By Jack Cawthon|
As the Supreme Court recently declared what some people had once considered unnatural as natural, it's only appropriate that I come out of the closet and admit that I am a super naturalist. I'm not referring to pristine nature as the environmentalist might view it, but instead that realm that lies beyond with the begone.
I first sought the spiritual world back when my spirit was being tried while serving time in the Institution among the professors and other mentally unchallenged, at least by a lesser degree. Perhaps, it came to me slowly as I was preparing footnotes for a sociology monograph, or more likely like a ton of bricks while preparing a spread for my most famous publication of all: a study of lunch meat eaten by West Virginians. (No, it wasn't bologna, as you might assume by the staple supplied by politicians.) Or, maybe, it was the hot cocoa study. The list is endless, and I was listless at the time, ticking off both the boss and the clock until I could head for a special retreat I had found up in Preston County.
There was a hundred-year-old house on the land, and it stood about as shakily on its aged foundation as I did on my younger one. The house was filled with bits of odds and ends, flotsam and jetsam of its prior residents, the most recent one an old recluse who had moved away and taken with him what he considered the "antique" treasures.
But he had left behind a collection of "junk," much of which consisted of wondrous papers, writings and records of the original family that once filled the house with laughter, tears, and a major consumption of alcoholic beverages, proof being in the large assortment of liquor bottles and patent medicines, all of which contained enough jolt to help dry Methodists through the weary days and joyless nights, although at intervals the monotony was broken by the arrival of a new kid into the world.
There was something else about the house, besides the snakes that crawled upstairs in the summer and the small red squirrel that became a regular winter guest. It was (eerie music, a hush, a swish of cold air) a PRESENCE.
For someone who had been spending his days in an institution in less than a therapeutic setting, unless you considered the handling of the manuscripts by some Adlerian psychologists in the education department who all needed help themselves, I may have been ready to receive messages from Western Union without the benefit of wires, although some people felt that I was wired for both sound and pictures.
No, I never really saw "them," nor can I say that I heard "them" speak, at least conventionally, however, I felt at times the pesky little red squirrel was a messenger, although he no doubt was interested only in the nuts nearby.
For the longest time, and time was long and heavy with my load at work, which now consisted of overly ripe manuscripts detailing various uses for barnyard wastes, I harbored the fantasy of becoming a "religious" leader, cult if you must, preparing a doctrine based on my contacts with the spirits, as I had come to identify them. Some of ye of little faith may be assuming that the spirits I encountered came by way of the empty bottles, but let me distill that thought from your mind.
Cults had been founded on lesser premises. From my research of such groups I knew that the leader was always a male who had received a calling to recruit young females to press into his service. In addition, all earthly belongings, including stocks and bonds, were delivered to the leader so that he could remove the taint of evil and expose his nubile flock to heavenly delights.
If I had continued in my misguided direction I might have become one of those people you read about in the papers, maybe even becoming a segment of a "48 Hours" investigation.
But if all good things come to end, so do the bad, and I was sent forth from that plane of higher learning, and for me, yearning, as a lowly creature not worthy of the Alma Mater, not fit to touch the him of her garment.
Although at the time I didn't know it, a new adventure awaited me as I was able to spend more time upon my sacred mountain top. I found a new source of wisdom not of this world, one that I am not about to share with even you, my dear readers, or even young nubile neophytes, although I may be tempted by those worthies who ardently seek the way.
A hint of what I learned, if I may tempt you, can be found in those old Burma Shave signs along back country roads of a slower day and age. One in particular is revealing: "Amid this vale of toil and sin, your head grows bald, but not your chin. Burma Shave." What at first appears a simple rhyme, has ancient wisdom. Read it carefully for symbolism, as any professor of poetic significance will beseech.
I must conclude this peek into the nether world as I need to journey once more to my hilltop cemetery to visit Mary, who according to her inscription "died in the full triumph of faith" in 1811. My wife has learned to accept this over 200-year-old other woman in my life, and to humor me, I'm certain, has even planted flowers upon her grave. All take root and thrive, even the little spray of artificial flowers I stuck into the ground. My wife views the obsession, as she calls it, as far healthier and less threatening that my earlier one of cult leadership.
Ha! Little does she know!