CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - Big Puf Dilemma: Does Eph Hanshaw Really Exist?


By Jack Cawthon

I made a swing down to Big Puf a few days ago to estimate the severity of the coming winter. I know some of you rely on the wooly worm, and others the Old Farmers Almanac. A few may even hold to the superstitions of trained weather forecasters. But I cast all this aside for what I have found as a completely reliable source: observing Arley Cleeter's preparations for winter.

As you know, Arley burns books for his winter heat. When I stopped at his cabin I found him busier than a beaver with new dentures. He had books stacked everywhere, but in this seemingly mass confusion he had order. He uses the Dewey Thermal System to assign his books heating ratings and stacks them accordingly.

When I asked him what might make the best fuel for the cold days ahead, without hesitation he recommended books both by and about Hillary Clinton. He said they were especially good to stoke the fire at night, because they lay there and smoldered as a rule, then suddenly sometimes in the middle of the night they would explode and the stove would glow red hot with released energy.

He said the best entertainment for a long cold night was to mix the books of Bill and Hillary together. Talk about heat output! He said there would be explosion after explosion and at times you could hear what sounded like the screaming of those fireworks that race about the sky. I told him I thought I would stick with Allegheny Energy, whose energy is regulated by the Public Service Commission.

While I was talking with Arley, Eph Hanshaw, Okey's brother, came by and I could tell he was full of bottled up heat himself. Arley serves as adviser for the region, as it is rumored that he once attended a prestigious out-of-state university.

I have been asked a few times for advice, as it is widely known that I "went to college." But my journalism and bluegrass music classes don't put me much in demand. I have even found myself going to Arley for help in filling out survey forms from the Republican National Committee.

Eph had received a renewal notice for his West Virginia driver's license. He decided he might need it for some reason, although he said he already knew how to drive. He had even made a trip to the DMV, which he said stood for "danged mean vipers," and the office had refused his renewal saying he had to prove identification and WV residency. He felt that since he had lived on Little Wheeze Crick for 60 years and used the same address all that time that it really should count for something. But, still, he was given a list to prove his residence.

"Implied I could be (expletive deleted) terrorist," he spit. I felt by his expression and invective that he just might become one.

Arley and I looked over the list. First off: "Post office box address is not accepted as proof of WV residency," we were warned. Eph doesn't have a street address, as they are few in Little Wheeze, so I could see a developing problem. It didn't get any better. "WV utility bills…" came next. "Never paid none," Eph said, through gritted teeth. "Use spring water, got a wood stove, and burn lamp oil."

OK, what about property tax bills? "Squatted on the old Pratlow place," Eph explained, "ain't never paid no taxes!" He couldn't stop laughing at the next one: "WV rental/lease agreements."

Now, he was into belly laughter: "WV mortgage or homeowner's insurance documents…"

On we went. W-2 Form not more than 18 months old…" And here he turned serious. "Ain't worked since 1973 when I got laid off in Cleveland." Shot that one!

The next item I knew was tricky. "WV weapons permit." I can't quote the obscenities, but "NRA" was mentioned. We were running out of options. "WV motor vehicle registration…" I thought we had it made with this one. No luck. "Been driving the car Jimmy Bob give me; didn't have no registration, but I think it's a Dodge."

O-Kay. "WV voters' registration card." We were back to hilarity. "Never had one. Always vote Democrat." Suddenly his eyes lit up. "Still have that empty whisky bottle from last election. It's 80 proof. Think that enough proof fer them DNR egits?"

I could see despair in Arley's eyes. "WV school enrollment form…" We didn't even bother to read that one to Eph. "Homestead tax exemption…" But if he had never paid taxes…

I thought for sure we had it with the next item: "Proof of WV public assistance…" But we were stymied again. "(Expletives deleted) welfare turned me down cause I didn't have identification…"

We were running out with only one remaining possibility: "Proof in a WV homeless shelter…" Here, Eph's expression changed to happiness. "I've got hit now!" he yelled. "Goin' to spend a few nights up in Morgantown at that there Bartlett House," and he was off.

"Part of Atty. Gen. Ashcroft's Patriot Act," Arley explained. "(Expletive deleted) government!" Now Arley was into the act. "Say, you voted for GW, didn't you?" I felt that was rhetorical, and as I pondered another answer, I absent-mindedly flipped a lighted match into the open stove door. As luck would have it, a Hillary book was lying open. It must have accumulated excess gas, because the stove exploded, knocking out a section of stovepipe. If Arley wants to play with fire, that's his problem.

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