On the date of January 23 Two Thousand Three in the year of our Lord, Miss Michelle and I moved into a larger home. We moved because my two teenaged boys and one bathroom could no longer co exist. The larger home was forty years old and in need of MUCH repair. We worked like dogs fixin’ here and there. We ripped out overgrown shrubby, added a screen porch with a southern exposure so we would get the cooling breezes in the evening. One night on the porch we were talking about new landscaping that we installed that day, and I said “What we need is a bottle tree.” Miss Michelle being a Yankee by birth (No southern woman would put the word hell in a child’s name) did not know what I was talking about. After much lying, I mean storytelling, she reluctantly agreed as long as I kept it in the back where the neighbors could not see. To the best of my recollection (we were sipping out the jar that night) this is what I told her.
I was born and raised in South Carolina. My father’s people are from Moncks Corner, and my mother’s people are from between Ridge Spring and Monetta. I spent my childhood on farms in both areas visiting Grandparents. When I would go to the bottom, (an area where Americans of African decent lived) I would see bottle trees. I remember my Maum Nanny Nora Bell telling me about the haints, furies, and plateyes being caught in the bottles. She also told me, “ifin I didn’t hush up she’d sew my butt shut so I couldn’t get no wind to run my mouth.” Anyway there were these bottle trees away from the house usually past the outhouse near the edge of the woods or field. The trees usually had blue Milk of Magnesia bottles and milk bottles along with a wide assortment of liquor bottles. The colors ranged from blue, green, clear, to brown. Most of the trees were not thickly populated with bottles. The bottles were upside down with the neck facing the trunk. She would not let you go near them until the sunshine was directly shining on the bottles.
Being a child I wanted to know about the plateyes. I knew about the haints, and furies because Governor Bath (not really a governor just a term of respect) was a seer. He had been born with a veil over his face, and people would have him over to see if they had these sprits about them. I remember my seeing. I was scared to death. I think it took several switchings to keep me in the house. (Maum Nanny Nora Bell was a large woman, but when I ran she could catch my little cracker butt, and switch me back to the house.) My seeing went well no haints or furies about me. I was quickly shuffled out of the big room to the back of the house to the kitchen and given sugar bread to pacify me.
Maum Nanny Nora Bell told me that the plateye “is a much afeared spirit.” They haunted and plagued the living relentlessly before driving them “fool” or to early graves. She told me Plateye spirits resembled their earthly bodies, but they also changed to different shapes sometimes into a cat, other times a farm animal, or even another human being without a face. The plateye would sneak up on you as an animal then change into the plateye right in front of you. Nora Bell said, “plateyes are wicked spooks dat roams the earth achanging shape for wicked purposes.” She told me, “whened you seed a plateye he’d scare de breff plum outa mortal folkses.” Plateyes had no enemies and would stop at nothing to terrorize place or until proper “funeralization” took place. (I could never figure out if it was the plateye’s funeral, or someone else’s) Granddaddy did not have a bottle tree on his property, but Mawm Nanny Nora Bell and Granddaddy would mix gun power and sulphur and sprinkle it around the house. She said, “dem plateyes caint stand the smell.”
Having convinced Miss Michelle, I drove to my Mother’s old home site. There was an old squarish post about four by four size in really great shape. Well it wouldn’t come out of the ground for hell or high water. I had to drive back to my house (one hour trip) to get shovels, and two teenage boys to help. Finally we dug it up and it was in fantastic condition. I found the center of the backyard and planted the post. I combed the antique shops for old “Milk of Magnesia” bottles. I also found an old milk bottle for a local dairy and poultry cooperative which had Columbia, South Carolina in raised letters. I also picked up old sprite, coke, pepsi, sun drop, and ginger ale bottles. I continued to search for colored bottles. Finally after spending about one hundred dollars I had enough bottles for a start. I drilled holes at about forty five degree angles, and used rebar for the branches. Miss Michelle loved it. She started searching for unique bottles for the tree. Then she saw a bottle tree in “Southern Living” and went buck wild. Man the bottles started pouring in. We had so many that I started drilling everywhere to use up the bottles. The tree thickened up nicely. Then we searched for larger and larger bottles and jugs. Finally the bottles were so thick and filled the tree to the point I could barely get the mower under it. I thought it needed something else, so I bought some solar powered colored twinkling Christmas lights. I placed the solar panel at the top and ran the lights out on the rebar. I made sure that at least three lights were in the bottles I selected. Well we fixed drinks and waited on the porch for dusk. Well those lights started twinkling, and it looked like the haints, furries, and plateyes were trapped in the bottles. After about a week or so Miss Michelle woke me up in the middle of the night and said, “Go look at the tree.” Well I wasn’t about to get out of bed, I asked “what is wrong?” She said, “That tree is flashing so bright it looks like some UFO landing in the back yard.” So I hauled my sleepy self to a large picture window in the kitchen to get a good view of the bottle tree. Those little LED lights were and are so bright that the walls inside our kitchen were changing color like a honky-tonk.
We continue to work on the tree and plan to fill it to the ground. Heck complete strangers bring friends to see the tree both day and dusk. Now when Miss Michelle calls Yankee friends they complain that she sounds so southern. I guess one of them haints missed the tree, and fixed her up to be a true southern bell.
MAJOR AWARD! Sunday, June 28, 2009, in the year of our Lord, Miss Alyson with “The Bottle Tree Project” visited, and interviewed the elusive yours truly, and photographed the tree. She has been interviewing folks who have bottle trees, and just generally talking to them about what they know about bottle trees, and why they "planted" their trees. Usually, these conversations lead to interesting stories about their trees. She is trying to focus on “Folk Lore” aspects, and gathers first person accounts.
Drink No Evil... Sunday, January 9, 2011, in the year of our Lord, Mr. Frederick with Bottle Tree Beer Co. dropped the elusive yours truly a wonderful note and picture of his bottletree. He told me about his tree and beer. The snow and ice storm didn’t even slow me down finding a distributer and purchasing a large sample for tasting. Monday we fired up the propane heaters on the screened porch, sat down to watch the birds at the feeder, and drink some Bottle Tree Beer. The winter version of Bottle Tree Beer tasted wonderful and has ideal essence for winter. I can wait to try some of the summer brew. I highly recommend this beer for a snow day, Monday, Tuesday any day or night for that matter. Mr. Frederick, you can rest assured that Bottle Tree Beer will be served to “tree admirers.” (This stuff is way too good for my friends!)
I live with the beautiful Miss Michelle Marie our two strapping young men Jiles McCane and Aaron Michael. Miss Michelle’s mother Maria or “Grandmother” visits often There are also three ruint cats and two ruint tiny dogs, Miss Spot the wonder dog, Miss Possum Le’Fay, Miss Silla Wheezy, Mr. Agustus McCrae, and Miss Itty Bitty. Another cat Miss Eula Mae (named after an Aunt) ran off (just like my Aunt) to my neighbors house, and visits on special occasions.