Soapbox Time! Revenge? Or Rewards?

*scoots soapbox to center stage and climbs atop it*


People, I have searched my Bible for a verse that says we’re supposed to criticize and disparage those with whom we disagree or of whose behavior we disapprove. Couldn’t find one. I did find this, though: Galatians 6:1 – “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” (NIV). In the KJV, it says to restore the person “in a spirit of meekness.” Just in case it’s not clear, trashing someone behind their back DOES NOT qualify as restoring someone in a spirit of meekness. Nor does saying unkind things to their face. Regardless of how right you believe you are. Period.

Then I tried to find someplace in scripture where it said it was alright for someone to tell someone, “I’ll do this for you,” then not do it. No luck. I came across a story Jesus told about a man with two sons, though. It’s in Matthew 21:28-32. In the story, the father asked the first son to do a task. The son refused, but later felt guilty and performed the task anyway. The second son readily agreed to do as his father asked, but then didn’t do it. When the religious leaders to whom Jesus was speaking all agreed the first son, not the second, did the father’s will, Jesus, likening the religious leaders to the second son, told them that tax collectors and whores would get into heaven before they would. Strong words! In God’s view, to say you’ll do something and fail to do it makes you lower than a whore, spiritually speaking.

Next, I went looking for a verse that would make it ok for me (or anyone else) to be rude, disrespectful, or unkind to people who lie to me, lie about me, or do things that hurt me. Surely, *that* one would be there, right? People had reviled me, hurt me, made promises to me that went unkept – and I had Biblical evidence to prove they were wrong for doing so. So, there would most assuredly be a scripture that would grant me leave to hate them and get back at them. I looked hard. Dug out the concordance and commentaries. Nothing. I did stumble upon Luke 6:26-37, though. Ouch.

So, apparently, if everyone is saying *good* things about me, I’m being dishonest somewhere along the way. To add insult to injury, I’m supposed to love my enemies and do good to the people who hate me. I’m supposed to forgive the ones who hurt me. If I only love my friends, while hating my enemies, I’m no better than those who don’t know Christ. But if I love my enemies, there’ll be rewards for me in heaven.

Well. This leaves me with a choice, now, doesn’t it? I can be hateful and vengeful to those who have been hurtful to me, who lied about me, who broke promises to me, and I can thereby get the satisfaction of knowing I at least embarrassed them or made them feel or look as guilty as they are; or, I can forgive, let go, move on with my life in love, grace, forgiveness, and kindness, and I can thereby earn not only a healthier mind and body but eternal rewards. Brief satisfaction that might actually make *me* feel guilty or get me in trouble, or a clean conscience and heavenly rewards? I’ll take Door Number Two, please, Monty!

*starts to step off soapbox*

Oh, wait, one more thing. Does my forgiveness of these people mean they just get to get away scot-free for what they did? Nosirreebob! We withhold our own revenge *to make room for God’s.* Paul wrote in Romans 12:19, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” (NIV)

That is all.

*steps off soapbox and drags it off into the wings*


How NOT to Practice Law

When I was twelve years old, a lawyer came to the little Christian School I attended and gave a lecture on “The trial of Christ from a lawyer’s point of view.” I was fascinated. The appeal of the sense of intellectual superiority that came with making a logical, reasoned, critical analysis of someone else’s actions was intoxicating to me. I had spent much of my young life being bullied and tormented by other kids – those whose parents could afford expensive clothes mocked my homemade duds; those whose parents were relatively normal people looked down on me because my Dad was a preacher who wouldn’t let me wear pants, watch TV, or go to movies. Therefore, any hope of an opportunity to feel superior to them was deliciously tantalizing.

I promptly joined a program called Teen Court – an alternative adjudication program for juvenile offenders in which the defendant, jury, bailiff, and attorneys were all between ages twelve and seventeen – and began my legal training. When I graduated from high school and started college, I went to work as a legal assistant for one of the lawyers who had helped train me as a Teen Court attorney. For the next seventeen years, I worked as a legal assistant. Finally, I went to law school and spent nearly four years as a lawyer before disgust with the whole process drove me to nearly drink myself to death. After I got out of and away from the legal system as an insider, my husband found himself the victim of a very young, very stupid, and very nasty little prosecutor – so I got dragged back into courtrooms again, this time on the “wrong” side of the bar.

