Monday, March 28, 2011

The Dark Side of the Moon(shine)

Children mimic what they see.

That could be wonderful. That could be tragic. It all depends on what they see.

Being the child of a moonshining bootlegger had little of a wonderful side to mimic. Sure, these children had wads of money in their pockets to buy their friends a coke at the store or a ticket to get into the movie. Their fathers worked hard for their money and provided well, as long as they stayed off the liquor themselves, or stayed out of federal prison.

One boy couldn’t wait to drop out of school. On his sixteenth birthday he came to school in the morning, cleaned out his desk, stacked his books and gave them to his eighth grade teacher. The teacher asked him what he was going to do after he dropped out. The student very honestly said, “Make liquor.” And he did. And one month later he was picked up by the law and sent off to prison.

A father caught his seventh grade son sampling the product and gave him a good beating and a reprimand, “Don’t you know we make this to sell, not to use.” That wasn’t a question. That was a statement.

A fifth grade teacher was having class one day, normal day, nothing out of kilter. A student asked to go to the restroom. She gave him permission. He walked to the back and took his jacket off the hook and left the room. He returned a few minutes later, hung his jacket up and sat down. A few minutes later, a different boy raised his hand, asked to go to the restroom. She gave him permission. He walked to the back and took the same jacket off the hook, left the room and returned a few minutes later, put the jacket back. When a third boy raised his hand and asked to go to the restroom and picked up the same jacket, she knew something was not right. She confiscated the jacket and found a glass vial of moonshine tucked in the pocket.

She contacted the principal who took all three boys home, beginning with the owner of said jacket. When they arrived at the house, the father was in a drunken stupor, head down on the kitchen table with a gallon jar of moonshine beside him.

Children mimic.

Catch of the day,


Friday, March 25, 2011

Recitation and Declamation

I will not be not sitting in front of the computer today. Instead, I will be at the EBOB, as in Elementary Battle of the Books. I’m a judge for the fourth year in a row and I love it! I love watching children get excited over books. Team cheers. Team t-shirts. Clapping for each other. Huddling and discussing the books. Don’t tell me children aren’t reading. I know better. I’ve seen it.

There was no EBOB during the years Pilot Mountain School was open, but there was one competition many former students do remember. They were just as excited about it as the children of today are about the Battle of the Books. It was the yearly Recitation and Declamation contest.

This was a memorization activity for the older students, usually sixth, seventh and eighth graders, but sometimes fourth and fifth, too. The student would memorize a three or four page script and present it before an audience of squirming children and serious judges. Just like EBOB, these students were excited. They'd clap for each other and cheer each other along. Maybe they didn’t have matching t-shirts, but that was not a consideration. Not back then. They didn’t need them. They had spirit and that was enough.

Sometimes the speeches were patriotic. Usually the boys picked those.

Sometimes the speeches were religious. Sometimes humorous, in an attempt to mimic Minnie Pearl.

Or sad. That would awe the judges if the speaker could pull it off. Dog died. Mom sick. “Little Match Girl” kind of tragedies.

The winners went on to a county competition. Several Pilot Mountain students won on that level as well.

Give them the first few words, now, sixty years later, and they can take it up and recite, if not all, at least a phrase or two.

There's more to competition than meets the eye.

Catch of the day,


Sunday, March 20, 2011


From what I’ve heard on the news and read on Twitter, there must have been a great moon show last night. I missed it. I looked, saw a bit of moonshine and a few moon shadows even, but as for the moon, that, I couldn’t see. It was clouded over.

Moonshine. I’ve spent quite a bit of time with that word this past year and believe me, it wasn’t from moon gazing. It was more like microfiche gazing and reading newspaper accounts of the illegal moonshine trade that flourished around Pilot Mountain School. Moonshing, for those of you who aren't aware, is the distilling of corn liquor by the light of the moon.

I heard about moonshine from the children of moonshiners. I heard more from the teachers who knew they had children of moonshiners sitting in their classrooms. I even heard from a few who dabbled in this illegal enterprise themselves.

