(Editor’s Note: This is the second of a three part series.)
To halfway understand Gordon Pirkle – no one will ever fully understand any mountain man – you must first look at the rocky, dusty, thirsty ground that helped raised him.
Country folks, especially those who are spring up deep in the hills and hollers, have a kinship to the land that embeds deeply in our being then effortlessly becomes a part of who we grow to be.
Gordon Pirkle was born in 1936 in the War Hill region of Dawson County, GA during the Great Depression that was caused by the stock market crashing to smithereens in October of 1929. Not that the Pirkle family noticed. They were no poorer than before. The Pirkle family were blessed with resources that city folks didn’t have – land, free water from the abundant rivers, fruit trees, wild game and summer gardens that brought forth enough food to see them through the brutal Appalachian winter.
Gordon’s roots run deep in the stubbornest red dirt I ever saw. There’s something about Dawson County soil that breeds a perfect mountaineer – one who cannot be beaten by nature, his hands hardened by work, his heart soft toward his neighbors, his pride in his family is long. Most of them will, sooner or later, come to know the Lord.
First off, a plenty of ‘em fight God because the Scotch-Irish temperament insists on a man’s full independence and that he should never cede control. But later comes, and something – a death, an illness, a fire or storm that destroys all he has – will drop him to his knees to find the Lord. Then, he will truly be perfect.
Gordon was raised by devoutly Godly people. “Mama and daddy were two of the finest Christians you ever seen,” Gordon says, swiping his neat trimmed salt-and-pepper beard. He chuckled. “I don’t know what went wrong with me. Just didn’t want to do right, I guess. Had a little devil in me.”
Having known him for many years, I’ve never seen any devil in Gordon Pirkle. His temperament is sweet and gentle. If there is a widow in need or a child without shoes, he sees that necessities are provided.
When he was born, around 3,000 lived in the county and they all knew each other. That is, at least, the ones they wanted to know. Strangers were mostly not welcome. Gordon’s grandchildren make them 10th generation natives, all living within miles of the family farm.
“I’m a seventh generation member of Liberty Baptist on Daddy’s side and seventh generation member of Lumpkin County Campground on Mama’s side.” His brown eyes twinkled. “I was taught right and carried to church but…” He shrugged. “Then, later, the Lord took hold of me and straightened me up.”
In the young days, Gordon tried his skills at moonshine making, moonshine running and anything else that might yield a dollar or two.
“Shoot, I tell anybody that asked, that makin’ moonshine is the hardest work you’ll ever do. Toting them heavy bags of sugar way back in the mountains, watchin’ it all night and tryin’ to out fool the law.” He sighs deeply.
One brush with the law for running numbers landed him in federal prison for two years.
“I done it, I ain’t proud of it but it learned me something.”
Truth be, that Gordon’s time spent with the mountain renegades, most he called close friends until the separation of death, laid the foundation for the racing historian that Gordon became.
He knew both the renegades and the righteous. Both sides welcomed him as a friend. Perhaps no one has ever known a history better – from both sides—than Gordon Pirkle.
In 1983, Gordon’s Dawsonville Pool Room had become a popular burger joint. No one had any idea what was about to happen to the little town and how it would change forever.
But no one was better prepared to greet it than Gordon Pirkle.
This is the second in a three part series on a mountain legend.