Down South when you talk of white lightning, everyone knows what you are talking about. Back in the old days most of the people made their own. Some made it and delivered it to the city to be sold.
White whiskey, made right, was drunk by grown-up males and some females. Other names I remember are moonshine, booze, white lightning, firewater, rot gut and mountain dew. I am sure there are other names for it.
I remember my first chase of a bootlegger’s car when I went on the police department. It was one of those quiet nights, and so the old veteran police officer let the rookie drive the car. We were on Maple Street when we passed a car running with his lights off. I turned and started after the car.
When he saw the police car, he let the hammer down. We went down Fourteenth Street to Flannery, then onto a short street that led to the old Cole Stadium. We went back onto Flannery and onto Fourteenth and then around a house that was occupied by a lady named Mabel. We were on his bumper, pushing his car, so we went around and around until he managed to straighten out and go down Fourteenth Street. I made an extra run around the house before I could follow, but he had gone out of sight.
I stopped on Flannery and turned off the lights and siren. Then we heard a loud crash. We knew that he had wrecked. I eased down the street with the light off until we saw the car in a ditch. He was trying to get it out but the ditch was too deep. When we pulled up, he cut the motor, crawled out and came over to where we were in the road. He was laughing. He had enjoyed the chase but, this being my first, it was kind of annoying to me. We carried him to headquarters and booked him in. We found several gallons of white whiskey in the car.
I never had the desire to go though someone’s house searching for moonshine whiskey, but the local revenue agent had a habit of calling for me and my partner to help him if he was going to raid a house.
On this Sunday morning we got a call to Smith Street. The house was occupied by a lady by the name of Hattie. We checked out and met the revenue agent. I told them I would sit in the living room and watch the suspect while they searched the house. As I watched her, her face changed when one of the searchers got close to the window. It was pure panic if they touched the framing around the window. I knew where her whiskey was hidden.
The others were in the rest of the house. I went over to the window. I took a hold of the frame and gave it a jerk. The frame slid out and inside of the windowsill were several bottles of white whiskey. I called the others back and showed it to them.
The searchers decided that, having found the whiskey in the windowsill, they would go outside. I moved the owner of the house outside to the back yard. The search began again and I watched her face. No sign until someone came close to the woodpile. Pure panic showed as they moved a few sticks around on the stack of wood. Her face showed fear as one of the officer sat down on the chopping block; her face gave her away.
I got up and walked over to the chopping block. I called for the revenue agent. He came over shaking his head. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “I don’t think she has any more,” he said. I pointed to the chopping block. “Move the block.” I watched as he turned the block over. There, under the block, was a hole — and in the hole sat three gallon-cans of white whiskey. He turned to me and asked, “How did you know?” I laughed and said, “Psychic.”
Of course, anyone who knows will tell you I am not psychic.
Another time, my partner and I were going down East First Street when we saw Hattie and another woman. Hattie was carrying a gallon glass container full of a white liquid. I noticed there was a bead around the top of the liquid. When I pulled over she held up the container and, laughing, asked “Would you like a drink?” I got out and walked around the car to her. I reached out and took the container and pure panic lit up her face. “I believe I will, Hattie,” I said.
I put the container on the truck of the patrol car. “It’s kerosene,” she said in a small voice. I screwed the top off the container. The smell hit me before the top was loose. It was what most drinkers called rot gut whiskey. My partner got out of the car and put the cuffs on her. I reached out and felt of a pocket that was on a jacket she wore. I took out a 22-caliber nine-shot revolver. We booked her into the sheriff’s jail.
The judge gave Hattie a year, with six months to serve and the rest on probation. I went back to walking a beat on Broad Street. No one was more surprised the day I found Hattie cooking in a restaurant on Broad. She had served her time and went to work and had got married.
Now, back in those days the Cotton Block was known to be a rough part of Broad. From after dark until closing time, there was always something going on.
It was getting close to closing time when a car pulled in front of the cafe where Hattie worked. They begin to shout and use foul language. I went over to see what was going on. I stepped up on the sidewalk from the road and was jumped by two subjects. I threw one against the car and he fell to the sidewalk. The other one caught me in a hold that I could not break.
Then, from nowhere, a loud crack like glass breaking and the smell of beer. He turned me loose and fell to his knees. I ran his arm though the bumper of the car. I then cuffed the two together. I heard someone behind me, turned and was surprised to see Hattie holding a broken bottle. I knew then that Hattie had saved the day for me.
With the two on the way to jail, I went into the cafe where Hattie and the owner were. I went into the restroom and cleaned up as much as I could. Then I went to Hattie. I told her how much I appreciated the help, but asked, “Why did you do it?”
I will always remember what she said. “I knew you needed help and I couldn’t stand still and let them hurt my friend.” I smiled. And she added, “You, being physic, already knew why I helped you.” She was indeed a true friend for not many people I put in jail would help me. Down though the years, though, I had a few that did. That was a long time ago but I still remember them and they will always have a place in my heart.