The stories I caught did not paint a pretty picture of home life for these children, no matter how modern media has romanticized the thrill of outmaneuvering the revenuers. Children had their own front row seat to witness the action.

“We didn’t know if the next knock on the door would be a client or be the law.”

“I remember a hundred cases of white lightning in half gallon jars, twelve jars to the case stacked in our bedroom. Well, there wasn’t hardly any room for the bed.”

“When I was five years old, daddy was making liquor up there, by himself before he started hiring people to do it for him. I couldn’t carry but five pounds, but I’d carry that five pounds of sugar to help.”

“We used to play revenuers instead of cops and robbers.”

Childhood memories.

Catch of the day,


Friday, March 11, 2011


I'm working in front of the TV today, something I rarely do. But I can't take my eyes off the news about the earthquake in Japan. Today I am Japanese. The world is Japanese. There is no such concept as isolation. Not today.

I volunteer as sending coordinator with an organization that sends exchange students abroad, AFS. Japan is one of our partners and we are hosting several AFS/Japan students now in the Carolinas. My heart goes out to these students who were so far away from home when tragedy struck last night. No doubt they spent hours today on the telephone or the internet. They are so young, so remote, so apart from where their hearts are. Today they learn about character, lessons learned half a world away.

None of our local students are in Japan. One just returned at the end of January. Two are slated to depart March 21. What kind of Japan will they find when they arrive?

Life turns on a dime.

Catch of the day,


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Corporal Punishment, part 3

I heard the following story last week about the first grade teacher during the 1940's, and I'm copying and pasting a former students exact words:

"She was so sweet and tenderhearted. It hurt her to even raise her voice toward us. If we did anything wrong, she would bring out the ruler, wasn’t a long yardstick, just a ruler. She would ask, 'Do you want me to do this to you, or do you want to do it to me?' The students would never hit her, but she would have taken it. That’s just the way she was. That in itself, you know… The students seen it and seen that she would have taken it from one of us, then we better not do it again. And then she would bend your hand back, and hit one time on the hand."

A teacher offering to take the punishment for a child? Sixty years later, that child still remembers. I would have, too.

Catch of the day,


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Corporal Punishment, part 2

If you get a spanking at school, you'll get one at home.

That's the warning the majority of parents gave their children. It was understood. That's how things worked with corporal punishment and the community during Pilot Mountain Schoolhouse days.

Listen to this conversation between a husband and wife as they remember school spankings:

Wife: They spanked us if we needed it. That’s what made us what we are. Our daddies and mamas spanked us. If I got one here, I got one at home.
Husband: I would have, too, if I had told.

Wife: I had a little cousin that told every time, so there wasn’t no way I could get out of it.

Catch of the day,

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Corporal Punishment

As I've interviewed the former students and teachers of Pilot Mountain School the topic turns inevitably to discipline techniques. Make that technique, singular, in the form of corporal punishment, spanking. The very thought horrifies the modern thinker, yet it was never given a second thought in the 1940's, 1950's and even into the enlightened sixties. It's just the way things were and looking back through the telescope of time, I must remind myself of that fact as I listen and nod in sympathy as each person relates a particular story, often with tear brimmed eyes. For many students the sting of corporal punishment lasted longer than the five minutes after the actual whack. Sixty years later it still stings.

Despite the sting, time after time, the students and parents defended the method. A little spank in the hall echoed throughout the school and stopped many a potential problem before it ever started. The children behaved because they knew the consequences.

Now they can laugh about it. There was the time an eighth grader put a spelling book in the seat of his pants. When the whack sounded odd, the teacher knew, the class knew, the guilty knew, too, smiling until he had to remove the book and take even more punishment.

There was the time one sassy boy was spanked in the principal's office, made a comment, was spanked again, made a comment, was spanked again. Six times it took him to connect the cause with the effect.

Then there was the fifteen year old seventh grade boy who took the last spanking he would ever endure at school. He would be sixteen in a few weeks, but he dropped out that day. Never returned. Who is laughing now?

Things were different then.

Catch of the day,