‘Tother day late in the afternoon I went down the holler to get Uncle Hant to explain to me about law and order. Hant knows nearly ’bout everything, more than anyone in West Virginia, even Bluefield. He makes the best shine for three counties, and sells it to yups from Washington. Hant can do pretty nearly anything. I guess he’s one of them Renny’s aunt’s men.
I’ve always wondered who Renny was.
I followed the rail cut through the woods down toward North Fork. Since the mines went busted the trains don’t come any more. The rails are rusty and weeds try to grow in the track bed. It was late in August and the air was warm and soft as a hound in the sun and bugs were hollering like crazy, trying to find girlfriends before winter came and they froze. I feel that way sometime too.
Hant was by the still, pouring stove polish into a barrel of shine. He’s tall and scrawny and getting old now so he ain’t as limber as he used to be. He still wears that old floppy hat that looks like a cow made it and he’s got a jaw like a front-end loader. He says the hat makes him look authentic. Yups won’t buy shine from you if you don’t look authentic.
"Say, Hant, I come so you can tell me about law and order."
"Too much of it," he said, like there wasn’t any more to say. He let the last bit of stove polish drip into that barrel of shine. He doesn’t believe in wasting things. "You want a drink, boy?"
"Not that pizen you make. I ain’t that dumb."
I didn’t go to school just to carry my lunchbox. ‘Course, I’m not sure why I did go.
He sat on a stump, stiff, like a Buck knife folding and pulled a jug out of a bush. "I wouldn’t give you any of that yup exterminator," he said. "This here’s pure Beam."
"I reckon I will then." He passed the jug and I took a sup. "Hant, I saw this tow-headed gal on TV and she said we needed more law and order in West Virginia."
He looked thoughtful and hove the stove-polish bottle into the woods. He’s always trying to find a way to give his shine a little extra kick. He tried wood alcohol but the yups went blind on the way home and ran into telephone poles. It was bad for business. The phone company said it would sue if he didn’t stop. Then he tried LSD, but they kept trying to drive up roads that weren’t there and kilt themselves. Brake fluid didn’t work either. I hoped stove polish would do the job.
"Gimme that jug back," said Hant, who knew what mattered to him. "More laws? Never had much use for the ones we got. Maybe some people ought to leave other people alone." He took a three-gurgle hit and looked satisfied. Hant gets along fine without laws.
Hant don’t actually exist. He’s a Literary Device. We got lots of them in West Virginia. Mostly you find them in damp spots in the woods.
I said, "She allowed as how we ought to get rid of guns, and keep our dogs on a piece of rope when we walk around, and don’t never smoke, and a bunch of other stuff that didn’t make sense."
"Get rid of guns?"
You could see he was rolling the idea around in his head, trying to get the flavor of it.
"Then what you gonna shoot road signs with? Damn, you can’t use a bow’n'arrow out a car window, leastways not over eighty mile an hour. I guess that lady don’t got the sense God give a possum."
The county wasn’t a good place to be a road sign. It wasn’t a good place to be a cat, either.
"What the hell you want to keep a dog on a piece of rope for? Dog don’t like it. You don’t like it. Don’t make sense. How’s Jif, anyway? Still hid out?"
It’s hard to keep Hant pointed in the right direction when you talk to him. He meant Jiffy Lube, my girlfriend. Her real name is Jennifer Imidazole Ferguson, but we call her Jiffy Lube.
"She’s doing good. Sheriff says she can come home now."
A few weeks back she got in a fight with Jimmy Jack ‘Callister at Red’s Billiards and laid him out cold with a pool stick. The sheriff said he might have to give her a ticket if he could find her but he couldn’t and he said the Statue of Limitations on smacking somebody as no-’count as Jimmy Jack was about two weeks.
"She said as how you didn’t have enough shine for the yups last week and you might need another still."
He looked sorrowful. "That’s me, a day late and a inch short. Maybe I’ll put in another cooker."
"Hant, that television lady said we needed to shut down moonshiners."
I figured that would get his attention. It did too. He looked solemn as a undertaker that’s wondering where his shotgun is.
"That ain’t law and order," he said. "That’s meddlin.’"
That’s what it looked like to me. When Willy Bill Jenkins came back from Chicago, that’s in Pennsylvania, he said you couldn’t even have a dog if it didn’t have some piece of paper, and kids gotta wear crash helmets if they ride their bikes and the law makes’em wear shoes. Now, I figure Willy Bill’s stretching it some. I don’t believe dogs can read, even in Pennsylvania. Still, it sounded to me like somebody needed to get smacked upside the head.
I saw why Hant was worried. His business is pretty good now. So many yups come out of DC that he pretty nearly needs a parking lot. He says drinking authentic shine gives a yup a sense of adventure so he feels like his life means something, which of course it doesn’t. They pay forty dollars for that rust-cutter of his, leastways when he puts it in these authentic mountain stone jugs he gets in bulk from Taiwan.
And I could see Hant wasn’t going to tell me much about law and order, except it was people meddlin’ where they didn’t have any business meddlin.’ I knew that anyway. Maybe that’s all there is to say about most laws. I took another hit of that Beam and headed back. Hant’s old three-legged hound Birdshot walked with me a ways. I scratched his ears for him. Birdshot’s a fine dog. Don’t meddle with anybody.
Fred Reed [send him mail] is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well.