Today is, I’m told, National Moonshine Day. To celebrate, I offer you my short story The Plum.
It should be noted that The Plum is very much a real thing and not a product of my imagination.
I was first introduced to it on a camping trip on the Williams River in Pocahontas County. The more manly and womanly amongst us made a point of “eating the plum” — I wasn’t one of them.
The Plum gets its name, of course, from the plums that are placed in the jar. Moonshine is poured over and the plums are allowed to steep. The ‘shine turns a beautiful color and the moonshine is flavored with ripe plum.
I’ve lived in West Virginia since 1985. Moonshine is de rigueur when non-Appalachians visit. When you live in a barn, folks expect you to have moonshine. I seldom comply. The real stuff is hard to come by and kind of expensive. On principle, I refuse to buy the legal stuff. I’m not sure what the principle is, but toddling down to the liquor store and buying a quart of moonshine doesn’t feel authentic.
I made up the origin story. I have no idea if it’s a hundred-year-old recipe or concocted for the first time in the early ’90s when I first tasted it. But I’ve tasted it at various intervals and it’s good. Really good. Although, a sip or two will do me. Mercy, a quart would last me a decade.
The Williams River is my happy place. It’s my favorite spot on the planet. I am so thankful for that one 4th of July where I got to experience all of the wonder and power and magic of a bunch of hillbillies camping, playing music, and sipping The Plum.
And, if you’d like to hear me reading The Plum, here ya go:
We call it The Plum. It’s the prettiest moonshine that we make. The shine is made from my PawPaw’s PawPaw’s recipe in a copper still just like it was a hundred years ago. In each jar, we put 13 sweet plums from the trees my great-aunt planted after the ’37 flood. Thirteen because that’s the number of the disciples plus Jesus, the number of full moons in a year, and the number of children PawPaw’s grandmother birthed. Not counting the ones she buried before the rest of them buried her.
The river-soaked land fed those trees well and the plums we harvest are the best you’ve ever had. They’re a beautiful dark ruby color and as they soak in the shine, they release their juice and turn the shine a color that reminds me of a summer sunset when you just know it’s going to storm in a few hours – the sky all dramatic with bright color and swirling clouds. I love twirling the mason jars in my hands so as to get those plums moving round and round – the shine gets prettier and prettier as the movement releases even more color from the plums.
Yes, I’m a moonshiner’s daughter and even though I wasn’t the longed for son, Daddy taught me the art. He passed a few years ago so now it’s just Mama and me making The Plum. Folks come from miles away to buy it. One fella bought 40 cases of it – 6 jars to a case! I asked him what he was going to do with that much shine. He said, “Why drink it, of course! Me and my friends just love this stuff.”
He asked me why my Mama and me weren’t more afraid being on our own and selling shine. What he meant was being without a man to protect us. I told him that I’m meaner than a wildcat and my daddy taught me to shoot just as well as he taught me to ‘shine. He laughed, but I wasn’t making a joke.
He came back every year for The Plum. The third year, Mama said to me, “He’s courting you. Or trying to. Be friendly at least.” I hushed her and went on stringing beans. The stuff that get in her head! I could tell you stories.
Every year he came and each time he stayed a bit longer to visit. One time he came when a storm was stirring and we put him in my bedroom and I slept with Mama. She hissed, “Foolish girl! That man is trying to court you.” I was beginning to think she was right, but he left the next morning.
A few months later, he drove up the holler when we wasn’t expecting him. He announced he was there to help us ready for winter. We use a wood stove to heat with and the mountain winters need a lot of wood. I was used to doing it, but thankful to have the help all the same.
That night, he slept in my bed and I slept on the sofa. Before either one of us did much sleeping, we did a lot of talking and a fair amount of sipping us some Plum. By then, I figured Mama was right. Still and all, I was surprised when he leaned over and kissed me when I was telling him about helping to calf a cow. So, yes, he kissed me and then he said his goodnight.
I tried to figure out whether or not I should go get in my bed too. I spent most of the night wrestling with that question, but I did finally fall asleep. I woke to the smell of sausage sizzling and biscuits baking. I was surprised to find him in the kitchen doing the cooking. And playing a mandolin, soft and sweet as the dawn. I kissed him. He wrapped his arms around me and said, “I’ve been waiting on that.”
We got married weren’t but three days later.
Yesterday, I birthed a boy. Daddy would have been so tickled.
Daddy loved me, but he longed for a boy. It’s nice now, being loved partly because I am a girl. I’m a moonshiner’s daughter and now I’m a moonshiner’s wife. He learnt real quick. I expect I’ll be a moonshiner’s mother. My family has been making The Plum for generations, but now it has a love story to sweeten it even more. Maybe it’s always had a love story, but I’m making sure this one gets told.
This was born of a writing prompt. The prompt was to listen to Rhiannon Giddens’ Moonshiner’s Daughter and write a thousand words or so. This was my offering.
Edited to add: This piece was selected for the Women of Appalachia 2019-2020 season of WomenSpeak The season was truncated due to COVID-19, but I was able to read it publicly twice. The Plum was well received!
My favorite spot on the planet is Pocahontas County, West Virginia. From June 24th to June 30th, I attended Allegheny Echoes Writing Class. Wow. Just wow! I am renewed.