“Name’s John, an’ I’m a
Those hard words came with a warm
hand-squeeze from my Martha. Yup, I’d changed
alright, even wore me a clean t-shirt. See, the
fish had disappeared, the price of diesel
skyrocketed, and we had us tons a corn. It all
started before Brad was born, Oyster Bay, summer
a ’93, when they sprung the revising to Uncle
Ray’s will on us. .
Me and Martha left the high-rise buildings of
Nashville in our Chevy pickup when we got word
Uncle Ray went and died. Heck, we was never city
dwellers no how, and we had this here chance at
the new life. We took it, rode out a town in a
rainstorm, but had sunshine in our hearts. Uncle
Ray give us the farm. Oh, and his forty foot
diesel Ramrod fishing boat, outfitted to the
I figured Uncle Ray thought he owed me
because of the way his brother treated me. When
Ray got wind that dad had broke my leg bone in
two places, he whooped him good and kept an eye
on me until liver rot caught dad with his last
bottle. I still walk with a limp, but I can do
back flips with a smile. Most take a liking to
me. I daydreamed these things while coaxing the
truck on, takin’ stock of my assets, between
pit stops and Martha’s jabbering. That’s my
Two days later we pulls into Oyster Bay,
soggy but happy…sorry ‘bout Ray though, mind
you. The dark cloud had followed us like we was
towing it. Martha put meaning to it the whole
trip, but her speculations weren’t no concern
to me except when she held that watermelon
stomach a hers and let out a yelp at the least
little road bump. When we rolled down Martini
Boulevard, engine sputtering on fumes, and
settled smack in front of Cummins & Cummins,
I had my turn.
"See, nothing to worry about, honey.”
The sign over the front door swung in the
breeze, squeaking on two rusty chains.“Gone
Drinking,” it read. One a them yeller smiley
stickers was stuck to the bottom right corner.
“Now that's a different ‘scuse to get
out’a work." I jiggled the door knob.
“Yup.”Martha stood on the sidewalk curb
an’ held her stomach in with both hands, like
it could block traffic. She closed her eyes,
sniffed the air, then looked up and down Martini
Boulevard. “Big name for a narrow excuse of
main drag. Couple a shops. Hmm, workin’ barber
pole. That a one-pump gas station? Unleaded, I
hope.” She let go a her stomach and it
stretched the flowered print of her cotton
muumuu to hang into the street. “Town’s
deserted. Where’s folks at?”
“Where’s Cummins?” I reached under my
belly and hitched my genuine leather belt. The
round silver rodeo buckle had rawed an imprint
just below my belly button during the long
“Yup. Where, oh where?” Martha hitched
her belly, rested her fists on her hips, and
tapped her foot. “What now? I’m one pregnant
woman needin’ a good meal. See any arches?”
“Lookie there.” I pointed down the
A lone soul, hunched, aided by a cane and
holding a jug on his shoulder, approached and
entered Oyster Bay Bait and Tackle, a ways down
Martini. We tried motioning and shouting to him,
then catching up, but he was hard a hearin’ or
blind, and Martha waddled. Seconds later, we was
walking through the same doorway. The place was
packed. We felt like we’d invaded some kind a
“This here’s a town meetin’,” someone
said. “Can we hep ya?”
People sat on crates, wooden chairs, leaned
against counters. Each held a pad, a pencil, and
a cup. The old-timer’s jug was making rounds,
town folks was filling up.
Martha waved howdy. “Didn’t mean to
barge. We’re looking for Mr. Cummins, the
“I’m Cummins.” A ringer for the
Kentucky Fried Colonel tipped his Stetson, then
started stroking and thinning his white goatee
to a point. “Excuse me. Do we have an
“Cummins, of Cummins and Cummins,
Cummins?” I asked.
Martha nodded. “We was told to deal in
strictest confidence with Cummins. There another
Cummins? We’re the Purdys. Inherited Uncle
Ray’s farm by the bay and….”
Cummins stopped stroking his beard in
mid-whisker and chicken feet wrinkled from the
corners a his eyes as he smiled, rose fast like,
and extended a hand. “Just one of me. But I do
the work of two. Been expecting you.”
You’da thunk Martha’d broke water.