During our battle to keep from losing everything we’d worked to build to the vagaries of a warped, broken prosecutorial mind and a faithless hearing officer who apparently placed no value on the secrets I’d kept over the years, I began to contemplate: what had thirty years spent in and around courthouses taught me? In a moment of irritation, I observed that I had learned a lot more about how *not* to practice law than about how *to* do so. What I knew about how to do it wrong – from my own mistakes and those of others – could fill a book.

So, I decided to write that book. Every idiotic thing I’d done as a paralegal and as a lawyer, and every crooked, morally bankrupt decision I’d seen made by judges and other lawyers – all could be brought ’round to serve a good purpose: to teach law students and young lawyers what not to do. If maybe, just maybe, such a book could keep even one person from stepping off into a series of bad decisions, it was worth whatever grief it might cause those whose actions I would describe.

Bootleggers’ Legacy, part 4

George wobbled slightly as he entered the diner. Belle, who had been watching for him, came out from behind the counter.

“Well, come on in and sit down, Mr. George! I jes’ got yer table all cleaned off and ready-like. You got what you said you was gonna bring me?”

George allowed himself to be led to his favorite table. His morning coffee had been liberally doctored with ‘shine, and he was feeling in love with the world. His tongue felt a little loose, too. Grinning goofily at Belle, he said, “I shore do, Miz Belle! I got it right here in my pocket.” He fished around in one side pocket of his overalls and came out with his old beat-up flask. “Naw, not that’un,” he said thoughtfully, reaching for the other pocket. From that one, he pulled a shiny, new flask. “This’un’s fer you, Miz Belle.” He handed it to her, and she grabbed it and whisked it out of sight into her apron pocket.

“You gon’ hafta learn to be more… more… You jes’ can’t be lettin’ jes’ anybody see, Mr. George! I heard tell, from some o’ them folks what come through here from Shreveport, that them revenuers from down Baton Rouge way been pokin’ around up here lately,” she scolded. She slipped a dollar bill into a napkin and handed it to him.

“Aw, Belle, ain’t nobody else in here ‘cep you ‘n’ me!” He started to tuck the napkin into his pocket, then stopped and brought it to his nose. “Hoo-wee, I better run this to th’ bank ‘stead o’ takin’ it home! Lispeth’ll have a conniption iffen I come home smellin’ like yore perfume!”

Belle flounced indignantly. “It ain’t that strong, and ‘sides, ain’t gotta be nobody else in here fer somebody t’see you!” She gestured toward the filthy windows that overlooked the street.

George snorted. “Hadn’t nobody been able t’see in them windows since 1904!” He took a bold sip out of his flask to show her how sure he was no one could see him. Sniffing first the flask then the air around him, he made a sour face. “And it is that strong, you drown out th’ smell o’ my whiskey!”

Belle huffed and stormed off into the kitchen. As if on cue, the front door swung open. A flood of bright light and pollen preceded a grizzled old man into the diner. Jim Folson flung his hat at one of the hooks by the door, never looking back to see it sail to the floor. His eyes locked onto George. “Say, there, George, you doin’ alright today?”

There was an odd pitch to his voice that George noticed, but immediately dismissed. He half-stood and touched the top of his head. “Doin’ jes’ fine, Mr. Folson, sir, howsabout y’self?” There was only a fifteen year age difference between the two men, but Jim Folson had been grown and married by the time George learned to talk, so he had always been “Mr. Folson.”

Jim’s gait seemed to stutter a bit as he walked to George’s table. He stood there awkwardly for a moment before George realized he was waiting to be invited to sit down. “Have a seat, iffen y’ hank’rin’ fer one, Mr. Folson.” The older man looked around quickly and pulled out a chair. His hands twitched nervously on the table and George noticed he was sweating, despite the mild spring air.

