Uncle Rodney's Moonshine Tobacco
by Ellis Parker Butler
I happened to be up in Connecticut in 1930, just after I had escaped from the desert island on which I had been marooned since 1920, and I heard that my Uncle Rodney Peabody was still alive, so I drove over to Peabody Corners to shake hands with the tough old gentleman.
Let us be frank: I did not go to Peabody Corners just because I loved Uncle Rodney; I had heard a whisper that Uncle Rodney was moonshining tobacco -- growing it on the sly and contrary to the federal law that prohibited the growth, manufacture and use of the fragrant weed, for, of course, the tobacco prohibitory law had long been in effect. I was, as the saying is, "dying for a smoke," and I meant to be real nice to Uncle Rodney.
When I drove up to the side door of Uncle Rodney's farmhouse and tied my horse, the door opened and dear old Aunt Selina came rushing out. She seemed to be terribly excited, and she poured out her words so rapidly I could hardly understand her at first, but I grasped finally that she thought I was a federal secret service man and that she was telling me to hurry into the house and arrest Uncle Rodney and put him in prison for twenty years, and to do it quickly, before he killed, himself. When I told her I was not a secret service man, but only a well-meaning nephew, she crumpled down where she stood -- fainted.
I picked her up and carried her into the house. In the parlor, seated around the walls like folk at a funeral, were Uncle Rodney's six sons and four daughters, looking glum, depressed and nervous. I have seen families look like that while waiting for a sick member to pass away, upstairs.
Every now and then one of the sons would rise from his chair and lie flat on the floor with his ear against the carpet, and listen. Then he would get up and say, gloomily, "I guess he hasn't done it yet. Maybe we'd best not worry. Maybe he won't have the will power to try it."
"Try what?" I asked, when one of Uncle Rodney's daughters had gone out to try to revive Aunt Selina.
"Try the tobacco he raised," said cousin Hiram sadly "Father went and grew some moonshine tobacco, contrary to the amendment to the Constitution, and he's going to try it today."
"Oh," I said with relief. "I thought it was a funeral. It looks like one."
"It's liable to be," said Hiram gloomily. "I smelled of that tobacco he grew. How long was I unconscious after I smelled it, 'Mandy?"
"Eight days, seven hours and fourteen minutes," Amanda said.
"And it was young and tender then," said Hiram, "Tell him what pa's cow did, 'Mandy."
"The cow ate some," said 'Mandy.
"Tell him what she done," said Hiram.
"She ate part of a leaf of pa's tobacco," said Amanda, "and then she went and chased pa's bull out of the pasture and bit a piece out of grandpa Peabody's marble stone monument."
"And died," said Hiram.
"And died in convulsions," Amanda agreed.
"And you are leaving that old man -- your father -- to smoke the tobacco alone?" I asked in horror. "Shame on you! Where is he?"
"He ain't alone," said Hiram, "and he's down cellar, if you want to know. We ain't a'minded to see our dear, old father suffer like he's apt to. You can, if you're that cruel minded."
So I went down cellar. In the dining room, as I passed, Aunt Selina was still stretched out on the couch unconscious.
Uncle Rodney was not alone. In the middle of the cellar was a small table and on the table were three leaves of Uncle Rodney's moonshine tobacco, and a pipe into which part of a leaf had been crammed. There were several matches on the table, and Uncle Rodney, a look of grimly stubborn resolution on his face, sat in a Windsor chair, grasping the arms tightly. It was evident he had caught a whiff of the tobacco, for his face was a curious pale green like a young apple-leaf, and perspiration stood on his forehead in beads, but around the mouth he was white -- as white as new snow.
Three doctors -- the one from Peabody Corners and the two from South Higgum -- stood near him, but they wore gas masks, so they were fairly safe. The one from Peabody Corners had the pulmotor. Dr. Micksell, from South Higgum, had the stomach pump; Dr. Dusenbury had the hot-water bottles and the smelling salts and was in charge of the ipecac, camphor, lysol, carbolic acid and mustard plasters.
"I will, by heck, I will!" Uncle Rodney was repeating over and over, and every time he said it he put out a hand toward the pipe, but each time he hesitated and drew back.
"I got my will all made out and signed," he muttered. "I ain't afraid."
"If you are, I'm not," I said and reached for the pipe, but Uncle Rodney was too quick for me. He picked up the pipe, put the bit between his lips and struck a match. The three doctors bent their knees like racers preparing for a sprint. Uncle Rodney held the match above the bowl of the pipe, took one long puff and turned a bright indigo blue. He jerked backward, leaped from the chair, whirled rapidly six times, and fell to the floor of the cellar, stiff as a log and as inanimate as a stone Buddha. Instantly the three doctors pounced upon him and began working with frenzied haste, only uttering a low word now and then as they stepped on each other, while from the room above came soft moans of woe as my cousin Hiram, his ear to the floor, reported what he could hear.
They told me afterward that one whiff of Uncle Rodney's moonshine Connecticut tobacco floated upward and reached Aunt Selina's nose, and she instantly revived and started for the pigpen with a carving knife to slaughter the hog. But it was three days before Uncle Rodney came to and was able to sit up. When he did sit up he was still rather weak and trembly, but his eyes glowed with triumph.
"By heck," he said, "I don't let no prohibition interfere with me when I make up my mind to have tobacco."
He had to rest awhile before he could say any more, and then he said:
"It's got the real Connecticut aroma all right!" He had to rest another while, and then he said: "But it ain't quite got the strength the good, old Connecticut leaf used to have."
Saturday, October 07 at 5:46:07am USA Central