CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - Commencement at Tri-Holler High

(05/13/2001)

By Jack Cawthon

Shortly after the springtime meeting of the Big Puf Mountain Hunting and Drinking Club, described in a prior column, I attended commencement ceremonies at the Tri-Holler Consolidated High School built in the remote wilderness of the beginning headwaters of Big Puf, Little Wheeze and Blue Tick Cricks so as to not show favoritism to any one locality. The location was somewhat unfavorable as in inclement weather it was accessible only by ATV or snowmobile.

After several levy attempts to support regional educational programs the high school had lost accreditation and now offered only full-time athletics, band, auto mechanics shop and twice a week English as a second language course. Such loss of course offerings seldom mattered to the graduates as the last one to go on to higher education some years back was Higgie Hanshaw who had received a full scholarship at a leading university in the northern part of the state for his proficiency in horseshoe pitching.

However, after that university, in violation of some silly Big East horseshoe pitching regulations, provided him with a new car, new clothes, a condominium in which to live, and four full-time tutors Higgie failed to attain the required l.3 grade point average and was sent home but not until he had won a regional contest, which win is still in protest by the losing team in a display of extremely poor sportsmanship.

Tri-Holler Consolidated High always schedules early commencement exercises so that the graduates can get an early jump on the job market in North Carolina.

I had looked forward to the commencement address by Lester T. Archabald IV, recovering coal baron who had titled his speech "Walking on Polluted Waters" and which dealt with the divine right of coal barons as ordained on them by the West Virginia Legislature. But misfortune had once again befallen Archabald as clean pure water gushed from his sealed St. Pete mine, cascading into Big Puf Crick where the Orange Roughage Catfish began exposing its belly upward to the sunlight.

As you may remember, the Orange Roughage is an endangered species that requires massive pollution for its survival, and Archabald who had brought the curse of clean water to Big Puf Crick was its guardian by threat of default, mainly of his coal reclamation bond, which some said he had replaced with bonding in the charcoal. The release of the uncontaminated water had caught the Allegheny Front, guardian environmentalists, off-guard and poorly staffed and a frantic cry for help had been sent out to Pennsylvania and New Jersey for reinforcements to protect a precious unrecognized resource belonging to us simple hill folk.

In the meantime, there was a graduation program to dispense with and as replacement speaker Homer Bob Pratlow was asked to substitute. Homer Bob is the aspiring writer who has never learned to read or write so as to keep himself pure from plagiarism, and as most of the graduates had never learned to read or write either, the school administrators felt that the new diplomates might better identify with such a speaker.

The auditorium was filled when I arrived, but I noticed Arley Cleeter sitting on the front row, I assumed to better retrieve the discarded programs after a fiery speech to utilize as his fuel for his sometimes chilly cabin.

Homer Bob began by stating his purpose for avoiding reading and writing. He said that he had Burvil read to him from selected writings such as mine, and then he recognized me as a leading columnist, which made me proud as punch, but added that I had led him to his purist dedication, for my work depended entirely on the stolen passages of both L. T. Anderson and Jim Comstock woven together as my own in such a fashion as to make original work unnecessary, a result of the finest example of written larceny. I thought it might be a compliment.

Then, Homer Bob made the statement that brought Arley Cleeter to his feet and loudly cheering. He said that everyone should write a book, whether literate or not.

Homer Bob at that point had most certainly reached into the heart of at least two of us. But he continued with one last piece of advice.

He pointed to the auditorium door and told his audience that the one word whose application would most advance them in life was written on the door. He, of course, intended to emphasize "push," but being illiterate and as the door was installed backward the one word that all of us saw when we turned our heads was "pull."

Arley Cleeter said afterwards that was the best advice he had ever heard offered to new graduates in all the commencement exercises he had attended, and that had been many as he was a graduation firebrand.

When it was all over and the graduates had thrown their caps, all with various sports logos on them, including NASCAR, and in contrast to the traditional mortarboards with the bills worn backwards, they all trouped off to the Blue Moon, as their advancement through high school had taken so long that they all had turned legal admission age.


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