“George, I was… well, I was wonderin’ if maybe, I mean, if you can, could you… ah, could I get a pint o’ them corn squeezin’s folks been sayin’ you have?”

George frowned. “Now, who’s been sayin’ I got anything like that?”

Jim glanced around again, this time with a somewhat frantic air. “Jes’ folks, George, now, y’got any, or not?”

“Not with me, Mr. Folson,” George sighed. “I gotta run home here in a little bit to take Lispeth some sugar ‘n’ flour, an’ I’ll pick you up a pint whilst I’m there. Now, it’s a dollar a pint. You brang a dollar an’ meet me ’round back o’ here at two o’clock, a’ight?”

A look of immense relief coupled with guilt crossed Jim’s face. George misinterpreted the expression entirely. “Aw, now, Jim, ain’t nuthin’ wrong with a bit o’ th’ drink here ‘n’ there. It’s that crazy law what’s wrong. Don’t you worry none, we’ll get ya fixed right up an’ ain’t nobody gon’ be none th’ wiser.”

Jim nodded, then stood up so fast he nearly knocked over his chair and made a beeline for the door, leaving his hat where it had landed in the floor. Belle emerged from the kitchen just in time to see him push twice on the door, remember it opened inward, jerk it open and scurry out. She aimed a quizzical look George’s direction, got a shrug in response, and rolled her eyes.

That afternoon at two, when George rounded the corner of the diner, two men in snake boots and dark dungarees were waiting for him instead of Jim Folson. George turned and tried to run, but the men were faster than he was. They tackled him just as Belle heard the commotion and stuck her head out the diner’s back door. “Belle!” He yelled when he saw her. “Get Junior! Tell ‘im they got me! Th’ revenuers got me!”

Before Belle could answer, the two men hustled George into a wagon and its driver shouted to the team of horses pulling it and took off.

Belle stood there open-mouthed at the corner of the diner for several seconds, watching the cloud of dust disappear down the road. Finally, she turned and walked slowly back toward the door. A movement in the shadows at the end of the alley stopped her in her tracks.

“Who’s there?”

“Just me, Belle.” Jim Folson stepped out into the dusty sunlight. He twisted a grimy kerchief back and forth in his hands and refused to meet Belle’s eye. Belle might never have done well in school or had any real ambitions, but she was a savvy old bird, and in a flash she realized what he was doing there.

“Why, James Mason Folson! Did you have anything to do with them revenuers grabbin’ George?” Jim didn’t answer immediately and Belle stomped her foot hard. “You sorry, no-good, side-windin’, lily-livered, backstabbin’ sneak of a worthless mule’s tit! You jes ’wait ’til Junior finds out – no, you wait til Lispeth finds out! There won’t be nothin’ left for you t’ do ‘sides sneak outta town and hope she don’t catch up with yore flea-bitten hide!” She proceeded to stomp inside the diner and slam the door, then opened it again long enough to yell, “And don’t you even think of steppin’ foot back in this here diner again! Ever!” She slammed the door again, leaving old Jim to slink off home.

Bootleggers’ Legacy, part 3

Elisha scowled at the jug of clear liquid George pulled from under the drip-spout. Gingerly, he raised it to his nose and sniffed. George guffawed loudly and slapped his thigh as shock, revulsion, and amazement vied for dominance of Elisha’s face. “Aw, ‘Lisha, them’s jes th’ singlin’s! Gotta run it back through again ‘fore it’s done!”

Elisha wasn’t sure if his shivering was the result of the damp, cold early December weather or of the powerful odor of the “singlings.” Either way, he was ready to be back in front of his fireplace. “How long’ll that take?” His voice came out a hoarse growl escorted by a cloud of his breath’s steam.

“Have a batch done by mornin’, I reckon,” George said. He gestured at the other still, where the low fire generated barely enough heat to warm the ankles of a man standing next to it. “This’un’s working through its second run now. You got them jars?”

