CAWTHON’S CATHARSIS - Even on a Run We Can’t Hide…

(09/18/2001)

By Jack Cawthon

I was terrified. Our country was under attack. From first reports we were uncertain about the number of people killed or injured. There was mass confusion but the fearful announcement had been made that we were at war. I desperately sought a place to hide. I was a scared little kid living on Barbecue Run in Gilmer County and the date was December 7, 1941.

Sixty years later I’m back in that same holler. Troy White and I have gone in to check on our hunting camp and to spend the night shut out from the world, or so we thought. We have no electric, no telephone and at the moment no radio. After all, what can happen over a couple of days away from the evening news?

There have been drastic changes in that holler over the past two years. For years after a vast migration in the 40s it had been a place of complete isolation with only one full-time resident along its two-mile length.

But in the last couple of years progress has come. Willard and Margie Turner have made many improvements to land that has been in Willard’s family for over a hundred years there at the head of Barbecue. They have constructed a beautiful new home, brought in electric and telephone lines, and the state has improved the once mud-bogged road with grading and tons of gravel. Willard and Margie even have a computer link and satellite TV.

In addition, Bob Turner, a cousin to Willard, has during the same interval taken over the adjoining land that once belonged to his grandfather and has remodeled the old two-story farmhouse. He and his wife, Wyene, spend most weekends during the summer sprucing up the place until it now resembles a park-like setting.

My place is beyond all this activity up a quarter-mile unnamed branch of Barbecue, still with no electric and with a roughed-out road running through Bob’s land that requires four-wheel drive much of the time. However, it has served me well over the years even though the house now is only a primitive shelter where once it had stood as a proud dwelling. It now harbors only the decay of time and the lingering memories.

Troy White’s grandfather, C. W. Morgan, along with some friends from Charleston had received my dad’s permission to establish a hunting camp about 1950 and each year had gathered there for a week of squirrel hunting and companionship. Troy had joined the group in the mid-70s while a student at Glenville State and with his own memories of that group of happy campers has grown quite attached to the holler. The old timers are now gone, but we still carry on their tradition each year.

It was early morning—early for us as we had nothing planned and daylight is slow in coming to that narrow niche between the hills—as we sat on the porch after breakfast we saw Willard and Margie coming up the road. We figured on just a friendly neighborly visit, a welcome sight after years of no neighbors.

But there were more serious matters afloat this morning as they broke the news to us of major events taking place in the outside world. The World Trade Towers had been struck by airplanes, they informed us, and the Pentagon had also been hit. An airplane had gone down in Pennsylvania and no one at that time knew exactly what was happening. But once again, that frightening word “war” had been spoken.

I thought of the irony. In my childhood that holler had been the secure shelter that protected us from outside evil. Its very isolation guaranteed it. Only when that first sneak attack occurred did I feel that we too could be harmed. In my child’s mind I felt that the bombers could come at any moment and wipe us out.

Now, I know that was a foolish fear. Barbecue Run would be one of the last targets sought out, unless today its improvements of the past couple of years stand out on a spy-in-the-sky photo and the holler is thought to be a secret missile site or other clandestine center of military importance.

Today, one can’t escape the larger world, even in our sheltering hills and isolated hollers. Perhaps we never could, although years ago the world moved at a much slower pace. But as our men were called into military service and many lost their lives we were certainly touched with a reality that we couldn’t escape and a time we couldn’t regain.

We once again face the dread of the unknown. Our enemy is different; there is no recognized country for retaliation. Rather, there is an insane force driven by a desire to die for a “holy” cause.

Our isolation might still be our salvation. Not even the most rabid enemy would waste the effort to seek and destroy scattered rural dwellings protected by sheer hillsides and twisty roads. It wouldn’t make for dramatic television. We may be the people who stand most firm against such terrorism. Our lives have been molded by hardship and the tenacity that is needed to endure it. We don’t easily give up that which our ancestors grubbed out with the sweat of their brows even if it’s only a bit of rustic real estate cut off from the mainstream of urban America—and the terror that has beset it.


Hur Herald ®from Sunny Cal
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