CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - Marketers Beware: Pokes Not Baggies

(03/14/2001)

By Jack Cawthon

I knew that spring had arrived when I saw the sign "RAMPS" in psychedelic Bic alongside the road and that my favorite road vendor had arrived as well with a most cherished commodity. It had been a year since I had last seen him, and he had aged a good-make that bad-ten. His face with its multi-days growth of beard and the forlorn look of defeat in his eyes which the year before suggested he needed a six-pack really bad, now gave the impression that he needed proof of a higher power.

"What's she got under the hood?" I asked, patting the rusting fender of his aged vehicle which once had contained a headlight but now was as sightless as a Cyclops with a glass eye. I know the priorities of the hills: first the car or truck, then the dog, then, if she's lucky, the "woman or wife," all topics of a good conversation.

"She's got a Pontiac straight-eight and a Buick rear end," he said proudly. I slapped him on the back and told him that I had once known a woman like that. He didn't smile, and I figured my 20 years around higher education had once again failed me. Either that or my taste in women awed him.

I remembered him as Junior, although he wasn't wearing a name tag or business suit unless one counted dirty bib overalls with a grimy thermal undershirt, the sort of dress I've learned not to bid against at public auctions. "How much?" I asked, eyeing the mass before me with its more roots than shoots and the odor of a mass burial. "You smokin' or eatin'?" he asked with a nonchalance that caused me to wonder if I had wandered into a deal requiring a briefcase of cash.

I assured him that I had applied for insurance as a non-smoker and intended to eat only the healthy green produce from the hills to maintain my youthful vigor. But my humor again seemed to fly over his head, and I once again cursed higher education for my failure to bond.

"A dollar a baggie," Junior said. I was pleased that with all of Alan Greenspan's management of the economy inflation hadn't touched us in the hills.

I asked how he found ramps so early in the season. "I taken me a rusty coat hangar ware atwix my fingers and traipse backards and forards till it geehaws then dig fer the little boogers under the snow," he explained.

Was Junior putting me on? Me, a college graduate, award winning columnist and former chicken editor of renown?

Regardless of how he found them, Junior had a priceless treasure trove straight from the good earth and its earthy smell attested to its potency.

I bought five baggies, which I believe is called a nickel's worth on the street, and wished Junior a good year until the next time.

"Might not be around next year," he said ominously. "I git down in my back a right smart here lately," he grimaced.

I told him to fry up a good mess of ramps as a tonic and they would cure what ailed him. He replied that if it was all the same with me he would go get some tonic in a bottle, and he winked. As I have always been a liberal Republican regarding human nature I reasoned tolerantly that one man's spring tonic might be another man's fall.

Only after I returned home did I consider the risk I had taken. Suppose I had been stopped for a minor traffic violation by a trooper raised in New Jersey or Kanawha County. If he had spotted the baggies with suspicious plants I might have been busted on the spot for an uncontrolled weed.

My advice to pick-up truck farmers is to not market ramps in baggies! Maybe put 'em in brown paper pokes like the other tonics.


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