Elisha nodded. “Omer’s gon’ bring ’em up when he gets done stringing that east fence.” With that, he turned and hurried back down the path home.

That first batch filled a dozen quart jars: six for Elisha and six for George. By the time the second batch was ready, George had “sampled” one whole quart and gave another away to a friend, while Elisha’s six jars sat quietly in his springhouse. The second batch yielded another six jars apiece, and before Prohibition went into effect that January, Elisha had thirty quarts of the clear liquid stashed away. George had sold twelve of his jars around town, sipped his way through eight, and given away another four. A meager six quarts comprised his entire stock.

On a crisp, clear morning in February, Elisha and Omer rose before the sun and, under cover of the pre-dawn gloom, loaded fifty quarts of White Lightning into a hidden compartment in the back of Elisha’s old Model A Ford. By sunrise, they had left Bienville Parish behind and were well on their way to Columbia.

A week earlier, Elisha had made the same trip carrying only a single jar of corn squeezin’s. In Columbia, he had looked up an old school friend of his and George’s who ran a saloon. Since January, Jack had taken his business “underground,” converting the building’s front to a small feed and seed store. In the back, business as usual continued unabated — in fact, with all the other saloons in town closed, business for Jack was booming. What he needed, he told Elisha, was a source of high-quality liquor. When he opened the jar Elisha presented and took a whiff of the contents, a broad grin spread across his face.

“More where this came from?” Jack had asked. Elisha assured him there was, and in minutes a bargain had been struck. Both men spat into their right hand and the deal was sealed with a handshake. Now, Elisha was about to make good on his end of the arrangement for the first time.

It was nearing noon when the Model A rattled to a stop in the alley behind Jack Horton’s Feed ‘n’ Seed Shop. The drive had taken longer than it ordinarily would, in part because Elisha was being careful not to draw attention and in part due to the fragile nature of their cargo.

Jack met them outside the back door. When Elisha pulled the panel covering the hidden stash, Jack’s eyes lit up. “Looks to be…” he counted rows and made a quick calculation. “Fifty quarts! Well, I’ll be a mule’s ankle! You want that hunnert dollars in gold? Or notes?” The tone of Jack’s voice made it clear he would rather pay in notes. When he heard the amount, Omer’s eyes bugged and he stared at Jack with his mouth open.

“Gold, Jack, and put your tongue back in your head, boy,” Elisha snapped at Omer.

Jack shrugged resignedly and turned to go inside the building. Over his shoulder, he called out, “He’p yore Daddy unload, Omer, don’t jes’ stand there like a bump on a log!”

Omer snapped out of his stunned attitude and grabbed a flat of a dozen jars. Elisha glanced around quickly. Seeing no one else in the alley, he picked up another flat and followed Jack inside, with Omer trailing behind. By the time all the jars were inside, Jack had re-emerged from the storefront carrying a small oilcloth package. He handed it to Elisha, who hefted it and nodded in satisfaction.

“Thank ya kindly, Jack. We’ll be back in a month with another load, Good Lord willing and th’ crick don’ rise.” He shook his friend’s hand and slapped him on the shoulder. He looked at Omer, then gave Jack a wink and a sly grin. “Say, Jack, you reckon I oughta let the boy drive home?”

Jack chuckled at the excitement on the young man’s face. “Sure, ‘Lisha, I think that’s a right fine idea!”

Elisha nodded at Omer and walked around to the passenger’s side of the car. “You know how to work the crank, right, Son?”

In response, Omer enthusiastically grabbed the crank handle and started winding. When the engine roared to life, he leapt in next to his father and proudly put his hands on the wheel.

Elisha managed to keep a straight face as Omer put it in gear and tried to back out of the alley. Jack, on the other hand, did not. For several seconds he roared with laughter at the confused look on Omer’s face. Finally, taking pity on him, Jack held up his hand for the boy to wait. Puzzled, Omer let off the gas. When he did, Jack reached under the rear wheel and pulled out the wheel chock. Omer’s face flamed red, but he had the good grace to smile and thank Jack.

