To tell you the truth, when I read that some woman claiming to be Popcorn Sutton’s daughter was publishing a book about her legendary father, I was openly skeptical. Following Popcorn’s suicide on March 16, 2009, I surfed thorough a lot of sites on the internet where I encountered an astonishing number of references to alleged relatives (sons, wives, ex-wives and lovers) — all who were frantically working on their “personal recollections” of this colorful and fiercely independent man. The odor of shameless greed and b.s. hung in the air like the stench of a dead and/or offended skunk on the interstate.
Well, I was pleased and a bit humbled to discover that Sky Ann Sutton is the real thing. Born in Cocke County, Tenn., and currently living in Massachusetts (where she earns her livelihood as a New England historian), she grew up as the only daughter of a single mother. Sky readily acknowledges that most of her information about Appalachia has been gleaned from her mother’s Foxfire books. Even though her attempts to talk to her father (by phone) were disappointing, she was readily accepted by a host of Popcorn’s relatives, so she maintained contacts with all of them. As a result this book is filled with old photographs, marvelous yarns and testimonials of love.
Of course, none of the messages are from Sky Ann’s father. “Marvin Sutton and I have never been formally introduced,” she says. “I’ve been known to call myself Rumpelstiltskin’s daughter because if my father ever met me, he’d have to guess my name.” In evaluating her “paternal relationship,” she wryly concludes, “The only thing I was sure of was that my father had washed his hands of me.”
As a consequence, Daddy Moonshine resembles a scrapbook more than a biography. However, it is one hell of a scrapbook, filled with perceptive insights, hilarious anecdotes and poignant memories. There is a priceless collection of photographs and some of Popcorn’s raunchy stories would be at home in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Much of my empathy for Rumpelstiltzein’s daughter is due to being an abandoned child myself (a father dead and a mother who left me on my grandparents’ front porch), so I sometimes sensed other emotions lurking beneath the surface of Sky’s narrative, including anger and frustration mixed with a powerful need for acceptance from her “lost family.” (It is also an acceptance that, regardless of how often or how freely it is given, it will need to be repeated again and again.)
Potential readers should be aware of a singular fact. Daddy Moonshine was written before Popcorn’s death. Indeed, Sky’s manuscript was at the printers when she received a “text message” on her cell phone. Sky immediately contacted the printers and informed them that she needed to add a few pages. That final section became a moving eulogy to the father she had never met. Quoting a woman named “Becky,” Sky concludes Daddy Moonshine with this quote:
“There’s no way of telling how many times Popcorn Sutton went to town and, quietly and anonymously, paid the light bill, the doctor bill or the drugstore bill for someone in dire need. He paid for several funerals, too, and left more than a few boxes of groceries on front porches in the middle of the night. Helping somebody wasn’t something he did for praise or thanks, it was something he did because that is what a man’s supposed to do. Do you suppose there is anyone who will do the same now that Popcorn’s gone?”
Daddy Moonshine by Sky Sutton. Northhampton, 2009. 156 pages