CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - Whatever You Do, Don’t Read Crum!

(03/30/2002)

By Jack Cawthon

In a column of October 10, 2001, I wrote about the author Lee Maynard and his book Crum. I tried to issue a warning that there would be language and situations in it that might be offensive to some people. However, I didn’t go so far as to say it might cause heart palpitations, deafness or blindness. In hindsight, maybe I should have.

I did make this warning: “Read Crum at your own risk. Keep in mind the language, the characters, their actions and the way they speak might not be your idea of life in the hills.”

In contrast I caught Lee in another Reader’s Digest feature, this past November, as I recall, in which he didn’t write one dirty word. So you can see he is a versatile writer.

But far from slinking off into the wilderness where a man of Lee’s temperament might feel more comfortable, and away from the terrible stigma that some had bestowed upon him I found him recently in mid-America huckstering, of all things, THAT book.

My son, Jeff, who lives in Colorado Springs sent me a clipping from the Colorado Springs Gazette. There, by golly, pictured looking every bit the mountain man he is, ready to take on another reviewer, was Lee. David Bean was the one to be taken under the headline (sit down if you aren’t) “White Trash in Appalachia.” Well, dog my britches, as we white disposables might say!

In an understatement Mr. Bean writes, “(Crum) is drawing praise and outrage.” He adds, “The book has been banned, at all places, Tamarack, West Virginia's grand new cultural center in Beckley.”

Well, if Tamarack bans it it might well cause nerve damage also. Certainly some of the other books marketed there could be banned justifiably, not for dirty words, tumbled shacks, coal town dirt of both mind and soul, but because of illiterate authors. Homer Bob Pratlow, Big Puf’s author who hasn’t learned to read, still has an opportunity.

But then Mr. Bean makes his fatal mistake and falls right into Lee’s coal camp. He takes Crum seriously on face value, although Lee tells him up front, “I’m basically a story teller. When I write I don’t consider the effect it will have on anyone.” He even adds further warning, “The publishing business is just like the movie business these days. If it’s not commercial, you’re going to have a hard time.”

After my Herald column appeared Lee sent me an email in which he said I had had a brilliant insight. Well, he didn’t put in those words exactly, but I knew what he meant. I had mentioned to him that I thought he had written Crum with a wink. He signed off “Wink.”

Nothing can so inspire human curiosity as that which is labeled inappropriate for “decent” viewing. As an example, let me share a related experience from my youthful days in Gilmer County. Every so often we had a traveling carnival come though town with its inevitable “girlie” show. You won’t see those today as amateurs and television have put them out of business.

Always out on stage in front of the tent canopy four or five “girls” (feminists please note that I am quoting and don’t condone such trashy language) lined up and with some music to set the tone began a bump and grind, fully clothed of course, as this was the tranquil years leading up to Eisenhower.

As I and some other pimply youths stood looking on in awe the barker began his spiel and it went something like this: “Now, don’t buy a ticket and come in here and when the show begins go running out screaming ‘Good Lord! They’re taking off their clothes,’ cause that’s exactly what they’re gonna do. These little ladies are gonna strip down to the sandals on their feet which is all they will have on cause we wouldn’t want ‘em getting splinters in their toes, would we?”

With a warning like that you would have thought the crowd would have shaken their heads in disgust and gone on down to see the live chicken eater. But, surprisingly, they didn’t. They lined up in droves to go into that tent. And they were men! God-fearing men, some who didn’t even drink!

To get inside, if showing hormonal youth, one needed a draft card. I know a few of us would have gladly shipped out to Korea the next day if only we had been allowed to view wonders so long clothed in mystery. But we had to slink off and later hear from kids who knew someone whose big brother had heard from a friend what went on in that tent. Where was that Army recruiter when one needed him?

One time, however, as I stood on the fringe, the barker said EVERYONE, and I thought he looked right at me, was welcome to come inside FREE. Just to be sure I slunk in behind some burly veteran of foreign wars and when we got inside sure enough there were the “girls” all lined up and ready, but with little to show, for action. But then came the clincher. If we really wanted to see more we must enter the next chamber and pay a small admission price.

By that time I was beginning to feel a bit out of place. I was a good Methodist kid and I had read about Dante’s Inferno and his inner rings of hell. I began to sweat feeling I was already in an outer ring and if I entered that inner sanction I would burn in fire and brimstone forever and ever. And, worst, I would probably avert my eyes at a crucial moment. I ran out hoping no one would see someone so sinful.

Only much later would I learn all about women. I was a student night watchman at Glenville College and had the keys to all of the buildings, including both women’s dorms. So, at night, you guessed it. I entered the Robert F. Kidd Library and there by the light of my five-cell flashlight read the Kinsey report, which had just been published. From that time on I have been a believer in scholarly research with primary sources.

All of this leads to the, if you’ll pardon the expression, moral of the story. Don’t read Crum as in it are women who disrobe and who don’t even wear sandals, for as we all know, hill women go barefoot.

Waldenbooks had only two copies in stock when I checked today. Better hurry!


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