The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Possession Is 9/10th

By Bob Heafner © 1983-2012

Issue: August, 1983

“Have ya’ll heard what happened over at J.B. Tilly’s this morning,” the just arrived loafer asked his dozen or so counterparts who were sitting or leaning around the front porch of Max Taylor’s store. The first reply he got was from Cal Thomas, who spoke up, “J.B. hasn’t started drinking again, has he?” Another fellow said, “No way. Old J.B. quit because of the way his old lady, Myra, raised cane about it and he won’t even slip a drink on the sly when she ain't around.” “That’s a fact,” echoed another, “When J.B. Tilly quit drinking, he quit for good!”

With everybody’s curiosity peaked, all eyes turned to the new arrival and several loafers spoke in unison, “Go ahead and tell us what happened, Ben.”

Well, Ben stood there for a moment, “situating his chaw,” then spit a deadly accurate stream of ambeer at an unsuspecting fly that had lit in the store yard, then he began.

“Sheriff Jessup got a call this morning to come out to J.B.’s and make an illegal whiskey arrest. Seems Myra was down at the corn crib just after daylight getting some corn for the chickens when she found a half full jug of moonshine hid under a pile of old burlap sacks over in the back corner. Now Myra always has been the suspicious sort, easy to jump to conclusions, so she grabbed up the jug and marched straight in the house.

First thing she done was load up J.B.’s old double barrel shotgun and march down to the barn where J.B. was. He was just finishing up milking their old milk cow when he looked up and there stood Myra, her hair drawed up in a knot, her boots on and that old checkered smock apron she always wears over her long dress, pointing his shotgun at him with one hand and holding that jug in the other. She told him to march right in the house that she was going to call the sheriff and report him for having bootleg whiskey on their farm.

She was mad as an old wet setting hen and J.B. knew her well enough to know when she was like this, he better do what she said. So he headed for the house, with Myra behind him every step of the way, pointing that old shotgun at him and fuming about how you can’t ever trust a man to stick to his word. J.B. tried to explain that he had not touched a drop in 10 years and if he had hid it there, he’d forgotten all about it, but Myra mumbled something about “Lying, good for nothing men” and poked him in the back with the gun barrel and prodded him towards the house.

Once in the house, Myra made J.B. sit down on the sofa and with the jug cradled in her elbow and the shotgun pointed at J.B., she called the sheriff. I bet it seemed like a week to old J.B. before the sheriff got there. What with her ranting and raving, a temperance lecture that even the Salvation Army would find prudish, all the while waving the jug in one hand and the double barrel in the other. Every time J.B. would try to explain that he didn’t even remember putting it in the corn crib, she’d steady the barrels of the shotgun towards his nose and tell him to shut up.

By the time the sheriff arrived, J.B. had given up trying to explain and was sitting quietly on the sofa, looking forward to the peace and quiet a jail term would provide. When the sheriff knocked on the door, Myra hollered, “Come on in Sheriff and arrest him (Pointing to J.B.) for possession of bootleg whiskey.”

Well, when Sheriff Jessup walked in, there sat J.B. on the sofa with Myra standing over him, the shotgun in one hand and the bootleg in the other. First thing the sheriff did was take the gun away from Myra and try to calm her down. But there weren’t no calming Myra, all she could say was “Arrest him!” while pointing the jug at J.B.

Sheriff Jessup asked J.B. if the jug was his and J.B. said he didn’t remember ever seeing it in particular and he hadn’t had a drop to drink in over ten years and the first time he’d seen it to be sure was this morning when Myra brought it and the shotgun down to the barn. While the sheriff was talking to J.B., Myra was building up a torment of how the sheriff ought to arrest J.B. and how all men were, “Thick as thieves and up to no good.”

The sheriff was trying to ignore her but every time he’d ask J.B. something, Myra would wave the jug and shout a little louder. Finally, the sheriff walked over and looked out the screen door for a while like he was thinking things over. Then, he turned around and looked at Myra and asked her if J.B. was around the corn crib very much. “Hardly ever,” she replied, “Just long enough to be up to no good,” she continued.

“Have you seen J.B. with that jug in his hand?,” he asked. “Well, no. But I know its his’n,” she answered. “Well, Myra, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, ‘Possession is 9/10 of the law’,” the sheriff said, “And as much as I hate to, I’m going to have to arrest you for possession of illegal whiskey,” he concluded.

Well, I happened by J.B.’s just after the sheriff had loaded up Myra and the jug of evidence and started into town. J.B. was busy trying to straighten up what was left of the furniture. He told me that he’d seen hornets nests kicked, bears treed by black and tans and once, even a bobcat and a rattlesnake fighting, but he’d never seen anything like Sheriff Jessup trying to get handcuffs on Myra. I believed him because the house looked like my brother’s two boys had been turned loose on it for a week. He said Myra really hurt the sheriff a time or two, especially with the knitting needles, but finally he was able to pin her using some of the tricks he’d learned during the war.”

Everybody around the store laughed till their faces hurt and Ben just stood there fiddling with a funny looking bottle cap. One of the boys finally quit laughing long enough to spot the bottle cap and asked Ben what kind it was. Ben laughed and said, “Hell, this ain’t no bottle cap. It’s the sheriff's badge. I found it under Myra’s cookstove when I helped J.B. put it back in the kitchen. Guess I better run it to him over at the jail but I think I’ll give ‘em time to get Myra locked up first.”