Growing up in Andrews, S.C., I found the Sunday routine pretty standard. “Grandma” as I called her, was dressed for church, clad in her apron, and frying chicken well before 8 am. As for me, I usually awakened to my grandmother’s fried chicken wafting into my bedroom and on occasion may have even found myself sleep walking towards her electric fryer only to be slapped back and told to “get ready for church!” At precisely 10:40, the chicken was on a platter and in the oven to stay warm along with a pot of rice, butter beans, crowder peas, okra and tomatoes, gravy, and her old faithful cornbread. With the food staying warm, Grandma and I would head out to church, Andrews United Methodist to be exact. While such grand work may seem a bit over the top by today’s standards, Grandma wasn’t alone in her routine. This was common practice among the women of the Low Country and I believe it was also the single biggest reason that when the clock hit noon, everyone in the congregation was making it a point to look at their watches to let the pastor know it was time for him to wrap up his sermon!
Once we returned from church, I was quick about changing out of my Sunday clothes and sitting down with my grandparents and whoever else showed up for lunch, which we called “dinner.” After downing a couple of platefuls of what would put most people into a food coma, I usually headed off to the ice house to work with Tal Ethridge where I made $2 an hour “under-the-table,” pretty good wages for a 12-year old in that day. Most of the time my job was real simple, bag groceries, stock the shelves and coolers, and keep the place somewhat tidy. While selling beer and alcohol on Sunday was against the law, we usually sold more beer and alcohol on Sunday than any other day of the week. I’m sure at some point I wondered if church made people drink more. Whatever the reason, we had the perfect cover as no-one ever suspected me as the “runner.”
As the runner, I took my job very serious. Orders for beer, “Mad Dog 20-20,” “Schlitz Malt Liquor,” or some other mind numbing liquid would come in over the phone. Orders usually started coming in by 2 in the afternoon, not long after church let out and folks had time to finish their dinner. When the customer came in to pick up their order, they paid for a loaf of bread or some soft drinks and I would pick up their special bag and put the grocery items on top of the already packaged beer. Tal would ring up the non-alcohol items and add the alcohol to their “tab” which we kept on 3-by-5 cards for them to pay off at a later date. Under perfect circumstances, the customer would walk out with their groceries, hop in their car, and head off to their favorite oak tree or parking spot to drink with their pals. Every once in a while, a customer would show up driving their riding lawnmower. During this era, it was frowned upon to work or cut grass on Sundays and since we didn’t sell gas, this was usually someone whose drivers license had been revoked for drinking and driving too many times.
Now certain customers wanted hard liquor on Sundays and it could only be sold at a licensed liquor store which had to be painted white with huge red circles all over the sides of the building. Nevertheless, if someone was in need of some whiskey or moonshine, we were more than happy to oblige them. Not to get sidetracked, but this leads me to the debate about who invented the “hub and spoke” distribution network. While most people may think FedEx or UPS invented the system, I’m more inclined to give credit to the bootleggers. For our customers, the distribution center was The Blue Flame Cafe, adjacent to the A.M.E. Church directly across from the ice house where I was working. At first glance, one may have thought it was the parishioner’s house but it was really an obscure, tiny cafe where the finest soul food in all of Andrews could be found along with other services which we won’t get into, and in case you are wondering, yes, the “Blue Flame Cafe” got its name from the blue flame that burns when moonshine has been introduced to a flame.
Whenever I was running whiskey or moonshine, I would walk across the street and down to the Blue Flame Cafe. When I walked in, I didn’t ask questions, I didn’t even utter one word. I was handed a bag with take out containers of “soul food” and immediately left and walked back to the ice house where the liquor would removed and delivered to the intended recipient. Mission accomplished, and usually right under the nose of local and state law enforcement who never suspected some kid as the runner but who knew we were running alcohol on Sunday like water flowing down the Black River.
As I look back on some of those experiences, I often wonder, what was I thinking? At the time, we needed the money. Times were tough on my grandparents who were both on fixed incomes so I often pitched in to help buy groceries and pay bills. I looked at it as part of life and what had to be done and I never felt entitled to anything. Like so many other people living in and around Andrews, making ends meet meant being creative, industrious, and sometimes, full of tomfoolery. While times were tough, we never went without and the good Lord always seemed to provide for all our needs.