Everyone mumbled t’each other, then all of
‘em looked at us, waved, and smiled a
welcome--except for one man. He had a nervous
twitch of his left eyebrow, if you was lookin’
at him head on. He proceeded to flatten the only
long black hair acros’t his bare skull.
Cummins gulped the contents a his cup.
“Set. Welcome to Oyster Bay. We could use some
He motioned for two men to give up their
seats. “We’re ready to vote on a brochure
for our tourist campaign.”
The old man we’d followed inside, handed us
Cummins raised his notebook, cleared his
throat, then read right proper.
The Martini conjures men in white shirts and
skinny ties, reminding us of the era of Frank
Sinatra non-challance, Sean Connery 007, and
Hugh Hefner velvet-robe. There are many ways to
a good Martini, shook or stirred, chilled or
luke, olive or twist, vodka or gin. Now, bring
back memories of lost eras with Hillbilly PoP.
Hillbilly PoP, clear as water, smooth as
vermouth. Poured into a long stem glass, it’ll
make even your bulky mitts look graceful as you
clink, sip, and converse with friends who sound
more and more like Dean Martin, and you listen
to music that has you believing Everybody Loves
Somebody Sometime. Hillbilly PoP. It has Pop.”
Everyone but baldy clapped and whistled.
Cummins bowed, “Guess that’s a go.”
The oldtimer poured from the jug, filling our
empty cups, then set the jug eside his chair,
between me and him.
Sip some Happy Sally,” he said. “This
here’s skull crackin’ mule kick. It’ll
make you see seven stars. Welcome to Oyster Bay.
I’m yer neighbor, Josh Randolph, ex-fisherman,
expert on the lost art of moonshining.”
“Moonshining?“I sipped, forgettin’
about dad being a alcoholic, and my pledge to
never take a drink. That one sip caused two
things: my eyebrows took a trip way up onto my
forehead and two, I decided right then and there
that I had me a good neighbor and a lifelong
friend. Well, till he died, anyhow. He was
gettin’ on up there. I soon found out that his
red suspenders and paisley print tie was on him
for a purpose—he was the town sage and had
mastered what he knew about his favorite
subject, alkyhol, corn, and the fermentation
“Yup.”Josh turned to the audience.
“It’s a art. Okay, jot this down, folks.
Half bushel of barley, four of corn meal, couple
sticks of yeast, . . .“
“Slow down now, Josh.” A little lady
slapped her knee then patted her
gray-hair-in-bun and tried catching up with her
writing. But you could tell she give up taking
notes when she took a sip from her cup and
stared at the oak beamed ceiling, just nodding
to Josh’s instructions.
“. . . a pound a malt, two gallons of hops.
Mix it into ten gallons of distilled water. Let
it set six days, till it ferments, and ya got
“Was that four bushels of corn meal?”
I sipped more Happy Sally, and shook my head
like a wet dog, liking my neighbor better and
better as he continued. My eyebrows settled back
after another sip. Hellooo, Sally! Josh was my
". . . Put the mash into the copper
kettles and set fire under ‘em. Catch the
liquid from the coils, in the tin tub. That
first liquid’s gonna be clear, 110 proof, high
My eyebrows rose again. This time because my
cup was empty. I picked up the jug for a refill,
hoping Josh would take his time.
He winked at me like he read my mind.
He wagged a finger at the folks. “It’ll
turn gray, mind you. That’s low wines. Don‘t
drink it. Repeat. Don‘t…drink…it.” I
sipped. Josh was already takin’ care a me.
“When can we test?” Someone asked.
“No testin’ yet. That’s corn liquor.
Could poison ya. Needs proofin’ down. Bottle
the clear stuff, then add the gray till you see
beads in the middle.”
“Beads floatin’ in the bottle? Ha!” The
little old lady with netted gray hair slapped
her knee again. This time she giggled, took a
long gulp of Happy Sally, and passed her empty
cup for more.
“That’s right,” Josh said. “Slap the
bottom of the bottle, like you’d do a baby’s
bottom. The beads! ’ll settle. If beads fall
to the bottom, you got weak moonshine. Beads to
“Too strong!” Several town folk shouted.
