Nita and I spent much of the 6th of June – D-Day – watching the coverage on the BBC. Their programming was almost continuous – and what a treat to view a news broadcast without commercial breaks. As I have mentioned to some Air Force friends, one of the highlights of our last stay in Europe was a visit to the Normandy beaches. We took Nita’s dad – a WWII veteran (China-Burma-India Theater) – and mom with us. It was a wonderful couple of days. Our hotel was on the extreme north end of Omaha Beach; you could see Pont du Hoc (where the Rangers scaled the cliffs to reach the gun emplacements) from the front of the hotel. It was a wonderful time, but a sobering one as well. The cemetery on top of the bluff above “Bloody Omaha” is touching beyond words. My sister-in-law’s older brother is one of the 9,388 Americans who rest there. He is in good company; young (mostly) Americans from every state in the union. Bless them all.
In last month’s blog I mentioned a spur of the moment submission to a sort of quirky publication called “Spank the Carp.” Guess it was the name that caught my attention as well as the eclectic mixture of stuff that they print. The latest edition has three poems, three short stories, a work of creative non-fiction and a flash fiction piece. I have a mixed reaction: I don’t care much for the poetry (I am sort of an old-style Grandma Moses poet; generally speaking, I prefer poems that rhyme). I liked two of the short stories, the third one not so much. All that is to be expected; there is really quite a mixture of styles and topics. Closest to home is the flash fiction piece. (Flash fiction is less than 800 words.) I mentioned that the editor had said he liked the piece I sent to him and would try to get it in the June edition. Sure enough, it is in the current on-line version of the magazine. I don’t yet know if it will be in the printed anthology that comes out later in the year. The whole thing was a nice surprise. I don’t write much fiction stuff and this was the first piece of flash fiction that I had taken a shot at. If you are curious about it, go to www.spankthecarp.com and under the FLASH heading, click on the title “Surely You Knew.”
Better yet: here's a link: http://www.spankthecarp.com/issue51_phillips.html
Hope you will enjoy it.
I thought perhaps in lieu of the usual poetry section (highly acclaimed though it is), you might welcome a change of pace. Though undoubtedly embellished, perhaps highly so, in the telling over the years, what follows is a non-fiction work that takes us back to a different time in our country. “Moonshine in the Attic” was published in a small book titled Sowing Wild Oats (Shapato Publishing Company) in 2012.
MOONSHINE IN THE ATTIC
In later years when my Uncle Robert spoke of the great explosion, he almost always began by saying what a pleasant, tranquil day it had been up until that time. He thought maybe it had all happened on a lazy Sunday afternoon although with the passing of time he was no longer totally sure about the day of the week.
The chaos occurred as the family was lounging downstairs in the two-storey frame house in northeastern Nebraska. My aunt and uncle had a houseguest at the time; Robert’s mother/my grandmother, had come to spend a few days with them.
My grandmother passed on two weeks after I was born – despite what my older brother told me repeatedly as I grew up, the two events were not related; really, the sight of me was not the cause -- but the descriptions that have come down from those who knew her all portray her as a quiet, somewhat prim, devout lady.
My uncle was not quiet, prim, or devout.
He was a card-playing, sometime hell-raiser who was known to occasionally imbibe.
Now, midway through the Prohibition Era, he could no longer tolerate the thirst. Like many others throughout the country who used sheds, outbuildings, cellars, and hidden places by the creek to brew their own, my uncle had some private action going also. Only in his case – he was pleased with his decision – he put the still in the attic. It was convenient, secluded, and most importantly, he didn’t have far to go to quench his thirst.
He had carefully smuggled in and installed the equipment in the small garret right under the roof of the modest house. Three large batches of hooch were brewing in barrels that took up most of the available space.
All seemed well with the world. Except that my uncle hadn’t allowed for the heat of the Nebraska summer pouring through the uninsulated roof. There was no way to cool the place – it would be years before electricity reached the rural areas – so the only thing that stood between Uncle Robert’s moonshine and the glaring sun were the house’s weather worn shingles.
Eventually, it was all too much. As the family went quietly about their routines downstairs, the yeast and the sugar and the alcohol were fermenting upstairs.
About mid-afternoon Uncle Robert’s formula reached critical mass. Three enormous explosions rocked the house. WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! like cannons fired in salvo. The concussions tore the tops off the barrels; the lids blew straight up into the roof of the house, bounced off, and ricocheted around the small room. The story was likely embellished as the years went by but in some versions wisps of powdery plaster fell from the downstairs ceilings and maybe even a salt shaker tipped over on the kitchen table.
Pandemonium reigned throughout the house. My uncle, of course, knew immediately what had happened. But, even before he went to check on the damage, he had a major, immediate problem to deal with. That is, how to explain it to his mother, who called from the parlor, demanding to know what was going on. My uncle’s accounts of what he told her varied a bit over the years but apparently they shifted first from “must be some thunder in the distance” to a more believable explanation that had something to do with limbs falling on the roof from the dead oak tree south of the house (“I should have cut that thing down years ago”).
Eventually, after calming her, he ran to the attic. He encountered a scene of destruction. The lids were mangled and scattered from corner to corner. The blasts hadn’t blown holes in the roof but they had knocked loose some shingles. Support beams in the attic were chipped and gouged where the lids had struck them as they flew around the room. The barrels had tipped over and their contents were flowing over the floor and down the steps.
As unobtrusively as he could, so as not to arouse his mother’s suspicions, he used every available towel, wash cloth, sheet, and bed spread in the house to sop up the residue which was now oozing its way down the attic steps.
Apparently, some of the stuff worked its way through the upstairs plaster and later there were some spots visible on the ceiling. I’m guessing that my uncle probably attributed those to water seeping through the holes punched in the roof by that miserable oak tree.
I don’t know how he might have accounted for any odor that may have remained or why the next few days had to be spent washing every piece of linen in the house.
But, I’m pretty sure my uncle would have found a way to explain it.
Take care and have a great summer, everyone. Best wishes,