They hadn’t hit the edge of town before Omer let out a whoop. “A hunnert dollars!! In gold!! Hoo-wee! And again next month? You think we can make that much whiskey again by then?”

Elisha gave his son a stern look. “Boy, you gotta remember to keep this secret. No goin’ on, gettin’ all excited and runnin’ your mouth. If Patty wants to know where th’ money come from, you tell that woman to mind her place and stay outta men’s bidness. Y’hear?”

Omer nodded solemnly. “Yes, Daddy. Don’t worry none ’bout Patty. If it’s not about the baby comin’, it don’t pass her mind, these days.” He paused, then went on, “But d’ya really think we can produce another fifty jars in a month?”

Elisha looked thoughtful and didn’t answer. Omer kept driving and waited for his father to process the figuring he was obviously working through. A couple of miles later, Elisha spoke. “Well, if we’re t’have fifty jars, that means producin’ a hunnert — fifty for us, fifty for George and Junior. If you and Junior stay busy and don’t slack on makin’ the mash, y’all can get two quarts a day outta each still. At that pace, we oughta be able to have sixty jars next month. But fifty’s all I’m askin’.” Anything past that y’all make, and the rest is yours t’ sell. But – and I’m only gon’ say this one time – first time I catch you with liquor on your breath, your part in this is done. I’d rather run the still m’self and have you breakin’ up ground for spring plantin’ than have my son be a drunk. Understood?”

Omer didn’t hesitate. “Yessir. I ain’t got no interest in drinkin’ that stuff, Daddy. I done seen what folks think o’ Mr. George. I don’t wanna have ’em look at me like they look at him.”

Elisha nodded. “Good boy. Now, for this run, most o’ th’ gold goes into the farm. We buy seed and equipment and fertilizer and such. Next run, we’ll see about buyin’ some nice things for th’ womenfolk. I’m gon’ give you a little piece o’ this…” and here, he patted his pocket, “but I want you t’ put it back and not spend it.”

The sun was flirting with the tops of the trees as they pulled back into Elisha’s place. Omer remembered the wheel chock this time and set the Model A facing the road. Omer followed Elisha inside, where Ada and a very pregnant Patty were busily preparing supper. Elisha slipped off into his and Ada’s bedroom, where he weighed the gold to make sure Jack had been square with him. Satisfied, he pinched out a small nugget and a few grains which he secreted in an empty shotgun shell. After placing the “dummy” shell in a box of real shells, he carried the box out to Omer.

“Here’s them shells for your Winchester, like we talked about.” He gave Omer a pointed look, which, to the boy’s credit, he understood.

“Thank ya, Daddy. I’ll put ’em up for now, just like you said.”

Elisha turned to his daughter-in-law and raised an eyebrow at her distended belly. “How many young’uns you reckon you got in there? Bound to be two or three!”

Patty smiled and hugged him awkwardly. “Jes’ one, I think, Mr. ‘Lisha. And I think it’s a boy. Come April, you’ll have yoreself a grandson!”

Elisha settled himself into his big chair and smiled contentedly. “That’s mighty fine, Patty, mighty fine indeed.”

Breedism is Bigotry

My husband and I breed American Pit Bull Terriers. We love our big, gentle babies, and treat them like our children. They sleep in the bed with us at night. They are wonderful creatures who bring light into our lives. Yet, every day, we have to face the reality that people all around the world see our precious pups as “bad dogs” for no reason other than their breed.

Hatred of a group of entities because of their parentage, origin, or heritage is nothing new. It is part of the base nature of humans to look askance at anything unfamiliar or not fully understood. It is a sad and shameful truth of American history that our Constitution declared slaves to be only valued as three-fifths of a person. A mere 160 years ago, the United States Supreme Court held, “[A] negro, whose ancestors were imported into [the U.S.], and sold as slaves” whether enslaved or free, could not be an American citizen. Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857).

