CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - A Loaf of Bread, a Bottle of Wine and a Federal Grant: or Two out of Three Ain’t Bad for a Grad School Dropout

(01/19/2002)

By Jack Cawthon

I saw a piece on TV the other night about Hadrian’s wall built across the northern part of Britain by the Roman emperor and I thought what a great idea if only we in time had built our own wall along the Mason-Dixon line to the Ohio River and kept out the invading hordes from the barbaric northland.

Alas, it’s too late now I fear. Along with the Berlin wall and the Great Wall of China it would have been breached by now and it would have proved in no way deterrent for the do-gooders who would have found a way over, across or underneath by tunnels. It is the role of some people who may be seeking special dispensation in heaven to come to the aid of us poor yokels long sheltered in our pockets of both isolation and assumed poverty.

Back in the 60s and 70s when I was serving time in Morgantown in the state’s largest mental institution there was a special effort made to study hill folk and, I might add, pick up some of the gravy that the Feds were dipping out, as Appalachian everything was in fashion at the time.

I thought for sure my time had arrived. Every time there was an opening or a project in that special “center” I would raise my hand and wave it frantically trying to attract attention. I discovered too late that much like the military attracting attention to one’s self may sometimes be detrimental. However, the therapy provided me by working with cows, hogs, and chickens, as well as a variety of farm animals, had some how left me unfulfilled and I felt a change might prove beneficial.

Who knew more about “Appalachia” than someone like me who was born up a dead end holler, whose worldwide travels had included both Gilmer and Preston counties and who drawled his words better’n George Jones wailing his cheatin’ songs?

I was ignored as “specialists” from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, as well as some other states whose locations were a mystery to me as I never fully understood the country across the Mississippi, were brought in to head up programs and conduct “studies,” many of which led to research publications and advanced degrees, not to say lots of federal grants, in their probes of why people in the hills don’t join community improvement associations and develop interpersonal relationships.

I could have told them with lots of vernacular that it isn’t the hill way to volunteer unless one sees his neighbor in trouble or an all-out call comes to rebuild a neighbor’s house which has suffered a major fire or flood.

Now, you may see my major mistake by drawing attention to myself in an effort to volunteer. For my efforts I was usually handed another manuscript to edit which dealt in some way with the end product of chickens as I seemed to have time on my hands and a good deal more of chickens than I cared for. I must say that it did draw my attention away from a wasted life and one which I could have served usefully by becoming, say, a federal environmental inspector measuring the ozone layer on a daily basis.

I realize that some people may have considered me provincial and narrow, and, sadly, still do. But my extensive knowledge of Gilmer and Preston counties, with a smattering of Calhoun, Wirt and Ritchie could have given me insights into problems besetting the region that many outsiders may have missed. If not as a leader, and no one would foolishly have considered that and quite wisely so, then I could have been the ideal study subject.

I always blamed my lack of selection on a college degree, which I had foolishly received by excellent attendance at Glenville State and then like a dunce supplemented with graduate study. But through little effort I became a grad school dropout which I felt should count for something. Had I not gone to college, but played a dulcimer and recited obscure Elizabethan songs long lost to academia I would have become a worthy study participant, I felt sure.

But unfortunately I was over qualified to become studied and under qualified to conduct a study. It didn’t help either when we begot a leader named Gee, whose name I was always supplementing with “haw,” which I think he interpreted as a show of disrespect. He most certainly didn’t know how to pronounce his own name by calling himself “Ghee.” We poor subjects never knew whether to go right or left.

I wasn’t helped by my tendency to lean right which, as everyone knows is the wrong direction for advancement in academia or for becoming a major TV news anchor.

Well, this all may be a bit rambling and the story of a misfit who never found himself-sorry, hisself-but I’m still trying. If there should be anyone out there interested in studying a genuine throwback to the days when the mountains served as a natural barrier against outsiders who were determined to bring us salvation as well as new breeding stock please get in touch with me. It won’t hurt to dangle some federal grant money before my eyes, as like most in the hills I have already been contaminated and can be bought as we have been rewarded and conditioned to reelect a certain outsider senator every six years. I will even learn to play a dulcimer if that will help.


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