...I'm from the South...not the "New South," but the lost South of a different generation, maybe from a different universe. So yes, I can tell funny stories about moonshiners and haints and violence that by today's standards would be breathtaking...or terrifying. I once wrote a piece for Esquire, back before Esquire became a sad collection of poofs — remember, back in the day Esquire was the only mainstream media that did a fair and honest profile of Col. Jeff Cooper — on Charlie Daniels and the soul of the South.
I wrote that Charlie Daniels was, like me, a product of the Old South, and that time laid very differently there. I told the story of when I was a kid, on a bet, I'd walked out on the girders of an old railroad bridge over the Mississippi River at flood in Memphis.While I was out there like an idiot balancing over the black water, I looked upriver and and there was fire lighting up the sky, and I could see people on a boat, silhouetted against the flames, jumping into the river. I swear I could hear the screams, then a huge explosion. I frantically got off the old bridge, raced to my grandparents and told them there was a fire on the river. My grandmother laughed. "Honey," she said, "it's just that old riverboat that burned up...everybody sees it. Ain't really there, so those people are already gone."
For the record, the steamship Sultana exploded and burned on the river outside of Memphis April 28, 1865, the greatest maritime disaster in American history. The print above is from Harper's Weekly. Everybody's seen it, doncha know. I could tell you more, but, heck you'd probably think I was crazier than you already think I am. Charlie Daniels and I sat in his wonderful house in Tennessee many many years ago and talked about stuff like that, and quarter horses, and Bob Dylan, and Charlie's collection of vintage Winchesters.
I bring this up because last night, my cat Pokke-san jumped on the bed. He's the loudest cat you can imagine...I woke up when he was running up the stairs. Then I felt him land on the bed. He walked up to my Sweetie's face, sniffing like he always does. Of course, she was deeply asleep and didn't wake up. Then he came over to me...I could feel his paws on my chest, as I have so many times before over the last 8 years. I could feel his soft fur on my face. Then he made a soft noise, somewhere between a purr and a growl, and it sounded so very very sad. I was awake, but I didn't open my eyes, because of course my cat, Pokke-san, is dead. I heard him jump off the bed and head down the stairs, so I clicked on a Streamlight and sat up. Alf the Wonder Beagle was at the foot of our bed, standing rigidly, her hackles up. Dogs know things.
I picked her up and put her on our bed. Then I sat on the side of the bed for a while and thought about the Sultana.