Welcome to Tennessee

Where bees and blueberries lead to moonshine.

One thing that I quickly learned about Tennessee: make sure you have time to chat. In the front yard, two cars side-by-side on a country road, over a fence, at the grocery store. Folks in Tennessee chat.

A few days after we arrived at our homestead, a truck made its way down our drive. Inside was Ivan Lee, a good friend of the previous owners. Ivan stopped by to introduce himself.

Ivan is a beekeeper. He is spending his retirement taking care of bees and learning their ways. He is a man after my own heart. Two of his hives are on our property and Ivan wanted to make sure it was okay for them to stay there. Of course!

I let Ivan know what my plans are for the homestead and that he is welcome to put as many hives as possible on our land. Deal!

I see Ivan from time to time as he comes to work with the hives. On one visit, while chatting he mentions the pain from arthritis in his shoulder. Pain so bad he felt like putting a bullet in his shoulder to try to get it fixed. He relates how he has his bees sting his shoulder to relieve the unbelievable pain. It works. I run inside and grab a jar of my Lion Balm in case that might help as well. Another time he brings a jar of honey. As we chat, I find out that he loves figs. I run inside to give him a jar of my fig preserves.

Then last week I got a phone call.

“Nancy? It’s Ivan Lee. I have a mess o’ blueberry bushes. So many I had to mow ‘em down last fall. I was thinkin’ you might just wanna come and git some.” Of course!

I called Ivan today and asked if I could stop by and get some blueberry suckers. I arrive with my bucket, shovel and a jar of Dilly Beans for Ivan. This was one of my two jars from last seasons harvest. A prized possession. The least I could do for his thoughtfulness.

Ivan drives over from his workshop in his side-by-side, I hop in and he takes me to the blueberry patch. After a little guidance on digging up the suckers, he goes back to his workshop, and I dig in.

Once my bucket is full, I wander over to the workshop to thank Ivan again. He invites me in. This is a real workshop. Ivan is currently melting wax to prepare his hives for the spring. He has tools, supplies, and projects strewn about in organized chaos. This is where he spends most of his day. A heater keeps it toasty warm and there is always plenty to do. Not bad for a retirement gig.

We talk bees for a bit. I tell him that I learned about bee “glue” and that it is medicinal. “The propolis,” he clarifies. “We can collect some in the hives on your property if you want.” I’d love that!

After a bit he tells me about the loss of his wife and how soon after he lost his best friend. Another friend came to inform him of this second loss, bringing him a jar of homemade moonshine to help ease his pain. This friend has spent years perfecting his moonshine in his copper still.

“Do you drink?” Ivan asks. Why, yes, I do. He makes his way to a shelf where he keeps a mason jar of the ‘shine – for medicinal purposes, of course. He unscrews the top and hands it to me. I take a sniff. Mmmmm.

“Go on, take a sup.”

Ooooh, that stuff is smoooooth right out of the jar. I am amazed.

“You need to come over to my house and have a sup of something I have there.”

Alrighty then!

In his kitchen, Ivan pulls another mason jar out of his fridge. This liquid has a red tinge. He pours a good amount into a crystal glass and hands it to me. It tastes like cinnamon, my favorite.

He adds hard cinnamon candies to his friend’s moonshine and the result is like a mild Fireball. As I drink the moonshine, we chat some more.

Glass empty, I set it by the sink and head for the door. He asks if I need more honey. Of course!

I give him a hug. He thanks me for the hug. “I don’t get many of those these days, he says.” So, I give him another hug. “You and your people stop by any time, and we’ll have a nice chat.”

Walking to the car, I smile to myself thinking that sure was a very Tennessee thing to do.

And as I drive myself home, I am thankful the distance is short, and the road is straight.