By John Hassell Yeatts © 1983-2012
Issue: June, 1983
(Editors Note: The following story is printed through special arrangements with Progress Press, Prattville, Alabama, from the book, A Lantern To Light Me Home, by John H. Yeatts.)
Sir Edmund Hillary is supposed to have given as his reason for climbing the Matterhorn, “Because it was there.” During the Roaring Twenties the boys around old Mayberry used that same excuse for drinking fresh mountain corn whiskey. Because it was there. Sometimes they would go for weeks even months without a snootfull - there were no state-operated booze stores in those days - and then some enterprising and talented neighbor or regional acquaintance would hitch up and cap off an ancient copper apple-butter kettle, a boiler, or brass radiator, and soon thereafter the fun would begin.
It was a warm, misty Sunday morning when Al Kinner, who lived immediately behind the old Marshall Store heard the whoops and squalls of the Easter brothers coming down the tin-house road. He waited in anticipation until they reeled into sight, and heard and saw Bud Easter toss a reasonably new felt hat high into the air and yell “Whoopee - drunker’n hell,” then slip and fall flat into the mud. He knew something was up.
When Bud picked himself up, surveyed his muddy blue serge suit and now seeing Al, called in a loud voice, “Having a good time, though.” Al knew he only had to wait a few minutes for the fun to commence. The three assembled in the cellar under the old Marshall Store and Harry Easter dug into a brown meal poke and produced a half-gallon jug of clear liquid. Al was further assured it was going to be a good Sunday.
Taking long, appreciative swigs from the jug, Al’s honest, childish blue eyes grew wider and more moist with each swallow, and the Easter boys knew they had produced a prime batch. “Best I’ve had for a spell,” croaked Al.
“Yeah, hits good and hits fresh,” yelled Bud so loud that Al’s wife Margie, now on the front porch, heard, and then breathed a troubled sigh, knowing that the “fat was in the fire,” as she was sometimes quick to say. Margie instantly figured that her best strategy would be to stand on the front porch and wait. She was an uncommonly pretty girl, with flashing brown eyes and a friendly personality. She knew that in time enough of Mayberry’s wandering male swains would be along and that all she had to do would be call their attention to the boys drinking across the branch in the store cellar, and that whatever the amount Harry was carrying in the meal poke would get consumed before her husband got staggery. She didn’t mind Al having a social snort or two, even on Sunday, but she sure hated for him to get staggery. It was so unlike the image she still carried in her girlish heart that Al would someday become a great person. She even hoped that he might run, successfully, in time for Constable of Mayberry.
“And why not,” she asked herself, “He’s from a good family, likable, funny and sort of a born leader.” Trouble was Al just wouldn’t believe in himself. He just wouldn’t strike out on his own, preferring instead to work for an hourly wage at the sawmill or for a neighborhood farmer.
True to her assumption, one by one, the crowd of boys in the basement grew till the jug was about empty. They had bragged, swapped knives, lied, told great tales of recent courting conquests and begun to run about as dry as the jug was becoming. Then Abner Banks, spotting Al bent over tying his shoe and with his overalls drawn tightly across his buttocks, and with all inhibitions gone, proceeded to dispose of a half eaten green apple he’d been using for a chaser, by popping him hard with a well aimed throw. It cracked loud enough to attract the other guzzler’s attention, and in a dramatic moment, all were outside beneath an apple tree popping each other as often as their energy and drunken eyesight would allow.
Trouble was that this was one of the very Sundays that Lamar Turner had chosen to take his cherished mama to Meadows of Dan Baptist Church preaching. Mrs. Turner had lost two sons in France during World War I and she clung to her remaining two sons with a tenacity that surpassed an ordinary widow’s tendency to hold on to her boys. They revered and worshipped her and they brought her outlandish hats from Mt. Airy several times a year. In fact, a new hat on Mrs. Turner’s head at Sunday service was always good for nudges, whispers and group glances. The preachers were always glad when she arrived during the opening services while the congregation was standing and singing loudly.
Lamar Turner was not afraid of anything, man, beast or timber rattler. His reputation for miles around bore frightening testimony to this. Since being baptized, his fighting was beginning to dwindle off, but he was always ready and eager to defend his mama’s honor. So, when one of the apples went flying into his new 1926 Ford touring car, striking Mrs. Turner’s hat, which was as big as a dishpan, the boozing boys knew they were in for trouble.
Mrs. Turner was not hurt, but she squalled loud as can be and Lamar slammed on the brakes, sending the shiny Model T sliding for about 50 feet and into the bank. When he saw what had happened, he pulled himself up to his full six feet, balled up his fists, and came striding toward the apple tree.
“Now, as much as I’m opposed to fighting on Sunday, I’m prepared and able to whip everlasting one of you rascals if the one who did it don’t own up,” he shouted. His face was red as a flag and his dark eyes were spitting fire. None of the drinkers took a fighting stance.
Al priding himself on being a peacemaker, spoke first. “Come here Mr. Turner,” he motioned and they walked to the ground level entrance to the cellar. “Now, I’m jes’ as opposed to fighting as you are and I’m even further opposed to lying on Sunday, so I must confess that I’s the one who throwed that apple. But you know that not in a thousand years was it throwed at your car. I’s a ‘trying to hit Bud Easter in the head for bringing that mess of corn around here and getting these boys all liquored up. If you’ll jes’ not fight me, I swear on a stack of song books that I’ll git it out of him where that still is at and I’ll report it to Mrs. Edna by noon on Monday. Lamar knew of Mrs. Edna’s reputation for getting stills chopped up. His anger subsided and he took his mama and her new hat right on to church.
Word has it that Al Kinner did in fact become staggery and somehow forgot to get the information out of the Easter boys as to the location of the still. But Lamar Turner never knew.
(Footnote: You may mail order both of Mr. Yeatts books, “A Lantern To Light Me Home,” and “Remembering Old Mayberry” from the Craft House, General Delivery, Meadows of Dan, Virginia, 24120. Send $3.50 per book plus 50 cents for postage.)