By Jack Cawthon|
You may have read about it right here in the Herald, where I get most of my news of world and national happenings, flavored with a few peculiarities of Calhoun and vicinity news thrown in for variety. The ginseng trade has been restricted by the government and will be pretty much eliminated in coming years, at least for the natural grown plant.
We call it "sang" in the hills. It's a mystery plant of sorts whose roots the Chinese have long utilized for fertility, if you'll pardon the vernacular. Not fertility of the soil, as they don't waste any wastes for that, but fertility in producing babies, or at least in the initial stages of such efforts. I certainly hope you have had a course in elementary biology so that I don't have to explain that process, as I've always been a little hazy about it myself. Anyway, there has always been a strong market overseas for what we have right here in the hills, or used to, as the government says it's getting scarce and needs protection. (So does the Patriot Act, but that is another story.)
The restrictions come at a critical time, as we are importing more and more from China and exporting less. I'm not certain we need more Chinese, as there are now around a billion of them, give or take a million, which to me, implies that sang works. As we have only a quarter of that population, and we have to rely on Bob Dole, the drug companies, and TV ads to achieve that number, seems to me that this would indicate a strong argument for nature over nurture.
For years, ginseng has been a way for the hill person to achieve a little cash income. I never experienced digging the stuff, and with all my wanders in the woods, still don't know it when I see it. But I did have experience with some herbs of a different sort in my extreme youth, but here not going into details of my smoking various weeds from the hillside and my experiences of inhaling drip gas, all of which through various government-funded studies have been found harmful to one's health, except that I have felt no long-term effects as amply demonstrated through my lucid writings and sound judgment to be found herein.
Growing up on Barbecue Run in Gilmer County, I was a spoiled little rich kid. By today's standards, and with the aid of government charts, I can see that at the time I was somewhere in the middle class of extreme poverty, but as the government hadn't informed us yet, we thought we were doing pretty well, although if we hadn't been Republicans the New Deal would have given us even more. But you know the old saying about the rich getting richer, so we were restricted from that curse by Roosevelt.
One day in my spoiled lazy luxury moments, I went down the run to play with the neighbor kids. I was told they were out on the hillside digging up stuff. When I found them with hoes in hand, they were digging in what looked to me like a big patch of green weeds. They explained that they were digging up May apple roots to take to the Baker store in Letter Gap where they would receive cash money!
I knew that we had the same sort of weeds on our property, and I suppose that was the first stirrings of capitalism in me, although coming from a Republican family, I had a hefty good genetic start, as any working class Democrat will tell you.
I hurried home, grabbed a hoe, and hied off to make my fortune. But after only digging a short spell, I began to feel that there must be easier ways of becoming rich than working at it, which, again, probably was an earlier indication that I would spend most of my life on The Payroll.
As I was spoiled, in addition to being rich, my mom felt pity and protection, so she came out to help her only kid with his labors. After we had dug a pile of roots and I was ready to head off to Letter Gap to collect a bundle, I was somewhat dismayed to find that we had to wash and dry the loot.
As I recall, my dad came in about that time from a hard day of plowing on a steep hillside, and seeing his spoiled son and overworked mother grubbing away, joined in to help with washing our harvest. Our run was running pretty pure then, as only a few days before the McCall Drilling Company had baled our well and the stuff dumped into the run has pretty well settled to the bottom, except for an oily scum. We had lived for years without harm from the runoff, and I guess we thought the Chinese wouldn't mind a little oil smell. (We certainly had been paid more from the well that from any old roots dug out of the ground and shipped over the waters.)
I found that even after we had washed the roots, I still couldn't cash in. They had to be dried in the sun, which took several days of turning them over and over. But at last, I was ready for the reward at the end the rainbow. I collected the roots and put them into a 25-pound flour poke and was amazed at how light they seemed. This I recognized as a blessing if I were to tote them two miles or so over the ridge to reach Letter Gap, our major metropolitan shopping center.
To make a long story short, or pretend to, the other kids who joined me on the trek and I reached the Baker store and post office where my poke was weighed. I think the going rate was five cents a pound, and which I speedily departed with five cents of that for a bottle of pop, as I was drained after the long walk. I may have pocketed two cents, which in those days before inflation was, well, just pennies.
That early work experience did harden me to look to better things. We moved to Glenville and I began mowing lawns, and soon thereafter when college came, I gained a lofty position with the college maintenance crew learning how to use a snake to unstop various snarls in plumbing , in addition to the careful control of a floor polisher without getting whacked in sensitive bodily parts.
Here you see humble beginnings of what rooting around can do for one. I could never have achieved my lifelong goal of becoming a respected, famous column writer without those early childhood endeavors. Too bad the government is depriving other kids of following in my footsteps in a rise to the top.