Moonshine Part of the Plot

I’m having so much fun revising the first draft of Life and Death in Narrow Creek, the second in my series of Ms. Dee Ann cozy mysteries.

(Side note: I’m hoping to have the first book, Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder, in print before the end of this year. It’s currently being edited–yet again.)

Back to book two. Life and Death in Narrow Creek begins with the unexpected death of Dee Ann’s landlord, Floyd Powell. To help Miss Josie–her friend and Floyd’s widow–amateur sleuth Dee Ann Bulluck decides to investigate the untimely passing of poor Floyd.

She discovers her landlord has a rather checkered past. Among his many questionable activities: he’s been a bootlegger.

Here’s a snippet of a scene as Dee Ann and Miss Josie discover Floyd’s still in the woods.

“Have you ever seen such a contraption in your life?” Miss Josie said, examining a brick fire pit with a copper barrel protruding from the top. Some sort of metal pipe extended from the lid of the barrel into another nearby barrel. She leaned over to examine the coals in the fire pit.

“Dead but they look fresh,” she said. I wondered how Miss Josie could determine whether coals were the result of a recent fire or one six months ago, but she seemed pretty sure of herself.

“This is what is called the thump keg,” she continued, “pointing to the open second barrel into which the pipe led. “Solid bits of mash thump around in it.”

“How in the world do you know that?” I asked, giving Miss Josie a sharp look.

“Believe it or not, I found a book in the library this morning on moonshine. I started boning up while I waited for you to get home from school. Did you know moonshine is also called white lightning and mountain dew? I don’t think I can ever drink another Mountain Dew soda now without thinking about moonshine.”

 

Sub StillCirca Mid-20th Century Still; Photo Credit: Earl Palmer, Virginia Tech Library

Like Miss Josie, I had to bone up on moonshine myself. I bought the book North Carolina Moonshine: An Illicit History by Frank Stephenson Jr. and Barbara Nichols Mulder. It was a fascinating read, especially the section about bootlegging in the coastal plains.

According to the authors, the Great Dismal Swamp, known for its hostile environment, was the ideal setting for bootleggers.

Related imagePhoto Credit: ourstate.com

Although the authors declare moonshine’s heyday was from the 1930s to the 1970s, there was (and probably still is) activity after that. The book is full of stories of stills in quite a few counties in the eastern part of the state: Gates, Hertford, Bertie, Dare, Pasquotank, Halifax, and Edgecombe, to name some but not all.

One chapter of the book deals extensively with a major moonshine bust in Merry Hill in Bertie County in May 1972. A moonshine factory was set up at a large mobile home disguised as a residence complete with playground equipment and a dog. Almost 500 gallons of moonshine were being produced each day, making it one of the largest stills ever found in North Carolina. Wow.

Floyd’s moonshine activity is only part of the plot of Life and Death in Narrow Creek. One day I hope to have this book in print, along with Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder, so you can read the rest of the story.

 

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Lessons to be Learned from Nature

Often on Sunday as I’m getting ready for church, I watch the CBS Morning News hosted by Jane Pauley. After an hour and a half of stories and editorials, each show ends with beautiful, soothing shots of nature.

There’s no dialogue, no commentary during those couple of minutes while we viewers gaze at waterfalls or woods or mountains. Just the sights and sounds of nature….

For those of us who live in Rocky Mount, it has been the winter of our discontent. For weeks, our city has been a hotbed of citizen protest and discord concerning our city government. The city manager has come under fire for cronyism. Some of those she’s hired have been called incompetent. City council representatives and the mayor have been criticized as well.

The confrontation has been stark and bleak , much like the landscape of winter.

bare tree yard

Even in the midst of winter, though, the pansies bloom, reminding us that there are still bright spots in life.

pansies.jpg

And despite the cold days of late winter, brave daffodils emerge, ready to lift their faces to the sun.

daffodils.jpg

I may not have been clear, but I have a couple of themes here. One is that as the bleak days of winter give way to the bright days of spring, so will the city of Rocky Mount emerge from its current winter of despair to a spring of hope.

Like the pansies, there are bright spots even now if we look at what is good about our city. Like the daffodils, there is a flowering of renewal as citizens press for change to correct what is wrong.

