CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - A Christmas to Remember and One I Can't Forget…


By Jack Cawthon

The writer Herman Melville referred to the dark dismal days of coming winter when the spirit dips with the thermometer as the gray Novembers of the soul. I have experienced those shades of gray not only in November but also in gray Mays and not-so-bright Aprils.

I have blamed them on the absence of light in my beginning years in a dead-end holler where daylight shone brightly only a few hours each day and where the almost perpendicular hills cast shadows into late morning and again in the early evening.

I was born a holler child, not a hollow child, mind you, although I have sometimes wondered if I may be a shallow person because of it.

But of all the months there is something special about December. Even with sunshine warmth and brightness which often accompanies it before the full throes of winter set in many times there comes a grayness of the psyche.

Maybe my affliction stems from a gray December many years ago when we left that holler of my birth in an outward migration which for others would become a mass exodus in the late 40s.

We weren't headed for Ohio or other flatland paradise which lured others, but merely to Glenville a short 12 miles in distance but to a world of adventure tantamount to a voyage across the ocean to a shy backward kid.

My brother had been killed the previous April serving as a pilot in the Army Air Corps before ever having a chance at combat, flying a night time training flight over the swamps of Louisiana.

Into that time of spring brightness when the world was coming alive with renewed birth there came a spirit of darkness, especially for my dad who was never to fully recover from the loss of a son who had made him so proud.

I'm certain that this tragedy furthered his decision to leave that which had been his home for over 40 years and where he had eked out a living from the imposing hills.

My grandmother lived with and was not in good health and my dad knew that I must walk the many miles that my brother had walked in all sorts of weather if I were to achieve both high school and college educations.

The December of our move to town saw me practicing a Christmas play at the one-room school I attended at the mouth of the holler. I had a key role in one of the plays and I was filled with excitement because Christmas was near at hand and I knew I would be spending it in town with all its glitter and excitement.

For the first Christmas ever we would have electric. I foresaw a tree with real lights and store-bought ornaments, not the homemade ones we had used in the country with the star my mother had cut from a tobacco can and covered with tin foil that only sparkled with reflections from the gas fireplace, but one that would shine brightly with its own light.

But first we were to have a public auction of items that we wouldn't be taking to town. I was excused early from school to trudge the two miles home.

There was a soft rain-snow falling, but still the people came spinning their cars and trucks over that mucky dirt road. A public sale was excitement to liven up other drab lives and to forget for a time the terrible war that was raging. There also might be bargains in the making!

I was thrilled by all the excitement knowing I would soon be heading to town. However, the thrill turned to sadness when I saw many of our belongings bid in by people who were strangers to me.

Our big old Silvertone radio went to a neighbor. It had been our link to the outside world with news of the war and it was our entertainment center for such programs as Lum 'n Abner, Jack Armstrong and the Grand Ole Oprey.

I'm sure we sold what today would be considered priceless antiques, but my mother was tired of that "old junk" and wanted new things for the house in Glenville.

When it came time to auction off Old Beaut, our work horse of 20 years or more my dad left the crowd and went off to stand alone; he couldn't bear to see the old horse sold, but we couldn't take him with us to town.

My dad would worry later about the care the horse received from his new owner, which only provided another note of sadness for him.

My turn to shed a tear came when my pet chickens and two special roosters went on the block. They had filled in when I didn't have kids to play with, which was often.

The chickens became companions, especially one that would follow me around clucking and eat from my hand. My mother had told my dad about me making a special pet of one of the hens and he had expressed disbelief until one day when the hen and I were having a conversation I turned and saw him looking on in amazement.

He was to reward me for my loss with a new coaster sled when we reached town, and with new kids with which to sleigh ride who needed dumb old chickens?

Something has stuck with me from that auction of long ago. I am determined never to have one of my own; someone else can dispose of my "junk."

We made our move to town before Christmas. My dad brought me back each day to the one-room school so that I might finish my part in the school play, and we had tree with electric lights on it.

A whole new world opened up to me, but, alas, as my new one began my old one ended and with it the innocence, protection and shelter that that holler had provided. Life would never be the same again.

Now each time I revisit that holler I find only memories as all else has changed. But, oh, how valuable those memories are today.

Hur Herald ©from Sunny Cal
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