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  • Christopher K. Horne

Francis

Francis is struggling to become economically independent right after the Great Depression in North Carolina. So the 45-year man, born into a white-tenant, sharecropper farm, with a 6th grade education, drives a delivery truck making twelve dollars a week to support his two teen-age daughters. His wife, Aileen, is as a seamstress in the Amos Hosiery Mill in High Point making fifteen dollars a week.


Francis really likes working with his hands, a talent he got repairing equipment on the farm, but his history of intoxication on the mechanic job, is his demise. It’s a wonder that Alma Desk Company hires him in 1947 to transport materials along a two lane Hwy 52 with steep hills and curves in Forsyth and Surry counties.


But blue-collar work in furniture manufacturing is not the only activity going on in North Carolina during the 1940s. Making home-brew moonshine is a tradition; as much a part of the state’s culture as anything else. For Francis, moonshine and driving a delivery truck are a means of survival. He makes a run almost daily between Mount Airy and High Point in a 1945 Ford truck. The oak wood bed liner and tall side rails keep the lumber, table legs and other items from sliding off the back. And there is just enough room for liquor making equipment.


Francis is a handsome man with a neat haircut; a long back and sides combined with a flattop. His sneaky smile soon diverts an onlooker’s attention to his dark brown eyes. He drives fast compared to other sedan drivers along Hwy 52 and for good reason. After picking up lumber and other materials in Mount Airy, he takes a short detour to Pilot Mountain to get a bottle of “rumrunner” and pick up some liquor equipment. He drives into a dark wooded lot where an old farmer sits under a shed. The two exchange goods quickly. “That’s two weeks of pay for the still,” Francis tells the moonshiner, “I know it will be good.”



Between the gear shifter and leather seat, Francis keeps a spit cup for snuff. His bottle of rum will sit next to the cup. Swerving south along Highway 52, he later arrives back home in High Point, his grease-stained thumb and forefinger squeezes a quarter size ‘pinch’ which then slides under his lip. The pinch will soon deliver a swift hit of nicotine and a lasting flavored scent. The pleasant scent will cover up his alcoholic breath from his teen age daughters Mary and Betty Ann now playing on a homemade merry-go-round next to the front porch. He stumbles out of the truck, and makes his way with flat leather boots to the porch smiling ear-to-ear seeing his beautiful daughters.


“What are all these copper pipes for daddy?” Mary asks. For Francis, brewing moonshine in the back yard woods would make sure that his family would have food on the table.


XXX


On Mary’s wedding day, Francis is drinking a bottle of rum. Her church wedding ceremony would be delayed and painful emotionally. Mary appeals to her mother. “Where is daddy?” Francis is home passed out clinching a bottle of rum. The next year, Francis’ truck wound up rolling and throwing pine boards, nuts and bolts and other goods all over Highway 52. Francis uncle says the truck’s brakes gave away. But Mary knew better as she told sister back in 1952: “Daddy was drinking and did not show up just like at my wedding.”



Mary came home and cried then opened up her Bible to a verse she read. “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.”


“I could choose to live with the pain or forgive,” Mary says to her sister, “I chose to forgive, my daddy, Francis.”


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