CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - Let's Hope it Ain't all Over with the Shoutin'


By Jack Cawthon

I swear, I believe if I keep going back to Barbecue Run, up that two-mile dead end holler, without modern conveniences to speak of except perhaps the country's largest privy, a pit bull of a job dug in the barn, I'm going to become sophisticated.

Along about eight o'clock at night, when the holler is darker than Dick Cheney's tunnel vision, and the two great white hunters are snug in bed as they arise at some ungodly hour and go out to "harvest' some innocent animal that has never done any dirt to me, I am lying there in my little camper bunk with little to read and little light to read it by. I listen to the radio.

For those of you too young to remember radio, and should any of you be reading this or anything else, I am speaking of the days when radio came through stations and not channels, and you didn't get a picture but only the sound with which you could form a picture in your head, but which I wouldn't advise trying with some of today's "music, although some people with twisted minds can still get some pretty strange pictures, but I digress.

The strongest signal coming up that narry holler is, hold on to your coonskin caps, public radio. Now, I once thought that public radio was only for pointy-headed intellectuals, the sort who carry New York Times under their arm on Sunday, have long hair, except for the women, and who parade on High Street, Morgantown, demonstrating that they have the right stuff to serve as caretakers in the mental institution on the hill.

I never dreamed that a clod like me should even be allowed to listen to the stuff on public radio, unless, of course, I sent money, as I have found that money spent wisely can be a great leveler of clods that otherwise might be broken by demonstrating their unwise spending on life's sinful pleasures.

So, I'm lying there secretly listening, as I haven't told anyone except you, and I know you won't out me, hoping that I'm not asked to send money like they do on public television. Whoops! There goes another of my little secrets! I sometimes watch public television, and as a sensitive soul who hasn't sent them money, I'm forced to rationalize that some of my tax money is helping out in some small way.

Good Lord! You don't suppose I'm becoming a liberal, do you? At my advanced age? Something, however, is happening to me, something that Bob Weaver recently called "scary." One is supposed to become more conservative as he ages; I'm headed the other direction.

A program called "Fresh Air" is on, and a reporter for the New York Times (yipes!) is being interviewed about Republican scandals. Republican scandals? Come on, you gotta be kidding. They happened last during the Grant administration, didn't they? Anyway, he is talking about Tom DeLay, who has been delayed in Texas over some silly campaign finance laws, and cohorts who are affiliated with him. And, worst of all, it has me seething, and I'm thinking "hang 'em all and let God sort 'em out!"

The only explanation I can muster for my behavior is that as a Goldwater conservative I leaned over so far to the right that I fell backwards and I may have picked myself up favoring my left side. Now, let's understand that I ain't no Commie! But when I keep hearing such blather as we have to finish "the mission" in Iraq, and I haven't the foggiest notion, along with a greater part of the world federation what that mission is, I tend to lean to something that isn't spoken in a Texas drawl.

OK, in addition to public radio, and if that isn't bad enough, I just read a book by a New York Times reporter who won a Pulitzer prize. Think I should receive my honorary degree now? I suppose I bought the book because it was cheap at Goodwill, and, again like most liberals, I'm tight with my own money, but expect you and thee to do good works with yours, such as support public radio and TV. I once had a boss like that who wrote definitive pieces about Appalachia for the left-wing Nation, and who didn't know corn pone from wheat chaff and who safely socked away his money in bank CDs but expected everyone else to do good works with theirs.

Anyway, the book was written by Rick Bragg, a name that rings a bell and I can't place except to say he and Lee Maynard write a lot alike. Bragg grew up dirt poor in Alabama and came up in a life that only the Charleston Gazette pictures when it wants to do good deeds for poor folks around Christmas time. He was from a broken home, with a mother who wouldn't give up for her kids' sake, even with working her heart out and trying to adapt to an alcoholic, abusive husband.

Bragg hardly made it through high school, but began writing for area newspapers, all, gasp, without attending a lick of journalism school. And here I make a point: textbooks can make literate journalists, but only God can make creative writers.

Fortunately, the latter came to Bragg's aid early on, and he took off, moving up the journalism food chain to bigger and bigger papers, until he reached (or retched) what some folks, Bragg included, call the tops: the New Yawk Times.

Again, my theory is that if you are good enough, you have to be let into the club, even if you are a poor boy from the gosh-awful South. I guess the Times wanted to let in a poor boy, who by the way could write circles around the best of the ivy-twined tower heads, and, of course, brag about Bragg, after a Pulitzer prize, and that for its readers it had a token poor boy who could write good, something like that which liberals are wont to do. Hey, boy, tell us about poverty, but write the other stuff real good too!

Bragg's book All Over but the Shoutin' is one of the best books I have read by a writer who writes the best I've read in a long, long while. As far as the New York Times is concerned, I think I'll pass. The only time I will reach for a Times is if the mice have chewed up all our Charmin in hunting camp, and someone has brought in waste material.

I'm tempted to carry one under my arm up High Street in Morgantown some Sunday. Hey, I grew up poor on Barbecue Run, I can write, although there has been some debate on the subject over the years. Maybe someone will take notice of me, say Grit out in Topeka, Kansas.

Hur Herald from Sunny Cal
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