CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - Before I Doze Off, Happy New Year!

By Jack Cawthon


I envied my cousin when I was growing up in a Gilmer County holler, as he always had a hog bladder to celebrate New Year's Eve. At hog butchering time, generally around Thanksgiving, he salvaged the bladder from the hog. Somehow, and I don't want to dwell too much on the method, he was able to inflate it.

It inflated much like a large balloon and was hung on the wall where after a few days it turned a yucky brown and had a texture much like leather.

The whole purpose of this effort was to save the bladder until New Year's eve when at midnight it was taken outside and struck with a mallet or other blunt object to produce an explosion of some sort. I never witnessed the event, so I had only my cousin's description of what happened.

I once read somewhere that exploding a hog bladder to celebrate the new year was a folk tradition of some kind. What folk, I don't recall, as I never knew anyone else who observed the custom.

I always longed to experience the thrill of an exploding hog bladder, but my parents were maybe a bit too squeamish about saving an internal part of the hog that didn't go with our diet. Also, they no doubt knew not to trust me with items that over time might experience a bit of natural decay, as I had a trait of hanging on to them, call it hoarding if you will.

As an example, each Easter there were the usual colorful hard boiled eggs. But somewhere hidden around the house for me to find was a "bunny egg." This egg was a special treat from the Easter Bunny, and although it looked like all of the other eggs produced from chickens, eggs which we gathered daily, I knew that a bunny had laid this one just for me.

I would carry the bunny egg around for days or weeks, or until the inevitable happened and it cracked, either through external forces, such as being dropped, or more likely through internal processes of decay. Then, amidst all my protests and wailings, I was forced to discard the egg—and wait until another year until the bunny could lay another one.

So, maybe the grownups saw a hog bladder in my possession in the same light as a rotten egg. I probably wouldn't have taken it out on New Year's Eve and destroyed it but would have kept it to play basketball, dodge ball, or just to toss up in the air like any other ball.

I don't know how long I could have made use of an internal organ from a hog, but I am certain I would have prolonged it for as long as the natural laws of nature would have allowed or until the grownups interceded.

As I recall, the hog bladders I examined belonging to my cousin had no odor. They looked and felt leathery and may have acquired some tanning which preserved them but, alas, I was never to find out for myself.

The point of all this is to question the silly ways that people celebrate a new year. I see no purpose in whooping a change into a new year at midnight. Again, it may be age related. When you reach a certain age, "senior citizen" is the politically correct term, but which I simply call "old folk" (some people spell it differently), a new year just means another year older. I suppose if one is still breathing at midnight—I'm generally snoring—then there may be a certain reason to celebrate.

Maybe some people are happy that the old year is over and optimistic that a new one will bring welcome change, but, again, if a new year comes can tax reporting be far beyond, as the poet might have said, although most poets I know don't need to worry about taxes.

Or maybe it's simply a reason to throw a party. Whether it's blowing up a hog bladder or shooting off a gun, or throwing firecrackers, or if you are militia inclined, igniting a barrel of ammonium nitrate and diesel oil, some people just like to make noise.

As for me, I may watch Dick Clark, who certainly qualifies as an old folk and entitled to all the discounts that go with it, but not long enough to see the ball drop as we old folks need our sleep. (Money for an appearance may help Mr. Clark stay awake.) But, for me, when I wake up, which may be somewhat of a blessing of sorts, I may simply hang up a new calendar and practice writing 2008 a few times so that I will have the hang of it when I need to date a check.

Other than that, about all I can do is wish a happy New Year to my national audience, all five or six of you, depending on whether Maryland and Michigan are still with me.

You know who you are, the government knows who you are, and chances are your employers know who you are else the Herald wouldn't be banned from government computers and many company computers, such as at the Fortune 500 company where my son works. (It's considered "entertainment.")

Somewhere out there you can bet the super spy agencies of government which have clearance to read the Herald are watching and reading and maybe making a list and checking it twice. To those government workers who have drawn such a lonely job during a holiday you have my best wishes, as I once was on The Payroll myself.