EMMA BUSH COLUMN: Thou shalt never lie to thy wife about the whisky still in the attic

One of the features of the good old days was family self-reliance, at least it was out in the country where I lived. For many, the first impression of self-reliance is often one of “living with the bare necessities of life,” a vision of a minimum standard of living somewhere a few notches above the poverty level. But if you looked past the images of often unpainted barns and work-worn country clothes, you found more often than not, that self-reliance included well stocked gardens, pantries, shelves and cellars; and knowing where the best wild blackberry patches were located.

But it didn’t stop there. Here again, more often than not, what we are going to talk about in this article, as being a part of “self-reliance” might be better identified by some as one of the “niceties of life,” and by others as a sin. We are going to talk about distilling whisky in the attic above the kitchen wood range where the stovepipe comes up through the ceiling.

An example comes from Owen Martz who was previously featured back in a Pioneer article No. 47 entitled “A horse in the kitchen and a pig behind the stove.” Let’s give Owen Martz a chance to tell his story.

The Martz farm house on Wilson Road down by Ryan Creek has been home to many generations of the Martz family, sometimes several at the same time. My mother, Marie, was 17 years old when she met and married my dad, Ernest Martz. Ernie brought her home to the Martz family farm where she met Richard Bush, who was living there in an upstairs bedroom. Mom took him in stride, after the initial surprise of finding out that she was going to be cooking for two men in her new role as a newlywed. Everything settled down until a spot on the kitchen ceiling showed up.

Ernie knew he was in trouble. The fact that Rich Bush was going to live with them was not the only thing that Ernie had not told his new wife before she moved in. He also had not mentioned that he and Rich were operating a homemade whisky still upstairs in the attic above the kitchen wood range.

The whiskey still had sprung a leak. Rich and Ernie tried to fix it, but one day the truth came out when a single drip hit the hot wood stove and flared up in a little blue flame. The family story that has been told time and time again over the years, relates that Ernie began to explain to Marie that there was no problem, that it was not illegal to brew your own at home as long as you didn’t sell it. The family story also relates that he never got to finish his argument. Marie sat him down and before it was over, Ernie Martz had experienced a “come to Jesus revelation” about lying to your wife that stuck with him the rest of his life.

My mom was a beautiful woman, a wonderful mom, and from what I can remember growing up and watching and listening to my mom and dad, she was as good a wife as there ever has been. She was sweet and tender, but knew when to draw the line. When you did something that needed attention, you soon learned how much she loved you by how she handled whatever it was that needed attention. From what I read into the family story above, my dad learned a lesson early in his marriage that served them both well for the rest of their lives. My mom probably knew what was going on upstairs long before my dad finally came to her with the truth. It was so much like her to wait until the right time to “draw the line” when it would do the most good.

That particular family story is like family scripture, family folklore, that was passed on and on as something that we all needed to learn. It was that way for me. As far as I can recollect, it was a lesson I learned and never forgot. But then, maybe I should leave that call to my own beautiful, wonderful wife, Ardith, who has put up with me all these years. She’s sitting right here as I tell this story, and from what I can still see in her eyes from sitting this far away, she and I are OK.

So that’s the story from Owen Martz. I just love to hear him tell a story. This one was one of those that brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. I’d be curious to hear from any of you that had the same experience when you heard Owen tell his story in this article.

Speaking of lumps in my throat and tears, I am retiring to become a become a rocking chair guest columnist for the Pioneer after I finish article No. 100. I have cut a deal with my driver, and am going to submit an article once a month on the good old days where topics just seem to be endless. The “deal” with my driver included me promising him that I would introduce him to someone that I thought would also enjoy doing this, who could also put up with him and continue with articles three times a month that require some travel now and then around Mecosta County. The three times a month topics will continue exploring things of today that have been built on the foundations of the good old days.

You’re going to love Barb and Gordie. She is just as nervous about all of this as I was two years ago, but I’m willing to bet her a home-cooked meal that she is going to end up loving to do this as much as I do.

My driver tells me that he is working with the Mecosta County Historical Museum folks and others on a lunch time meeting in downtown Big Rapids in May to celebrate the 100th Emma Pioneer article, to celebrate my 97th birthday and to kick off a Mecosta County Historical Society fundraiser.

Barb, in closing, I know you are nervous about all of this, but, as my driver would say, “Gird up your loins sweetie, everything will work out just fine.” And besides that, you’re still a youngster and Gordie is as steady as a rock.

For those of you who may be concerned about this “Gird up your loins” thing, I’ll save you the trouble of looking it up in the bible and share what my driver said it means. In biblical times, folks wore long ankle length robes and when they suddenly faced a fight or flight emergency, they would reach down and grab the back hem of their long robe and pull it forward and up, sort of like a diaper, and tuck it securely in their wide waist band that was designed to hold it tight.

But don’t worry, Barb. I have never actually had to do that. “Everything has always worked out just fine.”

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