One of my wife’s granddaddies — Pap, as his children used to call him — was raised atop the Great Smoky Mountains in Avery County, North Carolina. Pap came up the hard way, as did most of the mountain people of his time. Ol’ Pap had come from good stock as his father lived to be 103 and had walked six miles to town and back the day he died.
As with most mountain people, Pap got married young and set right in to raising a family. While the young’uns were still young, he took ‘em all up to the falls of Elk River and pushed ‘em in. He said: “Didn’t none of them drown. Least wise, they all showed back up at the supper table.”
Well, times really got hard in the ‘30s all over the country, especially in the mountains. There won’t no paying jobs to be had. Pap had always worked around sawmills and farmed, but there won’t no money to be had in either job. So, Pap done what a lot of mountain people did back then and that was making moonshine. He did this to feed and clothe his family.
The revenuers were always sneaking around, but Ol’ Pap hid his still under the house, stacked wood around it, and ran the smoke out his chimney. The revenuers came up one day when Pap won’t at home and told his youngest daughter, who was my wife’s mother, they would give her a stick of candy if’n she’d tell them where Pap’s still was. Why, she wouldn’t open her mouth ‘cause she knew Pap would tan her hide if’n she told.
Pap stayed in the moonshine business for a while, but figured he was gonna get caught. He found out he could get a job in West Virginia working in the coal mines, so he made his way up north without his family. He got himself a job learning how to set off dynamite way down in them mines.
Things went good for a while, but one day Pap got caught in an explosion. Timbers fell all around him but Pap got lucky. It didn’t kill him, but one of the timbers crushed his arm. The doctors wanted to take it off because the bone was crushed, but Pap would have none of that. He told them to take out the bone but leave his arm alone. They told him he would never have any use of his bad arm, but Ol’ Pap proved them wrong. Why, he could wrap that bad arm around you and won’t no way you couldn’t get loose. Somehow he’d get 50 pounds of flour on one shoulder and 50 pounds of sugar on the other and carry them up the mountain to his home.
As time went by, a lot of Pap’s family moved down from the mountains to the Sandhills region of N.C. There they finished school, found themselves a job, and got married. When they got settled in, they talked Ol’ Pap into moving down.
Ol’ Pap had never lived anywhere he won’t looking for a job. It won’t long Pap was working in peaches, tobacco, and blowing up stumps for people, even though he was close to 70 years old.
He made friends quickly, especially with an older fellow everybody called “Boom Bear.” Both men were getting up in age, but one day they started bragging to each other about how neither one had ever been thrown on the ground during a wrestling match. Well, they started wrestling right there in the store yard.
Why, it won’t long before a crowd in the store came out to watch the friendly wrestling match between the two old men.
Pap and Boom Bear went round and round just staring each other down. Then Pap got Boom Bear in a headlock. Somehow, Boom Bear got loose and got himself a good running start toward Ol’ Pap. Pap somehow managed to dodge Boom Bear and then grabbed him from behind. Pap threw Boom Bear over his head and Boom Bear landed on his back on that hard ground in front of the store building.
Seems Boom Bear was so stove up from the wrestling match that he couldn’t work for two weeks. From then on, Pap and Boom Bear were the best of friends for the rest of their lives. In fact, Pap died just before Boom Bear a few years later.
Story goes that one rainy day after Pap died, Boom Bear and several more were sitting in the store telling stories. Some of the fellows brought up the story about the past wrestling match between Pap and Boom Bear.
Boom Bear said, “Yeah, if’n I could have gotten a good hold on Ol’ Pap, I’d have thrown him plum across the parking lot.”
‘Bout that time, a hammer fell off the wall behind Boom Bear. Boom Bear jumped up, his eyes as big as saucers, and said, “No sir, Pap, I won’t saying a thing. No, not one thing.”
Next week, I’ll finish this here story about Pap. Why, I’ll even let Pap tell you about how cold it got back up in them thar Smoky Mountains and how they used to baptize folks in the wintertime.
J.A. Bolton is author of “Just Passing Time,” co-author of “Just Passing Time Together.” His latest book is called “Southern Fried: Down-Home Stories,” all of which can be purchased on Amazon. Contact him at email@example.com.