Since those unenlightened days, cultures around the world have developed beyond such ignorance. Fortunately, the United States has been at the forefront of the march toward equality for all people, despite the continued bigotry of some members of our society. We have successfully swung the pendulum to the other side, such that, now, bigotry and racism are widely recognized as the hateful ignorance they embody.

Or have we?

In a day and age when intolerance of a person because of what color they are, or who their parents are, or from what religious or philosophical background they hail, has become anathema, it is simply galling to me that there are people running around trying to get a certain group of dogs “banned” (read: these foaming-at-the-mouth haters want all dogs in the category unilaterally and mercilessly slaughtered, annihilated, not just oppressed or abused) simply because of their breed. What galls me even further is that this vocal minority is gaining followers instead of being recognized as the hate group they are.

That’s right, hate group. To the same extent as the KKK, BLM, Antifa, and other race-specific groups have been correctly dubbed “hate groups,” the people who cry out for mass genocide of American Pit Bull Terriers comprise a hate group. They are as guilty of blind, ignorant bigotry as those who claim one race of people is superior to another.

An individual is an individual, whether human or animal. No individual should ever bear on their single set of shoulders the burden of stereotypes based on heritage. A black man should not have his character pre-judged by any other person based strictly on the color of his skin. A white woman should not have to deal with people pre-judging her based solely on her race or gender. A person of mixed racial heritage should never have to face others’ scorn because of his genetics. By the exact same token, no dog should ever have to fear death or oppression at the hands of those who hate him because he is a pit bull – or because he is any other breed, for that matter.

Bigotry is wrong. Fundamentally, morally, and, for humans, even legally wrong. Yet, for dogs, bigotry and breedism is on the rise, not the decline, and all because of a few hateful and ignorant souls. Those who would take a stand against bigotry in any form should sit up and take note, then take action.

If you stand against bigotry and hatred, the new front in the war to defeat such ignorance is that of breedism. “Breedism is bigotry!” This should be the battle cry of all those who believe in equality and justice for all.

Bootleggers’ Legacy, part 2

Elisha took off his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow with a grubby handkerchief. The sun was high overhead, and the early October heat was as stifling as it had been in August. It had been a productive morning. Pieces of the old fort now lay neatly stacked at the edge of the little clearing, and atop the small rise where it had once stood was a clean, bare spot. Elisha dropped the head of his sledgehammer to the ground and leaned on its handle, surveying the results of his work with a look of satisfaction. He and George had spent a lot of time here, as boys. Many a deer, squirrel, and rabbit had landed in stew pots as a result of their time in these woods.

A rattling, clattering noise behind him shook Elisha out of his reverie. Turning toward the sound, he saw George lumbering up the trail towards him, pulling an old, beat-up mule wagon. The wagon was loaded down with two huge crawfish pots, a coil of copper tubing, and what appeared to be an old brass bedframe.

“Hoo-wee!” George looked around the clearing in amazement. “You done gone and got it all set t’ rights!”

Elisha scowled. “Yeah, well, been out here all morning. Thought you’d’a been here already.”

“Took some doin’ t’ talk Lispeth outta her good crawfish pot. Had t’ promise her I’d get her one o’ them newfangled ”namel’ ones outta th’ Sears and Roebuck catalog.” George rolled his eyes as if his sweet, long-suffering wife were one of the most unreasonable creatures he’d ever met. Truth was – and everybody in town knew it – Lispeth Simmons put up with more grief from George than any less patient woman would have.

“Well, let’s get started.” Elisha slung the sledgehammer over his shoulder and helped George pull the wagon to the top of the rise.

It was well-nigh dark by the time they finished building the twin stills. Neither looked particularly sturdy, but George swore they would work. “Now, we just need us some corn,” he announced, grinning.

Elisha nodded solemnly. “Like we talked about, we’ll use a batch o’ my seed corn and what you got left from your fall crop to test ’em out. I got to go to Jonesboro tomorrow, but we’n get started Wednesday. You sure you know how to do this?”

