Written by Donovan L. Green,
November 19, 2008
A skinny old cuss, nothing extra on his bones, stood at the edge of a brook in the mountains of Old Virginia in what was about to become Kentucky. Unconcerned, he knelt down and after a quick rinse of his hands, scooped a handful of the water and brought it to his mouth. The brook, with its grass lined banks and moss covered rocks smelled of very natural earthiness as the trickling water slowly reshaped the bank. The water was cold and refreshing. His hands were like leather from a lifetime of hard work.
The word from out west was to expect more sunshine through the end of the week, and that was good news. A slight breeze gently stirred golden and auburn leaves down from the canopy of oak trees, and settled on the forest floor signaling the time to bring the corn out of the fields. The seeds have been drying on the stalk now for several weeks. If raising corn wasn’t already difficult enough, to much rain, not enough rain, rain at the wrong time, this is when the real work was just beginning, harvest time. There was a lot of work to be done and it took from daybreak until well after dark each day until harvest was complete.
All of about five foot five inches tall and weighing no more than about a hundred pounds pockets full of soil, Evan Williams’ spirited personality made him large in stature. Sipping another handful of water he looked around at the mountain side. Scattered Dogwoods growing in the shade of tall white oak trees, a few eastern hemlocks and a ground cover of green leafy ferns peppered with fallen leaves provided a cool shady place to stop and rest. He was hauling the seventh load of the day up the mountain. His shirt cuffs rolled up twice, his clothes soiled and tattered; his worn boots barely protecting his callused feet and a piece of rope around the waist of his trousers one would never have known that he was on the Board of Trustees of Louisville.
Once the corn is out of fields, there is still a lot of work to be done to get it over the mountain to the mill. Getting the corn to the mill was hard and dangerous work. There was always the danger of an attack from the Shawnee, and more likely from lawless renegades heading west ahead of law men. And then there was always the weather. The money didn’t get in your pockets until the mill had weighed what you brought in. A few days of rain could dampen the corn, bringing a lower price, and make the roads difficult or impassible for the carts.
Running his cool wet hands back through his thin, scraggly grey hair and then pulling his wiry grey beard down to a point with several slow strokes, he pondered this year’s harvest. Born of a Welsh farm family his parents had risked everything including their lives to come to the new world. Farming and hard work was all he had ever known. But sitting next to the brook as he had done so many times over the years, one thought would not leave his mind. The brook was fed from a spring near his homestead on his farmland, and several miles down the mountain quietly and subtly fed into the Ohio River about three miles southwest of town. He caught himself daydreaming as he stared at the never ending stream of cold refreshing water with its hypnotic sounds.
At the end of each harvest the last load or two of corn from the fields, “sour corn”, didn’t get taken over the mountain. By that time everyone was worn out, pockets and bread boxes were full of coins, and sour corn would only bring half pay anyway. Some corn was held for personal use, but the last load or two was not all that desirable for milling. It had long been tradition to make sour mash of it, sour mash that he, his friends and neighbors, and the board of trustees looked forward to each year.
Known for adamantly standing up for what he believed was right, even to the point of standing on the table at board meetings, Evan was known even better for his kindness and generosity, and respected for his sincerity. The last three years his neighbors had given him their sour corn for making mash. His still was at the head of the brook where the spring came from the ground. Most farmers had a still, but he believed his sour mash was so popular because his was the only sour mash around made from this cold spring water. His decisions had always paid off in the past, and he was certain that this time would be no different.
He looked back at the two brown mules with black trimmed ears and muzzles waiting patiently with the cart of corn on the rough, rocky road up to the barn. A few ears of corn lay strewn along the road that had fallen during the many trips up the mountain. The sound of the brook was peaceful and relaxing but he could still hear the falling leaves. He felt his back tightening up from the long hours of back breaking work. His knees cracked when he stood up. The sun was getting low in the western sky.
Evan Williams had decided to trade the last week of his harvest for an equal amount of mill. This would cut his yearly grain profit by about twenty percent. But he knew that together with the mill from the sour corn, and this cold refreshing spring water that he would not have any trouble in selling all his distilled sour mash for five times what he was giving up in corn. He put his hand back into the brook and watched the water caress his fingers. He cupped his hand and watched the water swirl around in his palm. As leaves drifted to the ground around him, one of his mules stamped his foot on the ground and gave a swish of his tail.