You could tell they was experienced and
Josh put a hand up to shush ‘em. “Now you
test. Pour some in a saucer and light a match to
it. If it burns yeller,…”
“Don’t drink it!” Everyone shouted in
Josh was the Pie Piper. He had ‘em goin’.
He nodded again. “! Wood alcohol makes great
anti-freeze. If it burns blue?”
“Zactly.”Josh clapped for empathis. “We
want pure blue Hillbilly Pop for the Blessing of
the Fleet. Remember.”
The old lady slapped her knee a third time,
giggling until someone nudged her to grab her
Happy Sally refill. She took it gingerly with
both hands and watched it to her lips.
Martha sat with her mouth open, eyes wide and
stared at her cup before she decided to take a
sip. Her eyebrows was a travelin’ too. Her
feet thumped the floor. “Ahhh!”She gulped
another. Her head rolled back, an she pounded
her breast with her open hand, then held it
there. She lifted the cup with the other, but I
grabbed it to save my darlin’ from harm.
“Can’t be good for a pregnant woman,
honey.” I drank her last an shook my head,
before the Exorcist came out my mouth: “Smoooothe!”
Everyone laughed an’ I felt like a new
stranger, like I was accepted into the fold.
Josh, my best buddy, slapped my back.
“You’re gonna fit right in. To hell with
fishin’.Ain’t been bitin’ for years no
how. We got us a new economy.”
The bald headed man finally cracked a smile.
“There’s money to be made,” he said. Then
the smile left, fast as it came.
Cummins stretched a hand again. “Welcome to
Oyster Bay. I’ll have that deed transfered in
a jiff. Know anything about corn?”
“Nope. Why?” I didn’t care about no
corn. I was gone fishin’ soon’s I could
crank the boat Uncle Ray left us. We’d already
decided to name it Bradley, which was the name
we was giving our newborn, which we were sure
was gonna be a boy.
“That’s okay. We’ll take care of
everything. If we get a good rain or two, your
money worries are over.” Like God-speak, a
thunderclap shook the winders and the dark cloud
we towed burst and let loose its shower.
I scratched my head. “I don‘t get it.
Uncle Ray said this was a fishin’town.”
“Fishing? Now that’s a problem,” Josh
laughed. “That dried up, the price of diesel
skyrocketed, and your Uncle Ray?—why he had
plenty a corn. Plenty.”
Martha grabbed my cup, turned it up to her mouth
and urged some condense from the bottom. She
licked her lips. “Looks like we couldn’t ask
for better neighbors.”
By next town meeting we was settled in, our
corn crop was picked, and we had money, just
like Mr. Cummins said. I’d fallen in love with
Oyster Bay and Happy Sally, sipping and talking
with Martha every day as she developed her new
recipe for the upcoming Blessing of the Fleet.
My pregnant city-slicker-turned-moonshiner
called her jiggly concoction, Cosby Cubes. She
made ‘em every color of the rainbow, too. Josh
was over for dinner and desert—Cosby
Cubes--every night. Weeks passed and in her
tenth month, I became a father. Martha and her
midwife! brought Brad into the world, eleven
pounds, thirteen ounces, an’ I’d turned into
a jelloholic. Martha later told me it was like
having two new people in the house--“An you
was the baby.”
Thousands of drinking tourists were expected
to see the decorated boats as they paraded past
Bishop Taminany so he could sprinkle them with
holy water. Our boat was chose to take up the
anchor spot. I was hoping the bishop would have
enough holy water left for me in that little
silver hand-held sprinkler system. I needed
blessing. I was poppin’ Martha’s jiggly
reds, and thinkin’ Happy Sally all the time.
She’d become more important to me than Martha,
an’ I was hidin’her everywhere. Under my
piller, till Martha caught me in bed with ‘em.
The Blessing of the Fleet finally rolled
around and the entire town put their best feet
forward, though hardly any could put one front
of the other in a straight line. Cludin’ me.
We were a happy bunch. And me and Josh?
