CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - Long Live the King (of Pork)!

(08/01/2002)

By Jack Cawthon

West Virginians are much too sensitive. (I apologize if this remark offends you.) As a birthed West Virginian myself, I take minor slights to heart. When someone calls me a bigoted, backward, provincial, inbred, cow college son of a hillbilly I always feel that the intent may be to slur me in some fashion or other. If they also add lousy writer to the list I smile easily, because that is an occupational calling I picked up in journalism school.

As a further example of my thin skin I once thought the national media was belittling me and others of my state when the referred to the generosity of Senator Robert C. Byrd as providing “pork.” They often call him the “King of Pork,” which I thought was insulting until I realized that it was only my sensitivity that was preventing me from viewing the title as actually a well-deserved compliment.

Again, that is the problem with us West Virginians: we sometimes feel so inferior that when someone pays us a compliment we immediately think they mean something derogatory by it.

But when Senator Byrd sends the money, or its equivalent in jobs or other opportunities for our citizens, which he continually does, and it is referred to as “pork” by outsiders-and, unfortunately, some of our own folks who seem to have a beef with him-that means only that he is providing the bacon for our basic needs, hardly something for which he can be criticized.

To understand the situation one must go back to an old West Virginia tradition, which those talking heads on TV know well, as they research fully every topic before discussing it with a vast audience. (Ref.: Danny Druther and the Florida presidential election.)

I grew up in a holler in Gilmer County. (OK, I admit it! Want to make something of it?) Every year we began the summer with a pig and all through the summer and fall we fed that pig table scraps, grain, middlings, whatever came handy, and in the late fall around Thanksgiving we had a nice fat hog to butcher. Part of my chores was to feed , or slop, the hog. I enjoyed hearing it “oink” and grow fatter because I knew I would have some mighty good homemade sausage in a short time.

Our neighbors all had hogs to butcher in the fall. We never had beef and viewed it and mutton as relating to the upper classes. We strived mightily for middle class status among the upwardly mobile poor, so I guess you might have called us yuppies without much yup.

When I hear folks talk about growing up in other areas of the state, I find their upbringing wasn’t much different from mine. Hog butchering was common not only in central West Virginia but also in most of the other parts as well.

Even before we had one confined in pen the pioneers had learned the value of hogs. They let them roam freely in the woods and forage on nuts and other edibles. Generally, they ear-marked them for identification so they could be rounded up later. If a neighbor claimed your hog, you shot him, so there wasn’t a lot of hog rustling going on.

(I apologize to those few people who lived among us whose religion forbade them from eating pork and for using it as a symbolism. Our faith didn’t have diet restrictions or very many other limitations as long as we did whatever we did in the dark. I believe Senator Byrd also beefs up a vegan diet.)

Anyway, that hog, or hogs, was the food provision for the long cold winter. There was no refrigeration, so cold-packing, salting, and smoking were the preservation techniques. When spring came we were usually down to the salt pork, which was always a favorite of mine anyway, especially fried in batter as my mom fixed it.

When someone calls Senator Byrd the King of Pork that is the highest compliment he can receive by those of us in the know. It means that he is looking out for us during the coming cold, lean times of winter-as well as the other three seasons.

He can’t actually send us a hog, as people have grown so uppity that they frown on hog pens, especially in the cities, and I have some Yuppie neighbors here along scenic serene Yuppie Lake who might think me a big peculiar if I attempted t raise a nice fat hog on my one-acre homestead. Well, more peculiar than they now think me, although again they might only be trying to pay me a compliment that I don’t fully understand.

However, Senator Byrd continues to send the pork, or its equivalent, and we constituents, instead of smoking it for preservation-well, you never know about some people-can take it to the bank and look forward to a better diet because of it.

Yes sir, the outside world recognizes our senior senator and his provisions for us. That is why we overwhelmingly vote for him; that’s why we name buildings and institutions for him; and that’s why I believe every town square in the state should have a statue of him, and he couldn’t be portrayed better than posed with his hand resting fondly on a nice fat hog.

And when those fancy outsiders visit West Virginia for their annual stories about how poor folks live be sure to invite them over for dinner and serve them up pork chops. Let them know we are living high on the hog, and after saying “amen” to grace, add “Long live the King!”


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