For the past week or so I have been enamored with the famous moonshiner, Popcorn Sutton. I came down with a terrible cough that nothing could fix except a yellowish colored substance that was handed to me in an old nyquil bottle with “last of Popcorn” written on the front. Had I not had tremendous respect and trust for the person giving it to me, I woudn’t have touched it. It looked like toxic waste. As instructed, I took just “a little swaller” of the honey, liquor, and whatever else mixture. Three hours later, when I woke up from my coma, whatever had set up shop in my chest, had been run out of there. It was a Godsend. Popcorn Sutton was a Godsend.
Everytime I think about this iconic man, I feel myself drift off to a wet, sticky, southern summer night with the light of the full moon beaming off the metal stills. I can almost feel the rain-soaked grass underneath my feet, and watch my body time warp into an era far gone, liberally decorated by mountain men in overalls. Was Popcorn the last of these men, the last real moonshiner? Was he the last man to brew his liquor in the name of pure obligaton to do so? He had a respect for the people who bought his shine and an allegiance to his inherited craft. He didn’t make his white lightning to be rebellious. He was rebellious because he made it, for the people who loved it. He paid the price to keep Appalachian heritage and good home grown alcohol alive.
In 2009 Popcorn, recently diagnosed with cancer, commited suicide to escape spending his final days rotting in a federal prison jail cell. I’m not so sure I blame him. It breaks my heart that he had to end this way, but his was a legacy that couldn’t die. Here in Carolina there are still whisperings of how to get some of Popcorn’s original shine in the secret places it has been tucked away. I feel priviledged that I carry a little inside me, paying homage to both his journey and my own heritage as a fellow “Appalachianite”. There’s something magic about the southern sky, the sky that lit the way for the “real stuff.” Everytime I look up I remember what I carry with me, and it is rebellious, gritty, and real. It’s what Popcorn bequeathed to us, a sense of pride, loyalty, and gall. He lived his passion, and I for one, respect the hell out of it.