Walking Pneumonia v Catdaddy Moonshine – Part 1

I Am Not A Doctor

And neither is Junior Johnson. I’m not a NASCAR fan either, but I have developed a sincere appreciation for at least one thing this man has accomplished.

He makes and sells moonshine. And he does it legally.

Back In The Day

NASCAR fans already know the short history of the sport. It grew out of the mid-20th century moonshine-runners here in North Carolina, driving powerful muscle cars from county to county, delivering the illegal drink to those who would have it, regardless of the law.

My grandaddy ran a still, way back then. Here in Rockingham county it was a common sight to see the sheriff drive up and get out of his car, pulling his pants up to cover his enormous belly, looking around like he was the sheriff of Nottingham instead of Rockingham. Yes, the fat sheriff from NC who said things like ‘You in a heap o’trouble, boy’ really DID exist. I have seen him in my childhood, and I will never forget.

It was against the law to make your own liquor here. Still is, as a matter of fact. But Carl Axsom, the high sheriff of Rockingham County, showed up on a regular schedule to load the clear juice into the trunk of his huge Plymouth Fury III. On the side of the car in letters six inches tall were the words ‘Carl Axsom, Sheriff’, and down below, in two-inch letters was ‘Rockingham County, North Carolina’.

Sheriff Axsom would pull into the driveway, get out of the car, and hike his pants up around his really (and I mean REALLY) fat gut. It was his trademark move. He’d ask for my grandaddy and they’d go down one of the little farmroads–down into the ‘holler’–to fetch the stuff. A little while later they’d return loaded down with the shine and drunk on their asses.

Grandaddy would load gallons of the stuff into the official car’s trunk and the fat man would leave.

Axsom was defeated in an election by a guy who promised to clean up law enforcement. My grandaddy got older and finally died, a sober man who spent much of his time reading the Bible. In the end he was a man I was proud to call my family, a man who finally came to be who he was all along–a good man.

But before I was proud of him, I learned to hate drinking alcohol. I learned it made me feel bad, that I hated the taste of it in all its forms, that I was one of the few lucky ones in my family who would not love the beast that killed. I can drink, and I have been drunk many times. That’s how I learned.

Back To The Story

So it came as a special surprise to me that I was planning one week to drink that strongest of drinks, white liquor, in a quantity that even my grandfather might have avoided in his wildest days. And I didn’t plan to eat anything while I pulled this drunk. I was just going to pour the stuff in and see what came out.

Long term readers know I have been sick for awhile. Since November 2007, as a matter of fact. My personal philosophy prohibits me from seeking so-called medical advice except in extreme cases. I won’t go into the reasons or the philosophy right here, but I do have reasons for my stance. So in August of 2008 when I bowed to my family’s demands that I at least have some tests done, it was a major deviation from my normal way of living.

The truth is, I thought I was dying. I just wanted to know exactly what it was that was killing me. Because of some really severe pains, I was pretty sure it was something in my circulatory system, so I chose a heart specialist. After nearly $3000 in testing, he assured me my heart was fine, and instead diagnosed me with a severe case of emphysema based on x-rays of my lungs. But he also told me that I was a strange case, as the only indication of any emphysema was the x-rays. I didn’t exhibit any of the symptoms you’d normally expect from a severely emphysemic patient.

That was in September. By the middle of October I was very ill. When November rolled around, things took a turn for the worst and within another week or so I was so sick I could barely get out of bed. My skin changed colors, gradually becoming a kind of gray you’d expect to see in a terminally-ill patient. The black circles under my eyes had grown to cover much of my face.

I was dying.

Mysterious Ways and Unexpected Means

I’m a lucky guy, though, and the Lord of the Universe wasn’t finished with me. My niece would come to check on me every day back then and sometimes would force me to let her drag me to Chaney’s, my family’s local restaurant, for soup or whatever she could get me to eat.

One particular night during the worst of this ordeal she lugged me over to the restaurant. I hated going there by then. Chaneys is one of the most popular places in this little southern town and I didn’t want folks I know to see me in that shape. But this night it paid off. One of my friends, a customer with a contract for IT services (which had been neglected for a month due to my illness) came in with his wife and sat at the table next to us.

Southern hospitality always trumps everything else. Forgetting myself, I asked how he’d been lately. It’s the polite question, the equivalent of asking how’s the weather. The answer is almost always as shallow as the question. I expected Tommy to look at me, see my illness, and say something like ‘fine’ and then ask about my health. That’s the normal way it goes.

But he didn’t. He told me how he’d been sicker than he had been in over 30 years, maybe longer. Told me how he’d seen the doctors, taken the antibiotics which did nothing, taken the anti-viral shot which did nothing, followed all the doctor’s orders, all with no improvement. It lasted for 5 weeks he said. ( His wife leaned around him and said that he had looked JUST LIKE ME.) He listed his symptoms, and they were exactly what I was going through.

Well, he looked fine to me so I asked him what he did to finally get rid of it, which brings me back to Junior Johnson. The cure my friend Tommy came up with was to go back to his childhood in the 1950s and 1960s, when his grandma would treat nearly everything with what else but liquor and honey.

Liquor and honey was a big cure-all around my house, too when I was that young. My grandaddy’s wife Mama Lacie, would make a small glass with the white liquor and honey and make us drink it. I never understood why, and being so young I never asked or gave it much thought. It was just one of those things that eventually went away as the 60s turned into the 70s and then the 80s and we became too ‘modern’ and ‘advanced’ in our thinking, throwing away the old so that we could embrace the new.

The wisdom of trying to eliminate an illness gave way to the madness of managing it. Younger doctors with much education brought with them a distrust of the old ways, the ways that had kept us alive these last several eons, the ways which brought us here to this pinnacle.


Back in the restaurant, Tommy said he just sat himself down on his couch in front of his 60 inch TV, turned off all his phones, and broke out the best of the best of the ‘shine, a quart of white lightning made by the only guy in North Carolina with a license to do so. He drank that quart over a period of about 36 hours, supplemented only with chicken noodle soup (another old remedy, which recent studies have shown has many curative properties which are still not understood well.)

He said that was all it took. He coughed and shat the infection out of his body within the next two days and had felt fine since. (Again, his wife leans forward and says ‘He looked JUST LIKE YOU, Jon’.) And then he makes a comment that stuck in my head: ‘I think I was on the verge of having walking pneumonia’.

That stuck in my head for a few days. I’d been sick off and on for over a year, always the same symptoms, always seemed to be some form of the flu. For decades before, I’d had hardly a sniffle and then, an entire year of it. I had done what I never do (seen a doctor… and believed him), and I had given up on recovering health. I had updated my will, began to unwind my obligations, started trying to prepare those closest to me for the certain day of my approaching death.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about what Tommy said. I could barely breathe the day I started searching the internet for information on pneumonia. I knew it was a waste of time, but I had nothing else I could do anyway. I felt like a desperate fool, grasping at a hope that would never be real, but I did what I do. I searched and researched and gradually I learned.

I had never before found any illness that matched ALL the symptoms I was experiencing. I’d been searching for nearly a year, and had finally given up. You can imagine how it made me feel to find that pneumonia caused every symptom I felt. Well, imagine my surprise when I found a cross-section photo of a pneumatic lung, and compared it to the cross-section photo of an emphysemic lung, and to my eye they were identical!

Clickback tomorrow for the conclusion.