porch unashamed. It’s probably a good thing, too. Much newer houses now surround Meemaw’s old house, and I’m pretty sure my hiney isn’t as cute or as shiny as it was back then.