The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge


By Wm. Axley Allen © 1983-2012

Issue: March, 1983

My first experience with bootleg came years ago, on one of my first excursions into this area. I was traveling with a friend from North Carolina and we were concluding a business deal with an area “old timer” from down near Fairystone Park. After everything was taken care of, we were standing around talking and the fellow I was with (who tended to brag) threw back his shoulders and said, “Burk,” (not the old timers real name) “there isn’t anything better than a good drink of moonshine.” Old Burk looked George in the eye and said, “Come on in the house.”

I noticed George’s smile starting to fade but he held up well. Once in the house, Burk walked over to a closet, reached in among the clothes and withdrew a half gallon jar. Burk didn’t talk much, just smiled, while George nervously rattled on about how much he loved moonshine. All the while Burk was slowly twisting the lid off the jar. He handed it over to George, who pretended to inspect it with a disciple’s eye. First he held it up and looked at it, then ever so slowly he took a sniff, from a distance. Then as if to demonstrate his bravery, he quickly brought the jar to his lips and poured the clear white liquid down his throat.

When his gag reflex was so rudely attacked, it responded by buffeting his body with a horrible racking cough. After surviving the first ten minutes, I figured he might make it, but I’ve never seen anyone cough like that before or since. Burk just stood there smiling with a twinkle in his eye, while I was busy being concerned if George was going to die. I’ll have to give George credit because what he did, not one in a hundred men could or would do, he turned to Burk, after regaining his speech and said, “Damn that was good.” Not that it carried any weight with Burk, what with tears streaming down George’s face and his voice barely audible. But to which Burk quickly offered George another drink. For his condition it was miraculous how fast George declined Burk’s offer.

As soon as George could walk (but not before it hit him fully) we climbed in the car and headed back to Carolina. I drove. George sweated. All the way home George rode with his window down, complaining that 20 degrees never seemed so hot before. Never once on the way home did he not ask that I “please slow down” in a curve (even though I barely moved rounding some of them). He survived but I bet he never makes that mistake again.

Old Burk’s dead now and I’ll never know but I believe he kept a special jar for people like George. Something little better than poison to be administered only when there was a need, either to start a fire or to teach a city slicker a lesson about pretenses and mountain people.