If you choose to write a little, please be advised that your skin better be as thick as a boar hog.
I wrote a short piece a couple of weeks ago called “Delta.” It was intended to be a snapshot view of a little country town in north-central Alabama. I spent about 15 minutes there on the way to somewhere else, and about 20 minutes writing the essay. The idea was conceived while thinking about the comparison of the Mississippi Delta with a town in the rolling hills of north central Alabama. Like a lot of things I write, it turned out to be a kind of metaphor for something unrelated — in this case, the lonely mood I was experiencing that day.
I was amazed at the response. I’ve been writing here for several years, and about 50 people read the average post. I’ve written a number of times about other places in Alabama (Piedmont, Newbern, Sylacauga, Birmingham, to name a few), but “Delta” had over 700 readers in one day, and my site statistics indicate that it continues to get over 20 views a day since.
At first I was elated: readers! And then the comments began. From those I received, it appears that I offended a great many of the residents of that area of the state.
I was initially shocked. Nothing in the piece that I intended to be offensive. I felt a bit like I had run over someone’s dog in front of their children.
One dear lady even threatened (light heartedly) that she might even retaliate by blogging about Opelika, the little town where I live. Little did she know that although I have lived here going on 19 years, I don’t consider it “home” by any stretch of the imagination. The only way you’ll ever be home in an Alabama town like Opelika is to be born there. Otherwise you are always an “outsider.” You won’t ever be fully included.
So give it your best shot, ma’am. I guarantee I won’t be offended. In fact, I’ll probably laugh and may even agree.
Suddenly in the midst of this chaos I had an epiphany. Instead of writing these little literary, artsy-fartsy observations full of metaphors, similes and such, I should write things with maximum offensive intent.** Become a “shock” blogger and get some real attention.
So with that in mind, I offer you this tale — coincidentally set in the same lovely county in which Delta is located.
I mentioned in “Delta” that Clay is one of the few “dry” counties left in Alabama. Just in case you’re stupid (and some of you undoubtedly are), that means that no alcohol is legally sold anywhere in the county. I admire that. People with conviction that have steadfastly voted to maintain their convictions since the days of Prohibition.
Several years ago I was attempting to buy a lovely little patch of hardwood timber in the central part of the county. I appraised the tract, and the landowner met me and my friend (the money man behind the transaction) at his barn just down the road. Now this fellow was a country wheeler-dealer. This was not his first trip to the dance, and it took some hard dickering by my friend to get to the figure the man had in mind — but they eventually agreed, and a handshake and a check were exchanged.
That fellow was right friendly after that. “You fellows want a little nip?”
We looked at each other. My friend said, “Well sure, I reckon.”
The old-timer disappeared behind the barn and returned with a Mason jar. “Have a little sip of this — it’s the good stuff.”
Now I must pause here for a personal aside: I am Christian by faith (the King James Bible I read does not prohibit drinking per se, but only in excess) but a Baptist by denomination (which does prohibit drinking, even in moderation),* so I was in a bit of a predicament. My friend, who is not Baptist and possibly not even among the Elect chosen before the foundation of the world, did not hesitate before taking a sip and handing me the jar.
My curiosity overcame my denomination. I took a sip. It did not disappoint. Much like the descriptions I’d read, it tasted as sweet as Coca Cola. Then it hit my belly, and I could feel the heat rising back up my pipes all the way to the tip of my tongue, something like the mercury in a thermometer on an August day.
My friend, a flat-lander by birth and being therefore unschooled in hillbilly etiquette, asked a stupid question that only an outsider would ask: “Did you make this?”
The old-timer’s countenance changed for a moment. His eyes narrowed, from friendly to hard. “No, son. I bought this here in North Carolina last time I was up there at a NASCAR race.”
There was an awkward pause. “Well sir,” my friend said, “Next time you go let me know. I may get you to bring back a jar for me.” Nice recovery, that.
Satisfied that we “bought it,” the man relaxed again and we concluded our visit.
I went back and saw that fellow several more times while his timber was being harvested. He was always cordial (even thanked me for the good job the logger did which almost never happens), but he never offered another nip.
A line had been crossed. Some things you just don’t talk about.
But if you are ever in that county of great conviction and you find yourself thirsty for a little sip of something that rivals anything that comes out of Tennessee or Kentucky, just let me know. We can try to deal with a man I know, or if you’re feeling a little more adventurous we can check that hollow behind his barn. If you can run faster than buck shot, I believe you’ll be satisfied.
*While most Baptist openly oppose the consumption of alcohol, my experience has taught me that this conviction is somewhat shallow. There is much truth in the old joke: “Never take a Baptist fishing with you — he’ll drink all your beer. Always take two Baptists. That way, they won’t drink any of your beer.”
**Those that should feel offended by this post include, but are not limited to: Boar hogs; current or former residents of Delta (or someone who simply knows a current or former resident); photographers who take snapshots; essayist; bloggers; people from the Mississippi Delta; users of metaphors; English teachers; lonely people; residents of Piedmont, Newbern, Sylacauga, Birmingham, or any of the other places I have written about; readers of written word; writers of comments; dogs; children; lady writers who blog; people from Opelika; outsiders; insiders; stupid people; literary types; artists; people with digestive disorders; attention seekers; anyone from Clay County; people of conviction; people without conviction; Prohibitionist; boozers; members of AA; landowners with barns; wheeler dealers; dickerers; dancers, timber sellers (or buyers); hand shakers; check exchangers; moonshiners; bootleggers; nippers; Christians, Baptist; readers of the King James Version of the Bible; Presbyterians; Calvinists; curious people; sippers; the Coca Cola corporation; people who own thermometers; flat-landers; hillbillies; old-timers; people from North Carolina; NASCAR fans; line-crossers; loggers; people from Tennessee or Kentucky; people who are adventurous; runners, either sprinters or distance; the National Rifle Association; and makers or shooters of buckshot.