By Jack Cawthon|
I had been trying to get through to Big Puf during Thursday, Dec. 20, with no results. As I have mentioned before, Big Puf's land lines operate under frontier conditions and the weather had been bad. Cell phone use is limited to the top of Big Puf Mountain. Hensel Hanshaw lives there, and if one has a need to reach out and touch someone down the mountain Hensel is the one to contact.
He has a bugle or trumpet, a horn of some kind, and a code system worked out much like our old crank telephone system in the holler of years back. By a series of long and short blasts he can summon the right Pratlow or Hanshaw, as they make up the general population. (There is some degree of inbreeding. How else to keep a stable population?) Then, the designated family can travel up the mountain by four-wheeler or on foot and return the call.
But I couldn't reach Hensel. I began to worry. Arley Cleeter, who burns books for his winter heat had been acting peculiar lately. Well, more peculiar than usual, as he is an ex-Pennsylvanian who came to the holler years ago as a sort of back-to-the-land hippie and liked the life so well he just stayed on.
He told me once that he loved books, but if he begins reading them he wants to save most of them, and if he does that he risks freezing to death in the winter because he won't want to burn them. Makes sense to me, as I live up here near the geographical Pennsylvania line but within its mental zone; then, again, he lives in Big Puf, a double challenge.
Maybe by chance or mishap Arley had glanced at a book and found the Mayan prophecy that the world would end on Dec. 21. As far as I know, there are no Mayans living in Big Puf, unless they had married unnoticed into the Pratlow and Hanshaw clans. But there are several of the Holy Rattler faith who have been predicting the End Times for years and many believed they were at hand, especially after the second term of George W. Bush.
Arley had taken to wearing a sign proclaiming "Repent, the end is nigh." And he had no doubts it would occur on Dec. 21 as predicted. He was welcomed in the Over Easy Inn by Homer Bob, its owner, as he inspired the locals to partake more than usual. If the world was ending, well, what the heck! Live it up!
All evening Thursday I tried Hensel's number with no results. But early Friday morning, really, really early, my phone rang me out of bed and assuming that the call centers in India or Minnesota wouldn't be calling just yet, I answered. It was Burvil, my trusty correspondent, calling to report.
Yes, everyone in Big Puf had assembled on the mountain top awaiting the end. It had been a mess at first as the various religious groups spared off. The Dunking Baptists told the Sprinkled Methodists that they weren't ready as they hadn't been immersed. It was moving towards a fist fight, with the few Presbyterians, known to be a little more liberal, trying to lighten the mood by passing around goodies from their recent bake sale.
Not noticed at first, off to themselves, were the Holy Rattlers who carried a couple of crates, not until they began to shout and sing. Then, opening the crates, they picked up their big rattlers. This got the attention of all other denominations right fast. Then, a strange thing happened, Burvil explained. The religious fever became contagious and the first thing you knew everyone wanted to handle a serpent. One reason was that the cold on the mountain had stiffened the snakes until had become dormant. So, it was the fervor of all assembled that they joined in rejoicing and passing the snakes around while singing and shouting. By this time, the sun was coming up, and wonders of wonders, the world hadn't ended.
But the world as I knew it had ended in Big Puf, at least for a spell. I found out after Christmas--I no longer visit Big Puf at Christmas as my bones have become more brittle with age--that the usual fights and drinking binges hadn't happened at this time of peace and good will as they had in the past as the various church pageants spilled over into the street. (There are reports I have written about Big Puf Christmases under Columns, should you like old reruns, sort of like "It's a Wonderful Life" you see each year on TV, but with a somewhat different plot.)
Burvil reported that the most peaceful Christmas ever prevailed as all the various factions joined together for Christmas carols and exchanging gifts. Even the Holy Rattlers invited everyone to their services, but kept the crates closed through courtesy, as the warmth inside had produced a proclaimed buzzing from within. I couldn't help thinking that the buzz of a rattler had replaced the buzz of a beverage.
Burvil did have a question for me unrelated to the Big Puf experience. Where is that Fiscal Cliff located in Washington, he asked, that he was hearing so much about? He said he had seen a nature film in school where little creatures in Alaska --he thought they were called Lemons--would gather and when their leaders took off, all would follow in a run until they came to a cliff, then all would plunge over to the rocks below. He wondered if the same might happen in Washington with all the politicians following their leaders, heading to the cliff and plunging over. I told him that, gosh, I hoped so!
(After word: Where was Arley Cleeter who began all the commotion? He admits, sheepishly, that he violated his own rules and began reading a book. ( He won't say what, but in the past I have seen several copies of Harlequin Romance novels lying around that had escaped the fire.) He admits he fell asleep and awoke nearly freezing when he heard the singing and shouting outside. He threw some old copies of Penthouse magazines into the stove and they exploded spontaneously from internal heat and he soon had his cabin warm again. He still insists that the Mayans were right. The world had ended in Big Puf, as everyone had known it, and that there would be a New World Order in place. Forget I used that term, should there be Tea Party readers, as I seem to be seen by some as a, gulp, liberal.)