My Momma grew up in Habersham County, Georgia, which is in the top eastern part of Georgia; it is bounded by North Carolina, South Carolina, and Eastern Tennessee. Our area of operation was to the north, west, and occasionally south.
In my growing up days, bootlegging was quite common, which involved the process of making and distributing liquor, “White Lightning.” P.J. Puckett was a good friend of mine who lived in Cleveland, Georgia and was a co-op student at Georgia Tech. P.J. ( his first and middle names, just P and J) was studying Electrical Engineering. He went to school for one quarter then hauled moonshine for a quarter. He did this for four years then did a stint in the Navy in the submarine corps. After his four years in the Navy, he went back to Tech and finished with highest honors. P.J. was brilliant, a North Georgia hick, but brilliant (The term hick is a term of endearment for me, nothing demeaning).
P.J. told me that he was stationed in Scotland, during his Navy service. There he met a beautiful Scottish lass, I have seen her picture and she was absolutely gorgeous. He fell
madly in love (lust) with her and she was in love with him. P.J. said that he intended to marry her but, once when they were on a date, she wore a sleeveless blouse and when she raised her arm, he saw that she had long hair under her arms. P.J. said that was the grossest thing he had ever seen and he dropped her like a hot potato. I thought that was a dumb move, I’ll bet a simple conversation about arm pits could have fixed his concern.
But, back to the story—I used to occasionally ride with P.J. on his moonshine runs. P.J.’s daddy O.J, and his uncles N.J. and M.J. had a moonshine still back in the woods behind their house in Cleveland where they produced moonshine of the highest quality possible.
There are roads through the North Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and East Tennessee not on any maps known to man. Most are red clay with an occasional overlay of gravel. P.J. had a beefed up ’49 Ford with special tanks under the seats and between frames with a super stiff suspension. It would run over 100 miles per hour and hug those mountain roads like sorghum syrup sticks to biscuits.
P.J had specific routes that he ran, never using exactly the same route more than once every couple of months. His delivery points were distribution centers where the “shine” was pumped from his tanks into large holding tanks prior to being bottled. Occasionally we would keep a quart or two for ourselves and I have to affirm that it was purer than any mountain stream in which we fished except when the holding tanks had been used for gasoline, then it really packed a whollop. Two good shots were quite enough to give one a healthy buzz and by the fifth shot it was “bye, bye, birdie” except for those with the strongest constitutions.
I have had to have a heart transplant and a kidney transplant, but my liver is so strong that it is hard for anesthetists to put me to sleep with medications metabolized by the liver. I attribute this to the training my liver got in processing that North Georgia white lightening.
Once when I was driving, P.J. had been sampling the wares and having finished the 5th shot, he was out like a light. We were in the back woods of South Carolina running
about 90 to 100 miles per hour and way behind us, we could see headlights as we topped a hill. Each hill brought the lights closer and closer until topping one hill; we saw red lights beginning to flash. Eventually the state trooper caught up to us. I stopped, pulled over and I got out went back to speak to the trooper.
The trooper looked like he was 75 years old or so. He said, “Do you know how long I have been chasing you?” I answered, “Yes sir, I have watched you gaining on us for the last 30 miles or so”.
He said, “What are you boys doing in this neck of the woods, nobody but moonshiners come through here”.
I answered, “Well, sir, were going to Columbia and sorta got lost”.
He said, “I ought to put you in jail, I know what you are up to, but if you give me $100 I’ll let you go”.
“Sir,” I said, I don’t have $100. Can I go back to the car and see of my buddy does?”
He said, “Make it quick, I don’t have all night”.
I went back to the car and after much pushing and jerking I finally roused P.J. from his stupor. “P.J,” I said, “The trooper wants $100 or he is going to have us towed and put us in jail”.
P.J. said, “What did you say”?
I repeated what I had said and P.J. reached under his seat, pulled out a sawed off shotgun and said, “Like hell he will, I’ll blow his ass away”. He started to climb out of the car. I was trying to hold him back. Suddenly the state trooper pulled up beside us, tossed me his card and said, Mail it to me and I won’t file a report”, and off he went.
There was no doubt that he saw the commotion and decided that he would rather run than get in a gun fight.
Well, He never saw the $100 and I never rode with P.J. again. We remained good friends, however, and fished together on many trout streams that no one else had ever found. We even occasionally caught the elusive and rare brown trout, native to a few streams.
After I left Atlanta, I lost touch with P.J. until his mother called me a few years ago with the news that he had run off a mountain road and crashed some 150 feet into a deep ravine. When he hit the bottom, his car exploded and they identified him from his dental work.
There are still those diehards in those mountains who believe that moon shining is their divine right and we all know where NASCAR originated. God rest your soul dear P.J. Puckett.