Family Story

I’ve been under the weather for a couple of weeks. Despite trying to stay productive, I haven’t mustered energy for a new “Musings” post. Instead, here’s an account I shared on one of the social networks a year ago.

I know this story as “The time your mother laughed so hard she fell off the porch.” She was pregnant with me when it happened. This is pure hearsay.

My father, mother and older brother were visiting my father’s home town, Glade Spring, in southwestern Virginia. Dad’s family in and around Glade included his grandmother, father, stepmother, sister, brother, two aunts, three uncles, and basically everyone else in town as some degree of cousin. My older brother, age two at the time, doesn’t figure in the story. I think this is because, as first born of the first born of her first born, my great grandmother had seized custody upon their arrival and would not surrender him until time to get back in the car for the drive home.

These visits involved rounds of the homes of kin, including my father’s Uncle Guin and Guin’s wife, Aunt Etta. Uncle Guin and Aunt Etta met back in the day when Guin was involved in very local manufacture and distribution of distilled beverages and Aunt Etta was a patron of establishments he supplied. Or, as Dad explained, Guin was a moonshiner and Etta was a flapper. They sparked and danced, had a hot romance, got married, started a family, and then Etta was moved by the Spirit to receive the Lord and turn against liquor.

As only the reformed can turn, she turned hard. She tried to ban alcohol from their home. This was no part of Uncle Guin’s vision for the future. He resisted.

After hearing the story for the first time, I asked Mother for her take. She described Uncle Guin as “laconic” and called Etta, “a battle-axe.”

At some point Guin gave up moonshining as a primary profession and went to work in a gypsum mine. It was the decision of a responsible family man, although he never gave up his jug. Etta never gave up trying to change him. The jug was safe as long as it was in Guin’s hands. If Etta ever found it elsewhere, she smashed it. Decades passed with Guin hiding jugs and Etta breaking them.

On this particular day, Dad and Uncle Guin were sitting in rocking chairs on Guin’s porch, one of those raised decks with space underneath where dogs spent the afternoon heat. Mother was sitting on the deck, at the edge, her back against a post. Aunt Etta was inside cooking. Most visits between males of my father’s family pass with long periods of companionable silence. As Dad told it, Guin rocked for a while, occasionally taking a pull on his jug.

Finally, he said, “People say I drink a bit.”

He rocked, took a pull, and added, “And I do.”

Guin rocked some more, took a pull.

He rocked, took another pull, then admitted softly, “Couldn’t have stood thirty years in that mine without it.”

He started to rock again, stopped, looked my mother in the eye and said, “Couldn’t have stood your Aunt Etta, either.”