George cocked his head to one side and scratched his salt-and-pepper beard. “Well, I seen it done. My pappy’s brother – ‘member Uncle Tommy? – he ran a still down Natchitoches way. Out b’hind his house. I watched him do it a bunch o’ times.” He paused and reached for his flask. Uncapping it, he closed one eye and peered hopefully into it. By the disgusted look that settled across his face, Elisha figured the thing must be empty. Unsurprising, given how many trips out of George’s pocket it had made that afternoon. Elisha just hoped George could stay sober long enough to figure out how to run the still, or the whole plan might fall apart.

Early Wednesday morning, Elisha and his son Omer carried four fifty-pound sacks of seed corn to the stills. The Missuses Harrison – Elisha’s wife Ada and Omer’s wife Patty – were left with the impression their husbands were setting up feeding spots at their deer stands. As Elisha explained to Omer, “If you want something kept secret, you don’t tell the womenfolk.”

Arriving at the little clearing where the stills stood, father and son were surprised to find George already there, apparently sober. He had his old mule wagon loaded down with three barrels of freshly cut corn. Elisha and Omer let their bags slide to the ground next to the wagon.

“Now, George, you remember our deal, right?” Elisha nodded to Omer and continued, “We gonna get it all said and settled here with Omer to witness. It’s my land, your materials, and both our corn goin’ into this. We work it equal-like, and split all the liquor fiddy-fiddy, right?”

George screwed his face up into a deeply offended expression. “Well, now, you know I’m a’gon honor our agreement, ‘Lisha. Didn’t hafta bring the boy with you for that.” He grabbed a half-barrel of corn off the wagon and dumped its contents into the two big pots. “Here, Omer, take this down to th’ crick and bring it back fulla water.”

Omer looked at his father. Elisha nodded, almost imperceptibly, and Omer took the barrel and trudged off toward the creek. As soon as he was out of earshot, George wheeled on Elisha. “You don’ trust me after all these years? Have I ever lied to you?”

Elisha threw his arm around his childhood friend’s shoulder. “Just for show, George. The boy’s not worth his salt as a farmer. I told his mama I’d find something for him to do. He’ll be more like’ to take all this serious-like iffen he thinks he’s…” Elisha trailed off, as if he were searching for a word, and George nodded wisely and winked.

“Well, seein’ you put it like that, I reckon maybe we can use ‘im.”

When Omer returned with the water, he set it down by the wagon and looked expectantly at the older men. Elisha peered at the water, the corn, and the stills, then at George. “Well? Whadda we do now?”

George took on a knowledgeable air and said, “First, we gotta make us a mash. Gotta soak all this corn for a while, then mash it up.” He took a dented metal bucket and started scooping water into the barrels of corn. “You ain’t got nothing to soak yours in, so we’ll jes’ start with mine.”

Omer and Elisha exchanged glances and shrugged. “How long’s that take?” Omer asked.

George thought for a minute, then answered, “Til it sprouts, boy, til it sprouts. I dunno, ’bout eight, ten days.” He continued ladling water into the barrels until all the corn was covered. “I reckon I’ll jes’ leave the wagon here fer now. Lispeth ain’t gon’ notice.” He cocked his head to the side. “Say, y’all ain’t told Ada ‘n’ Patty ’bout all this, have ye?”

Elisha shook his head firmly. “Naw,” he said, “Women gossip. Can’t have folks knowin’ ’bout this place. Me, you, and Omer, here, ‘s the only ones knowing. Figger maybe you might wanna bring Junior in, just so’s we can have the help.”

George nodded, then squinted at the sky. “Well, guess I better get on back to th’ house. Lispeth thinks I’m huntin’ and if I’m gone much longer she gon’ ‘cuse me o’ drinkin.'” He shook his head as if such an accusation would be wildly outlandish. Omer turned his back to hide his amusement.

Elisha clapped George on the back. “Yep. We best be heading home, too. Meet up here next Friday morning?”