We was tighter than Martha’s gritz an’
gravy, her specialty, next to Cosby Cubes. I
admired Josh for his extraordinary knowledge
about the moonshine business and the history of
it all. Early that morning, Bishop Taminany
stopped by with his aid, the baldheaded guy at
Bait & Tackle that first day. Had the honor
of the good bishop to come into our house for
Good morning, Bishop Taminunany.” I’d
been popping already. Had some reds hid from
Martha floatin’ in the toilet tank. Words was
“It’s Tamin-any, Tam-in-any.” The
bishop smiled. He was an okay fella. “Lovely
house, and what a view you have of the bay. Do
you enjoy sunrises?”
“Sure do. Damndest one this morning. A long
lean cloud looked like a dagger piercing a
orange bowl. Beautiful. Just beautiful. Me an’
Martha held hands till we started seeing yella
spots. We’re still seein’ ‘em. There!
There’s one on your jacket.” I swiped it off
for the good bishop. Baldy looked at me
“Coffee?”I motioned to Martha.
“Yes, please.” The good bishop said.
“Sugar and cream. I heard about Martha’s
jello cubes. People are buying them like crazy.
You two have hit on one of those market niches
that just seems to have taken off on its own.
Did you know that your Uncle Ray contributed
much to the Holy Church—to Saint Margarets?”
“Nope. Didn’ know that. How much?”
This time the bald guy spoke up. “Ray Purdy
was supposed to leave us this land before he
located you. Or did you locate him?”
I sobered a little. Something smelled an’
it was about to rear its head. We sat at the
kitchen table and Martha brought three hot cups,
then she got back to work on a slew of Cosby
Cubes with her ears wide open. The Bishop kept
admiring the rainbow of colors she’d created.
“Mind if I have one? Just to test.” He
picked a red and popped it before Martha could
answer. He liked it because he went for a blue,
which had Kentuck Grass, 80 proof written on the
sticker of its bowl. “The yellows look very
interesting. Lemon flavored?” He popped one
and smiled. “Yes, of course. We thought we’d
stop by on our way to the Blessing to show you
something we should have shown you months
ago.” Bishop Taminany motioned to the bald guy
and he pulled out a piece a paper. “Ray wrote
this on his death bed as I gave him his Last
Rights. It’s a will—dated and signed.”
“You get last rights before you die? To
what?” I’d heard of everything now.
Religion’s gone bonkers.
It says that in the event John Purdy could
not be located or that you were incapacitated by
some sickness of the brain or not in your right
mind, that this property is to revert to the
Church. John, we have reason to believe you are
an alcoholic, and that Missus Purdy is also, and
that your son is in danger of neglect and
The good bishop handed me the paper.
“So you’re sayin’ you got last rights?
Looks like scribbling to me.” I sobered by
degrees and drank more coffee.” Yer not sayin’
me and the Catholic Church’s got a battle
pending, are ya? No one, hear this, no one is
gonna take our Brad away from us . . . or our
property. Martha, show these gentlemen of the
Church the door. See you at the Blessing.”
As they rose, baldy spoke. His words was
chilling. “See you in court.” He must have
been a witness for the Church, and a bad egg
that needed keepin’ in line because Bishop
Taminany give him the kind of square look that
said he’d showed their hand. By the time the
two walked out the front door, Martha was
cryin’and I was pouring another cup a black
coffee, and thinking soberly.
“Martha,”I said, “don’t you worry
honey. I got a plan like an ol’ Possum in
trouble. I got a go see Josh for a few minutes.
Be right back.” I could see her in the winder,
holding Brad and crying, watching me cross the
corn patch to Josh’s place. Right then and
there I swore I’d never pop another red again
or take one sip of Happy Sally. As far as I was
concerned, Sally was dead. Martha’d always
came first in my life and now Brad was in a tie
The sun warmed the faces of a huge crowd on a
fine April day. A breeze was blowin’from the
ocean. You could smell the salt and hear the
seagulls squawk. Me, Josh, Cummins and my deck
hand chugged in The Bradley at the rear of the
line of shrimp and fishing boats that glided
down the canal toward open water. Bishop
Taminany, in his funny tall hat, stood on a high
pier and slung holy water from that sprinkler
contraption. Baldy, stood behind him. When we
approached, we slowed, and pulled alongside the
I hopped onto the pier and approached the
bishop. Both he and baldy reared back like they
felt threatened. “Listen,” I said, “me and
Martha been considerin’. We can settle the
whole question of Uncle Ray’s intentions in a
jiff. I know Uncle Ray loved the Church and
I’d like to honor that. Come aboard for a
short ride and by the time we get back we’ll
all be happier than pigs in slop.” I put on my
best smile and nodded my head toward The
Cummins and Josh waved the bishop to come
aboard. “It’ll be fun. You can wave to
everyone from the boat.”
