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Friday, January 22, 2010

Momma Was a Moonshiner

Mike and I watched an interesting tv special last night about the history of the Appalachian mountain people. A tidbit that intrigued us was that NASCAR was born from the fast-driving moonshine runners coming down from those Southern hills.

Obviously, the men who ran the stills had to get their product to their customers. The delivery system for the white lightnin’ was souped-up cars and fearless drivers who thrived on outrunning the law. Generally, they had installed heavy shocks and truck tires on the cars to bear the whiskey’s weight – and to compensate for the car’s sag which would be a fatal clue to the car’s true purpose.

Eventually, these competitive young bucks started meeting on Sunday afternoons for impromptu races to prove who had the fastest, most arrest-proof car. One thing led to another, and there you have NASCAR. Honest.

All of which leads to my mother. When I was in about the fifth grade, my Mother bought her first car. It was an old Kingsway Custom made in Canada with a Plymouth exterior and Dodge interior – or maybe the other way around. Mother had only learned to drive the year before. I know friends who have turned gray teaching their teenagers to drive. With the positions reversed, I tended to stress out in Mother’s early days behind the wheel. Sometimes she made me sit in the back seat so she couldn’t see me jump in fear and cover my eyes.

Mother was still driving that older, more pitiful car when I was a sophomore in high school. One weekend she took off by herself to drive down to mid-Mississippi to visit her sister. It was late Sunday night when she was driving north to Memphis on a dark, two-lane road. Surprised to see the flashing lights of a police car in her rearview mirror, Mother slowed and pulled over, knowing that the old car couldn’t possibly have been speeding.

Her gracious “How are you tonight, officer” was met with a cold “Out awfully late aren’t you, ma’am” and a request for her license and registration. Mother handed over the documents and thought it odd that the officer shined his flashlight into the back seat and carefully studied the interior.

He asked her to get out of the car and step to the side while he circled the vehicle observing it quietly. When he asked her to open the trunk, Mother was perplexed and getting nervous. What the heck was this all about?!

As the lid popped open, the officer could see that the trunk was nearly overflowing with newspapers. He poked through them a bit and asked why all the papers were there. He listened soberly while Mother explained that her daughter’s school was conducting a newspaper drive to raise money so she’d been collecting papers from friends.

The officer considered the explanation, asked Mother where she was headed, and then dismissed her. Mother climbed back into the slightly sagging car and continued toward home noting that the police car followed her for several miles. It took about that long for the truth to hit her. The cop thought she was hauling ‘shine!

What a great story to tell at work the next day.

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