by Terry Hargrove
I’m a fairly responsible person. Now. True, it wasn’t always so, and when I was a young man it bothered me greatly to hear my parents or sisters or neighbors or former teachers or Monsignor Berns (I was Baptist, so it really wasn’t any of his business) comment on how irresponsible I was. That hurt. It was true, but that only added sting to it, and so when I was 25, I decided to do something about it. I decided to become responsible.
The path to true responsibility was by showing that I could be trusted to take children someplace and return with them alive and unharmed. The problem was that everybody knew me, and none of them would trust their precious offspring to my shiftless care. But eventually, my younger sister Jan had to go to Huntsville for some job training and asked, reluctantly, if I would care for her two daughters, Misty and Dee Dee.
“No problem,” I said. “We’ll have a great day.”
“Just don’t take them fishing,” said Jan.
“Oh. Well, that shoots down plan A. But I’m sure we can find something to do.”
“Or to the movies,” added Jan. “They’ll fill up with candy and popcorn and act like savages for the rest of the day. And don‘t take them to the Space Museum in Huntsville. They‘re going to that with me next month. Or shopping. Please don‘t take them shopping. I‘ve seen the kind of clothes you buy yourself and it scares me.”
Jan gave me a long list of places and activities to avoid, and that meant my options were severely limited. But I was the uncle, for crying out loud, and watching them play with dolls or watch TV seemed lame. I had a responsibility to take them somewhere, you know, so I could prove I was responsible. Someplace educational, and cheap since I was poor. The answer was obvious, and when Jan finally left the house, I waited for 10 minutes and said:
“Hey, girls. Let’s go to Lynchburg, and take a tour of the Jack Daniels Distillery.”
“I’m only five,” said Dee Dee. “What’s a dustillry?”
“It’s a… well, it’s a place where they distill stuff.”
“Is there pop corn?” asked Misty.
“Distilled pop corn,” I said. “The best in the land.”
Before you say it, yes, I see that mote in my eye, but this trip is a rite of passage for everybody who lives in Tennessee. Moore County is surely one of the five most beautiful places in America. Jack Daniels Distillery sits on the side of a hill in Lynchburg, population 361 or thereabouts. It was a pleasant 45 minute drive through the country for us. The center held… until I parked the car.
“Now, we all stay together, right? Right?” Too late. They were gone.
I was about to learn an important lesson. There is a big difference between babysitting a child and babysitting children. Unless you have squirrel eyes that move independently, you can’t watch two children at the same time. Misty and Dee Dee took off in different directions. Since Dee Dee was faster, I went after her first. Misty was screaming out “Where’s the pop corn?” so I hoped she would be easy to track.
One of the things that makes Jack Daniels product special is the water they use. It comes from a spring that’s right there on the distillery grounds and the spring water is iron-free. If I had been able to take the tour, I would know why that’s important, but when I found the spring, it may have been iron-free but it wasn’t Dee Dee free. She had wandered into the shallow pool at the mouth of the cave and was splashing people who tried to get her out. I waded out to her, was pummeled by a furious watery assault, and hooked her under my right arm, then went in search of her sister.
“You shouldn’t wander away like that,” I scolded. “What if I couldn’t find you?”
“I’m only five,” she replied.
As we were walking uphill toward the place where they burn the ricks to make the charcoal, which is no doubt an important step in making whiskey that I could have learned had I taken the tour, Misty passed us riding in a small trolley bus that was taking the tour. She waved at us as we stood there. From under my arm, Dee Dee waved back.
“I can’t find the pop corn,” shouted Misty.
I tried to catch up, but was burdened by Dee Dee. We made a bargain that she wouldn’t run away if I let her walk with me until we caught up with Misty.
“Promise?” I asked.
“Of course I promise,” she replied. But the moment I turned my back, she took off and disappeared into the barrel house. The barrel house isn’t part of the tour, and several of the workers, though very friendly and helpful, didn’t appreciate having to leave their jobs to run her out of that building.
“Dee Dee?” I screamed. “Where are you?”
“I’m hiding behind a barrel,” she echoed.
“Well, this won’t take long,” I said, turning to a worker. “How many barrels are in this building?”
“6,059,” was the weary reply. So the search began. I think we looked behind 1,000 before we found her. That was when the workers politely but firmly asked us to leave the grounds.
“I will as soon as I find the other one,” I said.
“The other one? Is she in here too?”
“No, I think she’s taking the tour. Come on, Dee Dee. Dee Dee?”
Dee Dee was gone again. I began to get frantic. These guys might call the police, and I might be arrested. You can complain until you’re out of breath about how responsible you are, but if a police record says otherwise, you’ve lost the argument. Just then the trolley that was carrying Misty came back around and there was Dee Dee sitting next to her sister.
“They’re taking us back to the main building,” yelled Misty. “They’re going to give us free samples! And pop corn!”
“You promised you wouldn’t run away,” I yelled.
“I’m only five,” was the reply.
“Free samples? Free samples of what?” I asked the worker.
“Well, what do we make in this place?” he replied.
So I began a sprint to the main building. If Dee Dee and Misty were all liquored up when we got home, I’d never hear the end of it. But the joke was on me. Lynchburg is in Moore County, Tennessee, and Moore County is dry. You can’t buy Jack Daniels delicious sipping whiskey in the town where it’s made. I found the two of them sitting side by side taking long swallows of lemonade.
“Do we get a present?” asked Misty.
I did buy them a present. It was a huge, half barrel that once held I don’t know how many gallons of whiskey. If I ever take the tour, I’ll know. When we got home, I set the barrel in the living room and they played inside it for the rest of the day. True, they smelled like whiskey for a month, but it was a fine, Tennessee-smooth, whiskey smell that made them very popular with their school bus driver.
That night, they slept like angels, although they both complained of headaches the next morning. It must have been the lemonade. Who knows what kind of water they used to make that?
Terry Hargrove lives in Old Saybrook with his wife and 4-year-old son. An anthology of his first 50 columns, Don’t Mind Me, a Tennessean Lost in Connecticut is now available from ladderpress.com, Amazon.com, and BarnesandNoble.com. And if you’re going to read it while you drink, be sure you’re drinking Jack Daniels, the finest sipping whiskey ever made. I was not paid to say that.