|By Jack Cawthon|
If plagiarism is the finest form of flattery, I have certainly flattered
many writers, but none more so than L. T. Anderson, who died recently at
the age of 83.
I first met Anderson in print while I was attending Glenville State. He
wrote a column "In Reverse" for the Sunday Charleston Gazette, which
back then hadn't joined with the Daily Mail for a combined Sunday
Anderson, who was then city editor of the Gazette, became an instant hit
with me, as he could aim words that were sharp enough to hit a gnat in
the eye at 50 paces without collateral damages. He delighted in
ridicule and irreverence to many exalted icons, among them politicians,
teachers, sometimes lifting the hood of motherhood, and perhaps his
favorite, men of the cloth who might wear black but who lusted mightily
for the green.
I was a world-weary child, even at 19, with a chip on my shoulder, which
has seemed over the years to grow into a tree thereon, who believed that
society only rewarded jocks and cheerleaders with the finer things in
life, i.e. sex and money, not necessarily in that order, both of which I
had little. Anderson even included those "winners" with gusto in his
knife-wielding words, and I knew he was a man of my own heart and
At he tender age of 19, I was handed a column of my own by publisher
Linn Hickman to loose my roiling mind. He may have regretted it later
after my first few columns, as he was a mild-mannered man who chose
mostly good words and good works.
I became an L. T. Anderson in drag, as my words dragged, whereas his
became pointy tacks that nailed the subject with gusto.
Jim Comstock was making his own word realm with his Nicholas County News
Leader, and he was the direct opposite of Anderson in style. Comstock
had a way with words that never seemed to express bitterness or
cynicism, but by a simple, by golly, manner could get his point across,
and if he felt that, say, a politician had strayed too far from the
fold, you wouldn't realize the poor rascal had been nailed until he
dropped dead from Comstock's sweet-laced poisoned paragraphs.
As a result, with my two idols of the writing world to emulate, I became
a schizoid writer. The dilemma was overcome after several attempts to
imitate Comstock. I found I couldn't duplicate that simple, seemingly
stylistic way that he put words on paper. So, I let all my vitriol seep
out, and it was a glorious feeling, as I patterned after Anderson.
Little did I know that both were reading my column. Each Sunday, other
editors across the state were reprinted in the Sunday Gazette State
Magazine section, and, lo, the lowly Glenville Pathfinder editor made
his way into big-time journalism. Sometimes I was quoted with an
accompanying cartoon by the Gazette's Paul Crabtree. This was heady
stuff for a kid who hadn't yet reached the voting age then of 21.
Jim Comstock would from time to time reprint my column comments. I
loved the attention, but I loved the money the Gazette paid me for
stories and pictures for its State Magazine, which might fetch $20 to
$25, which in today's inflated worth would equal $120 to $l50. I had
achieved fame and fortune, in my mind, but still no girls to spend it
on. They just didn't seem to get the fame and fortune part.
I had never met Anderson except by telephone. Only after I went to
Charleston as a state editor did I build up the courage for a visit. I
was so nervous that I almost genuflected in his presence, and I never
repeated the experience. I found that one visit to the Pope of
Journalism would be enough for one not worthy to carry his copy paper.
I always referred to him as "Mr. Anderson," and I only shorten the form
to "Anderson" here, and you may assume the "Mr." With Comstock it was
always "Jim" from the beginning. I don't know why different forms of
address fit different people, but one feels it without being told.
Both Anderson and Comstock were the best writers this state has
produced, and I will pit them against any of greater fame and glory. L.
T. Anderson never achieved as much attention, perhaps, as did Jim
Comstock, and neither wrote a book of note, Anderson, as far as I know
didn't, and Comstock only on a limited basis. But both had far more
readers than most book authors.
I stole my Burvil character directly from Anderson's Burvil and Dreama
Sue, the folksy couple who he used regularly in his "In Reverse" column.
In later years Anderson became embittered by the Gazette when he failed
to achieve a much deserved promotion. I became embittered by own
employer about the same time, and I once wrote to him telling how much I
had wanted to emulate him, but not necessarily to the extent I now found
He "retired" and became a columnist to his once arch rival, the Daily
Mail. He moved on to a more mature style of "In Reverse" but still
could shoot out that gnat's eye with ease. I once spent a Christmas Eve
by reading his past columns, and it was one of the best Christmas
They both are gone now, Comstock and Anderson, and how soon the light
dims on even the brightest. However, as long as there are those of us
offering the finest flattery, they will survive in whatever small way we
can honor them. My only hope is that if Anderson writes a parody of
that dude in the long, white flowing robe, he will let Comstock edit it.