Another theme is that sometimes as we fret over our daily problems–in our collective case, a city that’s lost its way–we are in danger of losing sight of all that is beautiful in our world.

Not to minimize the gravity of a city government off the rails, but when we take time to look at the big picture presented by Nature, when we notice the cycle of the seasons, then we realize the temporary nature of our current turmoil.

So, like the CBS Sunday Morning News, here’s my own calming, concluding nature shot of swans wintering in the countryside of Edgecombe County. The picture, taken from my car, doesn’t do this awesome sight justice.

The day of the photo, I rolled down my window and heard gentle quacking—swan songs that for a moment drowned out the discord surrounding our city government. swans 2

 

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Questions for Rocky Mount City Council

I’m trying really hard to keep on the sunny side of my Rocky Mount life (see my last entry). I’d intended to post cheerful book reviews today of what I’ve recently read.

But my thoughts about Where the Crawdads Sing and The Perfect Nanny will just have to wait. I feel compelled to talk about what’s going on with our city government–and what isn’t.

According to an article in Friday’s Rocky Mount Telegram (February 8, 2019), there’s trouble brewing about downtown sites for hotels. It seems Carlton House developers are waiting on a $55,000 grant to support renovations. In order for developers to receive the money, city officials have to complete paperwork.

Carlton House

The old Carlton House waits for grant money

When our controversial Community and Business Development Director Landis Faulcon was asked why Carlton House developers had not received the grant money, her response was, “I’m not in the loop.”

Dr. Faulcon.jpg

Dr. Landis Faulcon

Are you kidding me? This woman is being paid $120,000 a year. Of course, maybe it is hard to be in the loop when you live in Virginia Beach instead of the community where you are supposed to be in charge of COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT.

Okay, to make me even crazier, the  Telegram reports that while there’s a delay in the development money for the Carlton House project, “city administrators have furiously been putting together a deal for a hotel at the Event Center. ”

Speculation is the hotel location will be the site of the St. John A.M.E. Zion Church, which sits right on the Event Center parking lot–believe me, I went down there and looked.

I took the picture below sitting in the parking lot of the Event Center.

AME and parking lot

St. John A.M.E. Zion

To be honest, I wouldn’t mind staying in a quaint hotel that was once a historic church. I mean, look at those stained glass windows. Of course, I have no idea whether the church will be renovated or torn down and a Holiday Inn built there.

The problem is the perception of favoritism. Why is the City holding up one developer and lobbying for another?

The most bizarre aspect of the Event Center to me is what I call Andre’s Church, situated smack-dab in the middle of the parking lot of the Event Center, as it has been since Day One. Owned by the family of Councilman Andre Knight, the official name of this structure is the Holy Hope Heritage Center.

AME with signs

Holy Hope Heritage Center

Would somebody from City Council please explain to me why this structure is sitting where parking spaces would logically be expected? And here are some other questions I have:

Who’s  conducting that independent study of our City Manager, Ms. Rochelle Small -Toney? When will those results be made public? If there was no lawsuit (according to the Mayor), then why was John Jesso paid $40,000? Why do City Council members not recuse themselves when votes are taken on issues that could be seen as a conflict of interest?

I could go on and on–why in the name of common sense was Rochelle Small-Toney hired in the first place?–but I feel myself slipping into despair.

It’s really hard to stay on the sunny side with so many questions and a city council that won’t come up with answers.

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Hanging out and hanging on in Rocky Mount

“When you’re alone, and life is making you lonely, you can always go…downtown.”

Well, in my case, when you’re down and out about the corruption in your city that doesn’t seem to be getting fixed any time soon, it’s time to take a trip…downtown.

If you’re reading this blog and you’re not from Rocky Mount, NC, let me summarize:  we got a hot mess on our hands here with a city council that won’t fire a city manager who’s betrayed the public trust. It’s documented that her cronyism and mismanagement have cost Rocky Mount big bucks.

The saying goes you can’t fight City Hall, and it seems here we can’t fight City Council. So yeah, I’ve been feeling pretty low about this place I call home.

With so much that is wrong, I decided it was time for a field trip to remind myself of what is right about my city. Tuesday morning I got in my car and headed downtown.

