by Trish Vanderwall
I used to sit on my Mamaw’s front porch and hear stories. That was many years ago in the heart of Appalachia, where bees and flies buzzed and chickens squawked. The front porch held a lot of daytime conversations that were seldom heard in the suburbs where I was growing up.
Now, I hear my front porch stories over the phone. I called my mother the other day and asked how she and my father are faring during the COVID isolation. She assured me they’re just fine.
“Mom,” I asked, “do you remember any other epidemics? What were they like?”
She thinks maybe during high school she might have had the Hong Kong flu for two days, but the import of it has long passed.
“But Mom,” I said, “didn’t you have rheumatic fever when you were younger, and it caused one of your legs to be shorter?”
“Oh, yes, honey, but that was just a childhood disease; everyone caught something.”
“You know,” she says, “I do remember a story about your grandfather when he was two years old. It was 1919 or so and the Spanish Flu was about. One day, your great-grandfather saddled his horse and rode up the holler to the post office to pick up the mail. While there, he was made aware of a flu that killed anyone who got it. He promptly rode home and issued a set of directives to his wife and six children. He made them all get into bed and stay there. For days, though we never did find out how long, and they were not to get up unless necessity made them.”
If this story wasn’t surprising enough, my mom’s explanation of my great-grandfather’s “doctoring” skills certainly was. To help them all fight this terrible enemy, he dosed them with one tablespoon of moonshine every two hours, even the two-year-old. “You see,” she said, “your great-grandfather made a living from the still, and any other means he could.”
If I could write like Flannery O’Connor, I’m sure Resurrectional and Eucharistic imagery would break forth from this incredulous story of a man protecting his family from death the best he knew how. But I’m not. I’m just a simple woman passing on a true family story. I don’t know how long the family stayed in bed, or whether the moonshine was more for medicine or confinement. Either way, they eventually arose.