George nodded. “Yup.” He turned and shuffled off toward the path to his house. Elisha and Omer started back home, too.

On the path, they walked in silence a ways. Omer finally spoke. “Daddy? You think that old drunk knows what he’s doing?”

Elisha did not answer until the back of his house was in view and they could smell Ada’s famous fried cornbread. Keeping his eyes fixed on the back door, he answered quietly, “I sure hope so, son, I sure hope so.”

Bootleggers’ Legacy, part 1

Elisha and George huddled together over the newspaper from Shreveport. It was several weeks old and smudged from dozens of fingers running across the pages, but the words of the headline were still unmistakable: PROHIBITION TO START IN JANUARY. George shook his head and took a swig from his flask. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he said, “Well, I reckon we got us three more months to stock up. That dadgum Congress and this fool Volstead, whoever he is. Parson says it ain’t gon’ be agin’ the law to have liquor, but ain’t nobody gon’ be able to sell it, legal-wise, nohow.”

Elisha sat back and pulled his pipe from the bib of his overalls. His expression was thoughtful as he went through the ritual of painstakingly filling the bowl from a crumpled bag of tobacco he produced from the depths of a hip pocket. Preparations made, he patted himself down for matches and found none. “Belle!” At his bellow, the diner’s only waitress poked her head out of the kitchen.

“Whatcha need, sugar?” Her sun-leathered skin was heavily powdered and Elisha was fairly certain her brassy orange hair color was not the shade God had given her.

“Matches!” Elisha was perfectly capable of putting together actual sentences, but when he was deep in thought, he tended to communicate in short grunts and growls.

Belle sashayed over to their table, the heavy floral scent of her cheap perfume marching before her like an advancing army. She reached into her apron and held up a book of matches. Waving them back and forth in front of Elisha, she simpered, “Are these what you was wanting, hon?” Elisha grabbed the matches and growled. Belle shook her head and laughed. “You’re welcome, you old coot!”

As she disappeared back into the kitchen, George looked around the otherwise empty diner. Elisha tucked the stem of the pipe between his lips and gripped it with his teeth. He carefully struck a match and lowered it to the tobacco. He gave another grunt, this time of satisfaction, as plumes of smoke began to billow out on either side of the pipe.

He puffed away in silence for a few minutes. George, long accustomed to Elisha’s thoughtful brooding, looked back at the newspaper article again, squinting at the smudged text. He gave it up after a while and let his eyes roam around the diner. Dusty photographs of people no one remembered adorned the walls. A veneer of grease and smoke coated the windows overlooking the street. Once-shiny tiles covered the bar, now chipped and faded and dull.

Finally, Elisha broke the silence. “I got that spot back in the woods – y’know, where we used to have our fort?”

George grinned. “I ‘member that fort! You stole the nails we used t’ build it out of ol’ man McDunnow’s barn!”

Elisha chuckled at the memory. “Yeah. He was pipin’ mad when he found that box o’ nails gone. Was a three-dollar box of nails! He never did find out it was me, neither. Rest his soul.” Elisha touched the top of his head as if to lift his hat, which hung on a hook by the door. Then his face turned serious again. “You got the makin’s of a still?”

George cocked his head to the side. “Well, I ‘spect maybe I do. You thinkin’ of breakin’ the law?”

Elisha stood up and brushed the crumbs from his lap. “You just see if you got what we need.” He dug in his pocket and discovered his tobacco, three peppermints, and a toothpick before two dusty dimes and a nickel emerged. At the end of the bar, he pounded his fist, sending two loose tiles skittering to the floor. Belle stuck her head out again and saw Elisha reaching for his hat. Walking to the register, she stumbled a bit, and Elisha caught a whiff of whiskey fighting its way through the perfume. When she saw the coins Elisha placed in her outstretched hand, her eyes widened.

“A nickel tip? Why, ain’t you in a right generous mood, Mr. Elisha?”

Elisha let out a sound that was neither grunt nor cough nor laugh but somehow a combination of all three and stalked out into the early fall’s slanting afternoon sun.