Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Regional Reading

Recently, I've read three books about regional history—and I've learned a lot. All three were published in 2016; one was from a major publisher, two were self-published.

Beth Macy's Truevine (Little, Brown, & Company, 2016) is a best-seller (like her previous book, Factory Man) and has appeared on numerous "Best Books" lists. Macy, who used to write for The Roanoke Times, is a talented writer who does meticuous research. I used to enjoy her feature stories in the newspaper; I enjoyed this book as well.

The Truevine area is a few miles from where I live, but I'd never before heard the story of the two albino Muse brothers, George and Willie, who were kidnapped as children to appear in a circus sideshow. Subtitled, "Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother's Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South," the book follows the brothers as they travel with the sideshow and when they are finally reunited with their mother (now in Roanoke)—and then travel again. Finally the Muse twins return to Roanoke to live out the remainder of their lives. Willie is over a hundred when he dies in 2001.

For years, their family didn't want the twins' story told, but Macy was able to win their confidence and get the story. Besides the story about the twins'travels and travails, there's also a lot of info about circus sideshows and the freaks that were exhibited and about black life in early Roanoke. I'm glad I read the book; it was an eye-opener. I highly recommend it.

100 Proof: The Untold Stories of Notorious Franklin County Moonshiner Amos Law was self-published by Henry Lee law, Amos Law's son. The book follows the exploits not only of Amos Law but also his son. This book was also an eye-opener. While I knew that moonshining was still alive and well in the county, I had no idea it was quite so close or so widespread.

This book, while hard to find if you live outside Franklin County, is well worth reading for its insights into local history and culture. Henry Lee Law gives a lot of specific info—and names names—but he doesn't give away his family recipe. Still (no pun intended), I highly recommend 100 Proof, which I originally heard about in an article Morris Stephenson wrote back in November for The Franklin News-Post: "Moonshine maker shares the good and bad of his profession."

Speaking of moonshine, Morris Stephenson is one of the two compilers of another moonshine-related book; local genealogist/historian Beverly Merritt is the other. Both had collections of newspaper clippings about a famous—or possibly infamous—moonshine conspiracy trial, but neither had a complete set. Combining what they had resulted in their self-published book,  Franklin County's Famous 1935 Moonshine Conspiracy Trial: Complete Daily Newspaper Daily Accounts.

The book's front and back covers contain pictures of some of the original news columns.

Since the anonymous stories from various regional newspapers are now in public domain, the book was a matter of transcribing the stories (so they're much easier to read than the original clippings) and putting them in chronolgical order. This provides a good look at what my grandparents and their contemporaries likely read—and how they kept track of what was happening in the courthouse.

With this compilation, Stephenson and Merritt have provided a handy historical record of what the reporters saw in the courtroom.

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