By Connie Kinsey |WVVille Minister of Paragraphs
So, today is National Moonshine Day. Yes, it actually is. A few years ago, I was given a writing prompt. We were to listen to Rhiannon Giddens’ “Moonshiner’s Daughter,” and write a thousand words or so. (If you’ve never heard Giddens, you have missed a treasure!)
Quite a few years earlier, I was introduced to what is affectionately known as ‘The Plum.’ It’s a moonshine cordial of sorts—plums are placed in a Mason jar, moonshine is poured over and it’s left to steep. The resultant elixir is fiery, sweet, and beautiful.
My imagination and my muse joined forces. The resulting short story, “The Plum,” was selected in a juried competition for “Women Speak,” part of the Women of Appalachia Project. These spoken-word events were truncated by COVID-19, so I was only able to read it once. An anthology of the 2019-2020 season has been published, but I dearly miss the opportunity to read the story.
I have been fortunate to be chosen twice for Women Speak of the Women of Appalachia Project. Poets, writers, musicians, photographers and visual artists come together to dispel the myths surrounding Appalachian women. The project was conceived by Kari Gunter Seymour, a feisty Appalachian woman if ever there was one. (WRITER’S ALERT: Submission for the 2020-2021 season are due August 1st.)
It should be noted the moonshine spoken of in “The Plum” (which you can read or hear me recite below) is very much a real thing, not a product of my imagination. I was first introduced to it on a camping trip on the Williams River in Pocahontas County WV. The more manly and womanly amongst us made a point of “eating the plum“—I wasn’t one of them.
RELATED: Fun Moonshine Facts to Know & Tell
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, non-legal, 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.
Although, a sip or two will do me. Mercy, a quart would last me a decade.
If you’d prefer me reading “The Plum,” here ya go:
You can also read the story below.
“The Plum” by Connie Kinsey
We call it The Plum. It’s the prettiest moonshine 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 good as he taught me to ‘shine. He laughed, but I wasn’t making a joke.
He comes 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 weren’t expecting him. He announced he was there to help us ready for winter. We use a wood stove to heat 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 of The 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 on the sofa. 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.”
Tweren’t but three days later and we was married.
Yesterday, I birthed a boy. Daddy would have been so tickled.
Daddy loved me, but 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.
MORE by CONNIE KINSEY:
READINGS | COVID-19, Day 77: Yes, I’m Waiting.: “We are front porch people, but I have to make do with a flat section of mulch and an oversized Adirondack chair the ex-husband made me when he was still a husband.”
MORE on the “WOMEN OF APPALACHIA PROJECT”
Here is more on the The Women of Appalachia Project from the group’s About page:
Artists: One of Appalachia’s Greatest Assets
If you are from Appalachia, you grow to realize early on, that many people have an image of an Appalachian woman, and they look down on her.
The Women of Appalachia Project™ was created to address discrimination directed at women from the Appalachian region by encouraging participation from women artists of diverse backgrounds, ages and experiences to come together, to embrace the stereotype, to show the whole woman; beyond the superficial factors that people use to judge her.
Working together, women united, we:
- Seek out venues where women’s issues can be examined, addressed, dissected, embellished, and safely shared with audiences and each other through presentations of visual and spoken word art.
- Empower and strengthen Appalachian visual, literary and performing women artists through fellowship and positive community connections.
- Provide opportunities for a diverse group of woman to share their art, receive recognition and encouragement, and build strong networks so they continue to thrive, while introducing diverse populations to one of Appalachian’s greatest assets, its artists.
We believe in the strength of community.
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