PHOTOS BY // JENNY LANE STUDIOS
A CUP OF COFFEE CAN PACK MORE THAN JUST A JOLT OF ENERGY; IT CAN GIVE YOU A GREAT APPRECIATION OF THE ROAD LEADING TO YOU.
My dad used to tell us stories of his “famous uncle” known for making moonshine in the mountains. As kids, we would roll our eyes and act as if it were so painful to hear the tall tales. It wasn’t until a few years back that it all hit me in the middle of a mountain country store.
My fiancé, Dan, and I took a trip to Nashville to visit our friends. Even though we were about 100 miles away, I wanted to venture to Monteagle to visit Papa George and Granny Mae’s graves. We buried my grandpa when I was a senior in high school, and that was the last time I had been down there. It’d been almost twenty years.
We hit the road just as the sun was coming up to evaporate the morning dew. We drove up and down through the storied mountains for a couple of hours. I knew we had reached the pages of my childhood memories when I saw the sign for the Smoke House Inn. We had to go there! I wanted Dan to have a real Southern meal, and this was just the place with all the fixin’s!
The rustic hotel was a regular stop on my family’s yearly drive to Florida. My dad used to gleam with pride when we arrived in the little mountain town. He spent many childhood summers here.
The Smoke House Inn had a fun country store attached to it like a Cracker Barrel. I am sucker for a themed store. Dan and I tried on some cowboy hats and even laughed about some of the funny Southern quotes as any Yankee would do.
I wandered off and a video playing on an older TV in a corner caught my attention. It was grainy and in black and white. On it, this man with a heavy Southern drawl was throwing out those clever Deep South analogies, one right after the other. They rolled off his tongue with ease, as easy as anyone could with what sounded like a mouth full of marbles. He was making moonshine and would break into song about sleeping in a stranger’s barn or driving his beat-up Chevy truck.
I stood there completely enthralled and even let out an audible laugh a couple of times. I looked away for a minute to see where Dan was in the store. When I looked back at the merchandise under the TV… it hit me! My eyes lit up and my mouth opened wide. Holy crap! That man on the video was the “famous uncle” my dad used to talk about. The uncle whose moonshine and songs were so famous that he was a guest on the “Tom Snyder Show.”
The moonshine-makin’ legend was right in front of me on this small TV screen in this little country store. It was as if I had just discovered a mythical creature. I panicked. I yelled out for Dan, “Hurry, come here!” He sauntered over at a snail’s pace. He never fully grasps my sense of urgency. With big wide eyes I shouted, “That’s Hamper! That’s my great uncle Hamper on that video!”
Yes, his name was Hamper. My older brother and I used to sarcastically joke back at my dad’s stories with lines like “Was he named that ’cause that’s where he was conceived?” or “Did his mom run out of ideas for names and just named him after the first thing she saw?” I started grabbing coffee cups off the shelf as if it were Black Friday and I was the first to come upon this year’s hottest toy. I handed everything to Dan. “Hold this!” I didn’t know if we’d ever be back this way, and I needed to bring my treasures back for my fellow Yankees! I couldn’t wait to get back and tell my townspeople of my travels. I discovered Great Uncle “Hamper McBee!” He wasn’t just a mountain tale.
When life seems a little complex, I just escape to that small mountain town. It’s as easy as pouring a cup of coffee in my cherished “Hamper McBee” mug and asking my Amazon Alexa to play some of his songs. I find myself chuckling as I listen to him sing about his love of moonshine and solving problems by getting “slapped in the creek.” At first, I felt I couldn’t relate to anything he was singing about. It didn’t take long to realize that we are often slapped by life and, often, the one needin’ a good metaphorical whack is the one looking back at you in the mirror.
Remember to always find gratitude in the journey that led up to your existence. Mountains were moved for you to arrive on the doorstep of what is your life. Next time you pour your morning coffee, reflect on the road traveled before you and the road that lies ahead. Your path will one day be part of someone’s storied roots.