CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - Pied Piper of Lincoln County Strikes Again!

(07/30/2001)

By Jack Cawthon

I knew there was trouble brewing down in Big Puf when I arrived and saw Burvil reading the newspaper to Homer Bob. As you may recall, Homer Bob is an aspiring writer who has never learned to read so as to keep himself pure and uncontaminated by other writers. But, alas, Homer Bob doesn't yet realize that to become a writer one must learn to read in order to steal, a literary larceny, from others else all writing and writers would fall flatter than a house of cards built on the San Andreas fault.

I didn't learn of this fault until after I had learned to read. By then it was much too late. I wanted to become a writer, but unfortunately I went to college and took journalism, but similar to my smallpox vaccination journalism never took on me. After several tries, the smallpox vaccination scars would disappear from my arm, opposite the effect that should have occurred, and I remember a health nurse saying that I would probably be immune. She was absolutely right. I never did catch smallpox.

The same held true for journalism. I became immune after several attempts and never did catch it although I did develop some scars in unlikely places from related practices. But as with the other social diseases, I escaped pretty much unscathed.

I discovered early on that if one wanted a skill, then journalism was to writing much like welding and landscaping were to vocational training. On the other hand, if one wanted to become a writer, then write-and learn to steal. I became proficient at an early age in the latter but fortunately neither Jim Comstock nor L. T. Anderson pressed charges.

But Homer Bob is still naïve. He believes that what is read to him from the newspaper is pure and uncontaminated literature. Would anyone trained in journalism lie? As a result, he sometimes becomes emotional as he lets himself become completely absorbed in the news of the day. Or as much as Burvil will read to him.

Burvil learned long ago not to read Charleston Gazette editorials to him after one fateful day when the poor man became so hysterical that old Doc Absolom was called in to administer a sedative of pennyroyal in a 98 percent alcohol solution to calm him down. As I recall, that editorial consisted of a Christmas theme of peace and goodwill on earth, but the Gazette writer implied that only those who voted Democratic would ever achieve it.

Now, Burvil was once again reading a news story, and I could see the tightening in Homer Bob's jaw and the glint in his eyes. When he could stand it no longer, he banged his fist on the table and exclaimed loudly, "Hits thet danged Pied Piper agin!" "When's people goin' to learn they ye gotta pay the Piper or suffer the calamities?" he asked, I hoped rhetorically, as I didn't know the answer or even the basis for the question.

By looking over Burvil's shoulder I saw that he was reading from an Associated Press story that stated that West Virginia had lost 9 percent of its child population in the last decade. In the 1990 census there were 444,000 children; in 2000 that number was down more than 40,000. Even worse, in 1980 there were 559,000 children. Somewhere over the 20 years more than 100,000 children were missing.

"Hits them people in Lincoln County," Homer Bob proclaimed. Finally, it began to sink in. Although the legend of the Pied Piper took place in Hamelin, a German city, over the years the location had shifted with oral telling to Hamlin in Lincoln County, West Virginia. You may recall, that the Pied Piper was called in to rid the town of its rats. When the townspeople refused to pay after he had accomplished the task he took up his pipe once again and playing a lively tune the children followed him to a place under a mountain and were never seen again.

I could see that Homer Bob had taken that story to heart, including the revisionist version. All of those children missing in the census had been lured away after the citizens of Hamlin had refused to pay the Piper. He even had a new twist to an old story. Seems the rats the Piper had been called in to exterminate weren't the rodent type at all, but were southern West Virginia politicians who have plagued our state unmercifully.

But there was no soothing Homer Bob. He had heard the story as it was presented in the newspaper and he had formed his own opinion. Here, dear reader, is where you must ever be on guard. Don't believe everything you read, even in cyberspace. Except, of course, what you read here. I studied journalism, including the day we were taught ethics. Trust me!

When I slipped out of the room Burvil had rolled up the newspaper but Homer Bob was still agitated. I heard him scream, "Should've D-conned the whole pack!"


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