The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Long Summer's Day

By Kelly D. Webb © 1988

Issue: January-February, 1988

This is a story about firewater, the kind of water one puts the fire into, I was told. One summer morning, many years ago, I was left to my own amusement. My constant companion, when visiting my grandparents, was assigned chores that I was able to avoid. I made a visit to the local country store where I met my companion for the day. After trying to cadge a few pieces of candy, without success, we decided to amble up the road as we were without a purpose for the moment. There came to mind an old water tank where the train took on water. We hurried our steps and were soon swimming around in the cold water. Our stay was brief, as we realized there had to be a better way to enjoy the day.

We started down the railroad to search for other amusement, where we met one of the local toppers of the day and decided to accompany him to his destination, when we arrived at a small clearing in the brush, beside the creek, there were Mr. and Mrs. Jones. That name serves the purpose as well as any for their occupation is frowned on by some folks. Mrs. Jones was tending a small fire under a large pot that was connected to a long tube that went into the creek and came out of the water at a large rock that had been placed to hold water back and create a place for the crock to rest. A few drops of water dripped from the tube and fell into the crock. Mr. Jones was washing fruit jars, in the creek. When he saw two small boys appear he, immediately, offered to share this chore with us, offering a dime as incitement. We completed this job in a few minutes after noticing there was no visible dirt inside the jars, we just dipped them.

We became interested in the pot and its contents, and after inquiring, were told the pot contained water and the fire was to mix with the water and it would become firewater. I was not sure how the fire got through the pot wall, however, I was soon to learn that the fire really got into the water. The few drops we first noticed falling into the crock had increased to almost a stream by this time, also, there was a sour odor in the air. My companion decided to taste the dripping water to see if there was any fire in it. He said to me, "there ain't no fire, but it is good." I caught a few drops in my hand to check his report, sure enough, it had a sweet-sour taste and tickled the tongue and gums. We had quite a few tastes of this so called firewater before Mrs. Jones noticed what we were doing. She, quickly, shooed us up the path to the railroad and sent us on our way.

We decided to visit another family, who lived near the railroad. We climbed the upper bank of the railroad and started up the hill through the thicket of white pines. I had a funny feeling that I was not to well and grabbed a piece of pine tree on my left, no it was on my right, and finally behind me as I lay on the ground. My companion was having the same reaction and we both became violently ill. After a couple of hours we were able to travel and decided to go tell Mrs. Jones there was poison in the firewater. We arrived on the cooking pot scene and after informing the Jones' about the poison we noticed they were greatly amused. Mrs. Jones told us we were bad boys and the Devil would get us if we told anyone what we had done.

We worked our way down the railroad tracks toward home with misgivings, not feeling that we wanted to start a new adventure, and worrying about the Devil overtaking us. Arriving home I was sure someone would want to know where I had been. My aunt was the first to notice me and said, "Why are you so pale and what is that funny smell?" Another aunt said, "You have been eating those green apples again." The apples got the blame and I got a reprieve.

My supper was very light and remained in my stomach only with great self control. When I finally got into bed I was unable to sleep, and about midnight I got up and went out onto the porch. My grandmother was soon by my side and in her gentle way eased out the entire story. As I remember now, while telling the details I heard a soft chuckle or two, and when asking if the Devil would really get me, Grandmother softly replied, "Child if that was so he would be driving them up the road in droves." Not really understanding, I accepted the answer as being no. Grandmother told me to get back into bed because we would be going to church tomorrow and there would be dinner on the ground. She also explained the reason I got sick was because the firewater was green. I was inclined to agree, for that was one of the colors I had seen.

The next day I spent the time before noon in the church and somehow formed the idea that if I could be baptized my sinful day would be forgiven. At noon, after visiting several wagons and finding my appetite for food much improved, I was feeling better. I entered into play with the other children and did not realize preaching had started anew. In darting about in play I passed under an open window of the church. The foot washing part of the service was going on and as I passed the window someone decided to empty the dirty water from the pan and refill it with clean water for the next pair of feet. "Whosh," the water came out the window and descended upon my head. Immediately, I realized I had been baptized, whether dipped or sprinkled I could not say, I was wet to the skin. My sins were gone and my spirit was free. The scolding I received, on the way home, about my wet clothes slipped through my mind as a wisp of smoke is carried by the wind. On to new adventures.

Now, who can say if there exists a grandmother so gentle and wise; or a child that needed such understanding? Maybe, those who can listen to tales of others without a critical eye can tell you if the Devil is "driving them up the road in droves."