By Jack Cawthon|
The great snow and ice storm of '03 which brought down lines and clogged roads did little to inconvenience the folks down in Big Puf. The Allegheny Front, militant pacifist environmentalists who are protecting the endangered Orange Roughage Catfish, did have to cancel a conference on global warming because of snow and ice in the outside world.
Big Pufers have the advantage of Big Puf Crick for winter warmth. The crick is so heavily polluted for the survival of the Orange Roughage that with the radiation and chemical mixtures the water stays heated beyond 100 degrees even in the coldest weather. The little catfish thrives in this environment, although some of the natives come down with rather strange afflictions. It's a good place to warm the hands, the Fronters say, even if the fingers turn rather blackish and emit a luminescence in the dark.
Even Arley Cleeter who lives inland a ways isn't burning the usual number of books to stay warm that he once used for winter heat. He credits global warming, of course, and has become a devout member of the environmental elite. As a result, books are piling up around his place worse than that of a vanity publisher who has scored big at a major writers' conference. For tourists who are used to seeing cars for parts up on blocks in the yard, Arley's place is a unique showplace.
I deliberately stay away from Big Puf during the wintertime after I was once snowbound for a month over two days in which I was forced to take refuge in Arley's cabin.
Arley had plenty of books to burn for heat; that wasn't the problem. However, after we had settled in one night he began telling me about his life and what had driven him to Big Puf. The story was that of many a man, and it, of course, involved a woman. Not just any woman, to be sure, but one who could talk to Arley in Pennsylvanian, which some men find more arousing than Robert Frost poetry. As he began to sob, he uncovered a bottle of Old Al Hag and then the sobbing and the sipping emerged as story that only George Jones could do justice to in song and one I'm not up to in my limited ability with prose.
As Arley sipped more and more out of the realm of Pennsylvania and into the realm of Kentucky bourbon he escaped the influence of a fickle woman but found himself falling over the barrel of a different bondage. However, being of the temperate sort myself with limited knowledge of Pennsylvania and the temptations of that state of mind, my major concern was to stay warm. There were books to burn, but between their pages I discovered my major weakness, and I suppose I could be thankful that it wasn't a woman or a bottle, but it turned out even more of a page turner.
You see, I am a book lover, which I consider more noble than Arley's passion. I would pick up a book to stoke the stove, but instead ended up stroking its cover and flipping through the pages. No, no, I cried! I can't burn this lovely book! The place grew colder and Arley snored louder. Frost (Jack not Robert) was fast forming on the windowpanes and my breath came in icy cold and went out in great streams of foggy steam.
If Arley hadn't stirred before dawn we both might have made the pages of the Charleston Gazette state edition as martyred conservationists who had frozen to death in the dark. I'm sure the Allegheny Front would have given us graveside rites and perhaps may have marked our lonely graves with a picket sign protesting Massey coal.
But Arley saved us both in the nick of time by flinging open the stove door and bringing the fire back to life with a handful of Harlequin romance novels which exploded upon contact. Then, horrors of horrors, from somewhere he tossed in a couple of copies of Lee Maynard's Crum before I could stay his hand. I thought the stove would surely melt, but we had heat beyond description. (This is hardly apt as Maynard describes a heat when growing up in Crum that most people have found glowing.)
There was yet a problem. The books emitted such a dirty cloud of smoke that the Allegheny Front put in a panic call to the Environmental Protection Agency. Arley might have been cited for literary pollution had not I showed off my frostbitten fingers and explained the life or death situation.
Well, this is the story of why I don't visit Big Puf in the wintertime. Arley says he will never let another book buff like me near his stove, but he did promise never to burn another copy of Crum unless it is a matter of life or death, somewhat similar to the situation Maynard will face should he ever revisit the town of his birth.
I recently received a notice in the mail that Homer Bob Pratlow, Big Puf's noted writer who has never learned to read so as to keep himself pure from other writers, will receive the Allegheny Front's award for the writer who has saved the most trees from mutilation. The Front declares that if there were more writers like Homer Bob the country would be a vast forest from sea to shining sea.
There was one dissenting vote, however. Arley Cleeter said that if there were more writers like Homer Bob he would stand a good chance of freezing to death. I'm sure that would be a most noble and honorable death, and I'll bet that somewhere up in Pennsylvania a woman would cry her eyes out. It might not make the best seller book list, but it would make one heck of a country song.