CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - In Pursuit of Comstock's Ghost We Find a Ghost Town

By Jack Cawthon

Wow, here it is 2007, the year I had intended to slink silently into senility. What? You thought it had happened in 2006? Even earlier? I welcome you as one of my regular readers!

My mind was changed after I read a Herald report that proclaimed millions of "hits" on its site during the past year. Before my exposure to the evils of cyber space, I had assumed that most "hits" were Mafia induced.

While some of the hits on the Herald site may have contained the venom of a Mafia hit for something that was written therein, most of them, no doubt, were friendly fire.

As someone who has pursued fame and fortune most of my life, but has never come within shouting distance of either, I suddenly realized that here in my twilight years I may have my last chance of, if not fortune, which the Herald itself is yet to find, then fame by riding on its cyber coat tails.

My reasoning, with two and a half million hitters on the Herald site, perhaps purely by accident, or lack of computer skills, some might have found their way into this corner. If so, I may be considerably conservative in assuming that I have a national audience in only three key states, as all the states and some foreign countries were in the overall listings.

In addition to Florida, Georgia and Washington State, I had been prepared, in order to inflate my own importance, to add two additional states of Tennessee and Ohio. The former could be claimed through a son and a cousin living there, and the latter through the many West Virginians who have migrated there and most of whom must be sufficiently homesick to seek any solace they can find, even if only in this writing.

However, I am willing to add unknown states as they may suit my purpose. Should anyone wish to add to my credibility, I most certainly would be happy to hear from you as an addition to my states' hit list.

And if there is a reader out there in a foreign country, with the possible exceptions of Iraq or Iran, I would welcome the addition to my bragging rights.

To attract and keep readers, I must be continually aware of political correctness, a matter recently brought to my attention by John Gutermuth, one of my national readers in Georgia, which, I believe was one of the states of Succession. He called my attention to the use of "hillbilly," in referring to a native population, as no longer politically correct, and suggested the use of "Appalachian American" as the appropriate designation.

John is a faithful reader from my days as a Hillbilly columnist. (Whoops! Should Comstock not have chosen that vulgar name and instead used "West Virginia Appalachian American" instead? I tend to doubt that it would have had the same reader appeal. Worse names were suggested to him, however.)

In a continuing effort to find renewed inspiration for my efforts here, the Little Woman (5 ft., 2 ins.) and I recently made a pilgrimage to Richwood, once the home of Jim Comstock and his inappropriately named publication. I had hoped to find Jim's spirit somehow in the descending mists that quickly shroud remembrances once we are dead. People all too soon forget a man such as Comstock whose unique contribution not only to journalism but to the state's heritage was of the greatest.

We chose the Dairy Queen for lunch, the hangout Jim spoke of the most, and still in business after many years. Its Ultimate Burger I chose didn't do much to produce Jim's ghost, although my queasy stomach might have produced him if I had taken a deep nap right about then. Nonetheless, I tried to imagine those thrilling days of yesteryear when Comstock and his buddies met there in court. Alas, that was about it for any active life we found in Richwood.

The town itself looks like one of those scenes out of a Steven King novel after some mysterious force moves through and takes with it all human life. We found only one active business on Main Street, a flower and antique shop, and a nice antique shop, I might add. Most of the storefronts were empty with notes on some doors stating that they could be opened on short notice if a live one should request it.

We met one young man, a lonely form on the deserted street, who fit the bill in all respects as an Appalachian American, and perhaps one employed by the town should any outside tourist happen by and want a picture to capture the memory of a dying art form.

He gave us a lecture on a dying town instead and the depravity of its young folks, all too many of them hooked on drugs. He cited details, should we need them, of language and acts he had witnessed, although in a nearby Wal-Mart, which Richwood lacks, but which I would hazard a guess Wal-Mart will fill someday in its efforts to saturate America ("build it and they will come").

If our spirits were dulled by both the town and the failure to find Comstock's ghost, we were heartened by the native zeal we found in Craigsville, midway point between Richwood and Summersville, and a thriving little community. The Appalachian Americans were alongside the road selling ramps, the edible kind for hearty stomachs, not the Interstate ones.

We learned the enterprise began around Christmas. Being a purist myself and dedicated to my own diggings, I tried finding some in a location known only to God and me. I found nary a trace of plant life, which inclines me to think that those buying were hardened addicts, unknowing tourists, or natives who will try smoking anything to escape the boredom of depressed circumstances, if no more than roots and dirt will suffice.

Anyway, here I am in 2007, still alive at least physically, with you as judge, and not too harshly I hope, of the mental capacity. I certainly hope if you are one of those cyber wanderers who hit this spot accidentally, that you will try to remember what you did wrong and repeat it again, especially if you are from one of those states absent from my hit list.

To those faithful readers, and I know you all by name which won't be repeated here in case the government is keeping a list and checking it twice, I trust you will continue with me into the new year, as I don't wish to become a ghost in the mist just yet.