It’s true that downtown is not what it used to be years ago when I was growing up out in the county and came in to shop at Belk-Tyler’s, go to the movies at the Center Theater, eat a hot dog at Almand’s Drug Store, and/or visit with Mama’s friend Annabelle at Bailey’s Jewelry. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, the retail stores moved to the mall just like everywhere else in America.

Nobody’s downtown is what it used to be. Cities everywhere have had to reinvent their core. And that’s what we’ve been trying to do here in Rocky Mount, an endeavor that is reported to have come to a near halt under our current city manager.

But enough with the gloom and doom. I went downtown to remind myself of what has been accomplished. Here are pictures of just some of what’s good about downtown Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

library

I love our multi-story, modern library. Being an avid reader, I save a ton of money each year by checking out books here. I drive downtown to visit at least every two weeks (due date of checked-out books!).

arts center

Pictured above is the Rocky Mount Imperial Centre for the Arts & Sciences, built after the old Children’s Museum and the Tank Theater were flooded by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. How cool is this renovated building, once a branch of the Imperial Tobacco Company of Great Britain and Ireland?

church

This is the church I attend downtown on the aptly named Church Street. I’m joined by plenty of other people who worship at not only First Methodist but First Baptist, First Presbyterian, and Church of the Good Shepherd. Did I miss anybody’s church on Church Street?

Okay, let’s head over to the Douglas Block. A lot of people were unhappy about all the money that was spent renovating what was once the hub of the black business community back in the days of segregation, but there is now new life where decay had set in.

bath place

My granddaughter enjoys this little store on the corner, the Bath Place, maker of those bath bombs she and all her teeny-bopper friends love. And if you want a dose of sunshine, stop in to talk to the proprietor, Kimberly Thigpen, who’s got a thriving online business as well as walk-in trade. Read her story on her website. The address is right above this paragraph.

booker t

Growing up, I’d pass the Booker T. Washington Theater on my way from Edgecombe County (country girl!) into downtown Rocky Mount. It was known as the black theater in those segregated days. I went to the movies across the railroad tracks at the Cardinal or the Center.

I was excited when the Booker T. Theater was renovated and open to the public for various functions. After years of riding by, I finally got to go inside.

prime smokehouse

If you live in the area and have never been to eat at the Prime Smokehouse, across the street from the Booker T. Theater, well, you’re missing some good food. My favorite meal there: the smoked beef brisket with sides of mac and cheese and collards. And that whole-kernel cornbread takes me back to my roots.

Close to downtown over on Falls Road is the reinvented Rocky Mount Mills. What’s been done here is a show-stopper. The two-hundred-year-old cotton mill complex has been renovated into a mixed-use area of craft beer pubs and restaurants as well as office and apartment spaces.

koi pond

Above is a picture of the Koi Pond, the first pub to go into one of the old houses on the campus of Rocky Mount Mills. I took the photo below of a close to full parking lot at noon on a Tuesday.

mill parking lot

There’s more I could talk about–the annual downtown Bulluck Warehouse Sale going on right now that draws in shoppers from everywhere, for example–but this post is already more than twice as long as I intended.

In closing, let me say I know things aren’t pretty in Rocky Mount right now. But those of us who love this city need to find bright spots to help us hang on while we hope for better days ahead.

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A Winter Beach

Oh, what a difference a season makes. If you like solitude and serenity, visit Emerald Isle, NC, on a cold January weekend as I did recently. Of course, there’s no fun in the sun, but there are no crowds to contend with either.

Just a lot of lonely beach road.

solitary deer

And a deserted beach.

lonely walker me

That’s me in the beach picture. Photo credit shout-out to my husband, who takes much better pictures than I do.

What could look more abandoned than a winter pool at a North Carolina beach clubhouse? Was it really only five months ago that kids were hurling themselves into the water here, coming perilously close to landing on my head? The water still looks inviting; if only the temperature wasn’t something frigid.

deserted pool

Driving to the Food Lion for my weekend groceries, I noticed the almost-empty parking lot at the Emerald Isle location of Bert’s Surf Shop. I suspect the two cars belong to the employees holding down the fort. Does it pay to be open in winter, I wonder?

bert's

The most activity I saw all weekend was outside the entrance to the grocery store. One sign that life in a vacation town can sometimes be as normal as life anywhere: some local Girl Scouts were peddling Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Patties (my favorites), along with all the other varieties. They graciously posed for a picture. I thanked them with a purchase, although, as I explained, my Girl Scout granddaughter has forbidden me to buy from anyone else.

girl scouts

A hibernating winter beach can be the polar opposite of all the summer hoopla, but the ocean is always beautiful. The vacation advertisements call this area of North Carolina beaches “The Crystal Coast.” Look at the sparkle of the water. It’s worth a winter trip just to see that.

winter oceanAnother great photo by my husband, Al Pridgen Jr.

