Getting To Know Me (How It All Started)
(Please note that I am not advocating any illegal activities, I am merely sharing a bit of my childhood.)
Like most kids, some of my earliest memories were of playing out in our yard. Normal stuff, playing with our puppy and dogs, riding my “Big Wheel” until it fell apart, (in my case, since our driveway was fairly steep, it meant dragging it by one handlebar partway up the hill, hopping on, flying down the hill with my feet off the pedals until I came crashing head-over-Big Wheel to a stop, then going even higher up the hill the next time. This might explain why my Big Wheel eventually fell apart. It may also explain a few of the lumps and scars on my head.)
One thing that was odd though, was a series of boards and worn fencing covered by blackberry vines next to the driveway. At first, I thought it had been for cows, but no, it was not much taller than I was, at 7. Too short for a full grown cow. I imagined all sorts of things that had been kept in there. Maybe it was a pirate base! Maybe there was treasure buried inside! And even more intriguing, was that deep under the blackberry vines, was a low, worn little shed. It, too, was not much taller than I was. A pirate base made by elves? Frustratingly, the pirates had moved out and quite a large number of yellow jackets had moved in. I couldn’t get close enough to figure out what was inside, without attracting a few thousand angry little yellow creatures.
Finally, I asked my parents what it was. “Don’t go in there. There’s bees in there. It’s nothing.”
Yeah right. “It’s nothing," has satisfied a 7 year old kids curiosity exactly zero times in the history of all little kids.
I pestered. It’s what kids do.
“Why is the fence so short?”
“Is it a pirate base?”
“Why is it all worn out?”
“Did we keep a pirate jail for the cops?”
I pestered more.
I finally received a small answer:
“It was a pigsty. We used to have pigs.”
“Pigs?” I thought.
I still don’t know if I was more disappointed that we didn’t have a pirate base in our back yard, or that we didn’t still have pigs.
After more pestering, I got an answer that didn’t make a lot of sense to 7 year-old me. Here it is, although some of it was revealed to my questioning little head over the course of a few more years.
You see, years earlier, my dad had been a bootlegger. I didn’t know what that was, but my dad came by it “honestly”. His dad had been a bootlegger before him, and his dad’s dad was also a bootlegger. They had all gotten pretty good at it.
I know, you’re asking, “what does a bootlegger have to do with pigs?”
Well, it’s pretty clever actually.
A bootlegger is someone that makes illegal alcohol, and sells it to people that want to get good, highly potent alcohol at a low price. This low price is mostly achieved, because by selling it illegally, they avoid paying the taxes on it. These liquor taxes could get very high. Without the taxes, the price of this “moonshine” was quite cheap, and yet very profitable for the bootlegger doing it.
The problem for this bootlegger, is that since he or she is selling illegal alcohol and cheating the government out of their taxes, there are various government agencies always chasing after him or her, and they could get very adamant about said chasing.
I know, you’re still wondering what all this has to do with an old vine covered pigsty.
So these bootleggers needed to find a way to hide their alcohol making equipment. The problem is that a “still” (it’s short for “distillery”) is very smelly. The fermenting mash and the distilled 180 proof (that's 90 percent pure) or higher alcohol has a very strong smell. Anyone driving by with their windows down, and especially any neighbors, would very quickly figure out there was an illegal moonshine still nearby. And shortly after that, the various government agencies would show up. And shortly after that, my dad would have been frowning behind bars. And I probably would never have come to be, as bars are very inconvenient for marital life and child rearing.
You know what smells even worse than fermenting mash and high proof distilled alcohol?
You guessed it.
My dad had a very clever setup. He raised the pigs, which covered the smell of the still. He fed those same pigs the used grain from the mash, which also happened to be organic. He then sold those pigs to some of the local stores at a premium, since they were organically grown pigs. Yes, even back then there was a market for organically grown pork.
I later learned there were some stories about drunk pigs. Yes, seriously.
So that’s what I eventually learned about my bee infested “pirate base”.
I may be biased, but once I teased the whole story out, I thought it was even cooler than a pirate base.
I’ll tell you some more next time. I haven’t decided if it will be about how my dad finally got caught, or when I first discovered our (then fully legal), still.