CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - Earth Day is Earthy in Big Puf

(05/03/2004)

By Jack Cawthon
Barbecuerun@aol.com

The celebration of Earth Day a few days ago was exhausting for me. Some people may think that Earth Day is a recent event organized by the environmental movement. Not so. We always observed the special day on Barbecue Run each spring when I was a kid. The date varied, but was always set for the day when the ground became dry enough for my dad to hitch up the horse to the turn plow and prepare the garden site for my mom to plant lettuce and onions.

This year, the good folks in Big Puf recognized my natural leadership abilities and asked me to be in charge of its Earth Day program. My abilities had been retarded during all the years I spent in the Institution, as I had never been placed in charge of anything, except the coffee machine, and that was for one week only after several complaints were received about the coffee tasting like sassafras.

I felt the weight of responsibility greatly. Lester T. Archabald, IV, coal baron emeritus, was to receive a highly acclaimed award for habitat improvement resulting in the preservation of an endangered species. Dubbed the Ralph Nader Never Again trophy, it is awarded to only ardent conservationists. Archabald had been nominated by the Allegheny Front, guardians of the Big Puf watershed. You might say he was awarded through default, as several of his mining permits had so become. But as the old saying goes, the sun often shines on the darkest days in the mine.

It was Archabald’s Black Damp No. 6 mine that suddenly began spewing orange-colored sulphurous discharges into Big Puf Crick on a fateful day some years ago. All life in the crick was threatened. But over a few days people began noticing a strange new creature which had a resemblance to a fish but could walk upon the land on tiny feet. It had whiskers and was promptly named the Orange Roughage Catfish, as it seemed to thrive on the orange slurry in the water. No one had ever seen the like, and soon fisheries biologists from around the country were studying it.

But all too soon Archabald was swimming against the current. His Lower Beelzebub mine was draining pure sweet water with a ph of 7 into the crick and the Orange Roughage was turning belly up. He was immediately issued a citation by the EPA to suspend operations in the Beelzebub and open up the Black Damp and let her rip. You might say he was caught between the Devil and his dew.

After word got out that a new species had been discovered in Big Puf Crick and that it was endangered, the Allegheny Front environmentalists moved in to protect it. At first, they weren’t welcomed by the natives, but after the Fronters observed the laid back lifestyle they, began mingling. Soon, babies began showing up in the community with normal numbers of fingers and toes, but with strange tattoos, and everyone assumed that the bloodline of the Pratlows and Hanshaws had been diluted.

Also, over the years Archabald was seen not as a greedy, money-grubbing mine owner, but as a man who had spawned a new species. Many felt it was time that he was honored. Now in advanced years, he had been left only with his 35-room mansion, a Lincoln and a Cadillac, and a meager crew of only five house servants, one a comely young woman who stirred talk around town. I felt, like most other men, that a man should have some comforts in his old age.

I told Archabald only that he had been invited to appear on the program and that he could speak about his mining experiences if he liked. He said he would like to read something inspirational from Chapter 7, and I assumed he meant some chapter of the Bible that had special meaning for him.

I had asked the Reverend Les Pedeza, who had just returned from a revival circuit followed by charges that he had converted several underage women in his conversion van, to say a few prayers, hoping one might get through, and Attorney Voy Dire would also say a few words, not about legal opinions as his last two clients were serving life sentences for trespassing, but because he was running for public office.

For entertainment I had scheduled Big Puf Daddy’s Puf Adders band, but at the last minute learned that they were in a jail near Charleston after destroying two rooms in the Sly Wink motel. I found a judge who freed them for community service after I explained the good cause for which we needed them.

With my masterful organizational skills the program began without a hitch, that is until Archabald stood to speak. Instead of Chapter 7 from the Bible, he began to read from Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code in memory of his many departed associates in the mining business.

I signaled for the Puf Adders to strike up the music and they broke into “Dark as a Dungeon,” a song of coal mining miseries. After the music, Sunshine Bright, president of the Fronters, asked Archabald to come forward, and she presented him with the conservation award. I noticed tears in his eyes, and after the ceremony asked him if the award meant that much to him. He said he had really been observing the beautiful mountain top above the village and regretted that he had not been able to remove the top and fill up the valley. I asked him why he would want to mar the beauty, and with a faraway look he said wanly, “Because it is there.”

After a ceremonial dumping of a barrel of concentrated mercury chloride into the stream to fortify the fish, the program came to a close. As the Puf Adders played “Will the Circle be Unbroken,” we disbanded. As I walked out with Archabald I asked him if he felt renewed. He replied he would if his mining permits were.

Homer Bob was selling refreshments consisting of his famous fish fillets. However, I noticed only outsiders buying them. Rev. Pedeza had a young woman in tow, offering to show her the way, and I began the trip home musing over what that Institution had missed by not fully recognizing my many talents.


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