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New Year’s in Key West

Happy New Year. I’m home from ringing in the New Year in the southernmost city in the continental United States, tropical Key West. buoys

The warm, almost hot, winter temperatures were not the only difference I noticed in this Florida town. Key West is sort of an anything goes kind of place. Especially on New Year’s Eve. Of course, I asked for it, joining the mob on Duval Street, the main drag, counting off the seconds for the shoe to drop.

That’s the giant, artificial, very red ladies’ high heel in which Key West’s famous drag queen Sushi annually descends to ring in the New Year. CNN shows up to film, and it’s so crowded on the street in front of the pub where the drop is to happen, it’s scary. I got a photo of the shoe earlier in the night before the midnight mob made it impossible for me to get this close.

the shoe

Key West is known for its drag queens. Not judging, just saying. All night long, people lined up to have their picture made with these “ladies.” Can you pick out the tourist?

drag queens

New Year’s Eve in Key West was the height of weird (my opinion; again, not judging), but there were other signs that I wasn’t in eastern North Carolina anymore. For example, where else do people paint their trash cans?

painted trashcans

In what other town do folks go to the trouble to assemble an RIP 2018 display such as this?rip 2018

In Key West, even the Walgreens is different. No standard brick and mortar here but rather a renovated movie theater.

walgreens

There was one sign, however, that Key West is still part of the United States and not just a town in La La Land. Even here, the federal government leaves its sometimes ugly mark.

government sign

I’d rather end this blog with a picture of a Key West sunset. Happy New Year.

sunset

 

 

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Holiday Fun in Halifax County

It’s my last post of the year, and I’m bringing you highlights from one of my favorite holiday activities of the 2018 season. Early in December, my oldest daughter and I spent a Saturday touring historic homes in Halifax County.

The Christmas Homes Tour was sponsored by the Downtown Enfield Restoration and Preservation group (DERP for short). Historic homes dressed up in their holiday finery and open for me to gawk at–definitely my cup of Christmas cheer! Here’s my pretty daughter who paid for my ticket (part of my December birthday present).

darla at house

It took us most of a Saturday to ride from one side of Halifax County to the other to see the six featured homes, but a day spent riding along country roads is good medicine for just about anybody. Before hitting the blacktop, though, we ate a bagged lunch in the little town of Enfield, where I bumped into an old acquaintance dressed for the occasion in her colonial attire.

terry anderson

The clothes weren’t the only colonial touch. Most of the homes on the tour were built in the late 1700’s or early 1800’s, and were period appropriate in their holiday decorations. Which meant I saw a lot of greenery, the real stuff. I’m guessing the magnolia leaves, cedar clippings, and pine branches came out of yards or nearby woods.

I loved how this door was decorated with magnolia leaves and pine wreaths and garlands.

door in greenery

Having a husband who is a hunter, I’m not opposed to a taxidermied head in the house, especially when it can be adorned with a swag of greenery and hung over an antique mantle.

deer

This huge cedar was decked out with mainly white lights and just a few ornaments. I guess in Colonial times these lights would have been candles, lit only for a brief spell on Christmas Eve, but practicality (and safety) needed to prevail. The tiny white lights were lovely and all this magnificent cedar needed.

cedar

The last house my daughter and I visited held a surprise. Two sweet carolers, classmates of my grandson, sang carols acapella in front of the fireplace. The simplicity of the performance fit the understated, natural decorations of the house.

carolers

To read more about my tour, click on the link to my column in the Rocky Mount Telegram: http://www.rockymounttelegram.com/Patsy-Pridgen/2018/12/23/Enfield-Christmas-Homes-Tour-Offered-More-Than-Expected.html

Thanks to all of you who’ve read my blog this past year. I’ll be back in January.  Merry Christmas!

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