Bishop Taminany broke a smile and motioned to
baldy. “Can he come?”
We got lots of room.” Cummins helped the
bishop aboard and baldy and I hopped on. We was
off, catching up to the rest of the fleet.
thrust a bowl of red Cosby Cubes in front of the
bishop. “Have a red. You deserve it.” He
took one and popped it, then another since I
kept the bowl in front of him.
all the boats were out in the bay they turned
and started back, reversing their path down the
canal. The bishop had six reds by then. You
could tell he liked them better than wine.
Martha’d laced ‘em extra. Happy Sally took
another,” I said.
time baldy put his hand up. “I think Bishop
Taminany has had enough.”
bishop gave him that look again. “One or two
more won’t hurt. I feel fine. And the breeze
is delicious.” He popped another. Then
another. “So, John, what do you have in
he and baldy looked at each other, then noticed
we had not turned back with the rest of the
fleet. We was headed to sea.
cleared his throat. “What’s going on?”
we talk,” Cummins said, “We thought you
might want to catch some mackerel. John saw them
running. Maybe even a King, to show the crowd
back on shore.”
deckhand and Josh threw the chum bucket out to
trail my boat. It was full a ground up sardines
and squid and left an oily slick behind us.
said. “The chum will stir ‘em. Ten minutes
on a line and I bet we start catching some. Have
another red.” Josh grabbed the bowl and popped
one himself before the bishop could get his.
popped two. “I’m not dressed for fishing.
Why, I’m, I’m still wearing my hat. And my
robes--they are embroidered in gold thread.”
patted the bishop on the back. “Relax. I bet
you ten dollars I catch one before you do.
We’re almost there. Can you see yourself
holding a record breaker?”
pleaded. “We should turn and head back now,
good bishop, now a little wobbly, gave baldy his
square look again, then turned to Cummins.
fish. Get the bishop a rod, Josh. This one’s
mine. Have a seat, Bishop Taminany. How about
another Cosby red?”
I’ll hab two.” The good bishop was reachin’
Cummins and the bishop went at it. And don’t
ya know, the bishop, looking like a Saturday
Night Conehead, caught a mackerel right off. He
reeled it in, dressed in all those white robes
and that tall funny lookin’ pointed hat of
his. It was a sight to behold. And he was
enjoyin’ it. He caught another and another
before Cummins got his first bite. The water was
churning with king mackerel.
they were busy reelin’ ‘em in, me and Josh
had a fast talk with the bald guy.
have two choices,” I said. “You can swim
back: There’s been sharks in this water. Or
you can hand over that so-called will. Which is
looked down at the water. “You wouldn’t
then,” Josh said, “those pictures and home
movies that Martha and the boys are ready to
take when the good bishop gets off the boat will
make great news.”
bald guy hesitated, then looked at the bishop
who had just hooked a King Mackerel and was
struggling to bring it in.
Taminany braced both feet on the boat rail as
his hat fell off. His robes were gathered high
up on his thighs, exposing hairy calves. He was
laughing. “Got this son-of-a-witch. Mus be
fify pounds. Wahoo! God bless. Hail Mary. Who
the hell’s the patron saint
deck hand snapped a digital moment with his
bald guy looked back at me. He reluctantly
pulled the paper from the inside pocket of his
jacket and handed the paper to Cummins’s
looked the document over for a few seconds
before speaking. “John, as your lawyer, I
advise you to bring suit against the bishop and
the Church. I know your Uncle Ray’s
handwriting. He was my client for years. He
didn’t write this.” Then he reached into his
pocket and took out a tape recorder. “And
I’ve got everything on tape.”
got rich on Martha’s secret recipe, but now
I’m a happy papa and a recoverin’alcoholic
turned fisherman. Babies do that. Yup, and Brad
was exceptional in that respect. I was first to
radio the fishing pier the day I decided to mend
Bay, we got a problem! The mackerel are back.”