• Waterhole Branch

Shoe Burnin’ Season: Letting Go of the Mad Middle Men

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

by Joe Formichella

Photo (above): Suzanne Hudson with the late Tennessee author William Gay, years ago, in front of Jake Reis's Alabama Booksmith in Birmingham, AL

Had a few harsh seasons on The Branch. Perspective-shifting ones, the kind that re-set the inner GPS and recalibrate the soul. From time to time you get a real hard lesson about what not to do, who not to trust, and especially, who is worthy of the ache of your missing them. These lessons have been both personal and professional, as creatives generally dislike the blood and guts and sausage making of the “business” side of art. Hudson often remarks on what lousy capitalists we are, but she says it with pride, not dismay. It really is about the art, stupid.

Makers of art and music leave a legacy, a gift to the larger world. A piece of their spirit for the rest of us to enjoy, even marvel at. And although they move on, as we all will, we can visit those sublime spirit prints as we please. Old friends Wayne Greenhaw, Carl T. Smith, C. Terry Cline, William Gay and others gave us stories, from the journalistic to the suspenseful to the poetic; and Lari White Cannon left us lyrics that marry like perfection with her voice, a voice that belonged to an angel even before she left this earth, just a short while ago. But there’s another art form: kind and empathetic people like Suz’s brothers, Joe and Wilson Hudson, who were motivated by anything but personal gain. It’s been roughly seven years since Wilson drifted away and one year since Joe left abruptly, both of them in the thick of Mardi Gras season and the waning of shoe burnin’ season. They made their own etherial marks, as all truly kind and empathetic folks do. People who build, who make, who would never tear down, certainly not maliciously. Matter of fact, we built a Grayson Capps-style “whiskey bottle fence” in Wilson’s honor, and the re-built stage will be dedicated to Joe.

Perspective. Creating. Building. Some folks make pretty damn good sausage, in a unique and humorous way. Witness Joe Taylor at Livingston Press. And we’ll see how this New Zealand publisher works out as well. But . . . it’s a strange turn of events, for me, that, after many years of trying to understand a non-understandable “business,” once I cut away most of those sausage makers, those bean-counting middle men, those mad manipulators and chaotic control freaks, whose main concern is the bottom line and/or their own self-aggrandizement--once I excised them, everything turned on its head. It’s gotta be Karma. I went and did what I once considered beneath me, but did it in an effective way, apparently, and something happened: slowly but steadily building, recently more substantial, royalties. Those damnable, elusive royalties. Yes, I did it myself, “self-published” a few titles, and would you look at that? Not long from now I can buy my bride a boat. Not a big, flashy, mega-horsepowered boat--a small one, so she can “put-put-put up and down The Branch,” as she puts it. She also wants “four pilings and a slab of tin” for a boathouse. She plans to give the current and mammoth mud-filled (thanks to Ivan and hurricanes since) “boat garage” to a friend so that he can put it as a tiny house on an acre or two of land, also given him, up in Pickens County (or maybe he’ll put it here, on solid ground). Not because she’s particularly noble and generous, although she is, but because she resents the hell out of paying for flood insurance on the useless thing. A lousy capitalist, yes, but a mud-filled building is another matter.

I plan to spend a goodly chunk of 2018, when not writing, boat shopping. And, just like that, one of these late, drowsy afternoons, once the weather warms, you’ll see us out there on the water. My bride will help me clamber into that floating piece of heaven, with my Weeble-wobble, rubbery legs, my neuropathy-numbed Hobbit feet and my glass of half and half sweet/unsweet tea. She’ll put-put-put us up the creek, past Green Branch, out to the mouth of Fish River, and a bit beyond. A few fishermen will drone past in aluminum boats and jon boats, the loud whine of an occasional speed boat pulling a skier, maybe a tuber, the boat blaring country music. We’ll talk, as we do from time to time, about how, if we wanted to be water dwellers, we could go, in our little vessel, from The Branch to the River to Weeks Bay, to Mobile Bay, to, theoretically, anywhere. And the afternoon will feel as open and real and boundless as the world. Finally, since shoe burnin’ season is all about honoring and letting go, she’ll cut the motor and we’ll let the gulf breezes nudge us back up The Branch a while. We’ll swap shoe burnin’ stories as the sun goes down. We’ll raise glasses to friends and brothers gone sailing, sailing out to sea.

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