I guess that I am treading on controversial and emotionally charged territory when I wander into the subject of the Civil War. Just using the term Civil War is enough to raise hackles amongst Southern die hards who, to this day, refer to the conflict as the War of Northern Aggression. I am an equal-opportunity pisser-offer so, in order to infuriate both sides of this semantical argument, from this point on I will refer to the conflict as CWWONA. If you wish to pronounce this alphabetical jumble, put a lemon in your mouth. It will come out sounding something like “Sharona” as in “My Sharona” by The Knack.
For those of you who refer to this conflict as The War Between the States please, just stop reading right now. You are only going to get more perturbed as my disturbing imagery unfolds. Sorry, but I simply cannot figure a way to pronounce CWWONAWBTS. Even with a lemon in my mouth it is impossible. I am certain that I will receive some hate mail from WBTS advocates who will suggest that I experiment with items other than a lemon…a foot, a coconut, or something explosive with a pin in it?
My first order of business in presenting this less-than-scholarly treatise on the CWWONA is to examine the previously referred to expression, “raise hackles.” I looked up the word “hackle” in Webster’s Seventh Collegiate Dictionary and came up with the following: 1) “A comb or board with long metal teeth for dressing flax, hemp, or jute.” I don’t think that this definition is the root of the expression “raising hackles” as I use it. Why would anyone want to dress flax, hemp, or jute? Even if you did dress them up, where would you take them…to a movie, a parade, an adult book store? (“Sir, how many times have I told you not to expose your jute in my store? Please quit flaxing it in front of the other customers!”) I have to confess to trying hemp once but I never, repeat never, exhaled.
Definition 2) “one of the long narrow feathers on the neck or saddle of a bird.” Now that’s one big bird if you can put a saddle on it and, even if you could saddle up a bird big enough to ride, it would probably look at you more as a meal than as a passenger. The next definition is 3) “erectile hairs along the neck and back esp. of a dog (temper, dander).” More on this later. Another definition of “hackle” in Webster’s is related to fly fishing. Forget that! Not much in the way of fly fishing going on in the South.
Try catching a 50 pound catfish on a thousand dollar bamboo rod. Most likely you would end up with some very expensive toothpicks. Besides that, catfish are on the bottom and are no more likely to rush to the surface to chomp down on a little bitty feather covered hook than I would be if I was diving for nickels in a public pool (“Ooh, ooh, I better drop this nickel because there is a really tasty looking batch of feathers up there!”). No way, Jose, and I am much bigger than a fifty pound catfish. Not much smarter, some might observe, and, others, even less charitable, might prefer the looks of a catfish over my own visage.
I had a first date with a girl back when I was in my early twenties. It was supposed to be a double-date. I was driving and a friend and his girlfriend were in the back seat. We went to pick my date up and her mom met me at the door and told me that she had gone cat fishing. It was the first (and I hope last) time that I have ever been stood up by a woman who preferred the company of a catfish over me. As if things weren’t bad enough already, my friend and his date were cracking up all evening over this unfortunate turn of events. This was the worst drive-in experience I ever had. Every now and then I would look in the rearview mirror and they would spot me only to twist up their faces in really dumb catfish impersonations.*1
I would love to see one of these hoity-toity fly fishermen try to clean a catfish… (“Next step, fellers, we have to peel off the skin with these here pliers.”) That would surely send them rushing to the nearest available bucket. Oh, there is some fly-fishing up in the Smokies but, for the most part, this sport is practiced by folks from other parts of the country. Fly fishermen are fanatical, condescending purists who would never pin a worm on a hook and patooey a good-luck mouthful of chaw tobaccy drool on a soon-to-be-drowned worm. Unlike the visitors, the local fishermen don’t carry around video cameras to record their heroic battle with every minnow that they hook. At the end of the day, when grizzled, toothless old local codgers pull their catch lines out of the cool creek waters to mosey on home, out-of-state fly fishermen would drop their jaws in amazement and bow in abject homage to the Real Gods of the Fishing World.
Definition number 3) “erectile hairs along the neck and back esp. of a dog (temper, dander.)” is probably the closest to a correct derivation of the expression raising hackles in that it includes the word temper. But who really cares about “esp. of a dog” ? ESP? What’s a mind-reading mutt going to do? Bark your future? Growl at your palm lines? Who would pay good money to watch a dog shuffle a pack of Tarot cards? Sorry, but my monthly palm reading budget does not include sitting in front of a crystal ball with a shawl-wearing Gypsy Mutt, especially if “erectile” is part of the equation. I believe I saw a video like that on the National Pornographic Channel but it could just as easily be something I am making up as I write this piece.
Speaking of Gypsies, I recently read a book called “Bury Me Standing” by Isabel Fonseca. Her work examines the origins and history of this unique culture as well as offering up some fascinating insights into Gypsy customs. The title is interesting because burying Gypsy dead in a vertical position is one of their customs. That’s really smart when you think about it, especially from a business point of view. A graveyard could easily triple their available lots by adopting this custom…not to mention all the legal hassles that could be avoided by irresponsible graveyard owners who have been caught burying new bodies three deep on top of old bodies, removing tombstones, or not burying the deceased at all but simply tossing them into the woods behind the crematorium. Say what you want about gypsies but they would never do something so dastardly. Unless, of course, it was a really unpopular Gypsy. In that case, they might wait until he got really stiff and prop him up against a tree before they hitched up their wagons and moved on. If they really didn’t like the guy they could bury him vertically but upside down or they could just prop his stiff corpse upside down against a tree. I’m guessing that either of these choices would be a huge insult and would be reserved for the most heinous of all crimes in Gypsy-dom. That would be, of course, stealing stolen stuff from another Gypsy.
Imagine the reaction among non-Gypsy kids playing hide-and-go-seek in the woods if they were to stumble upon some decomposing stiff propped upside down against a tree. Hansel and Gretel would wisely choose not to drop a crumb near such a gruesome sight because who knows what sort of curse might ensue.
I don’t really care for Gypsies but it’s not a racial or an ethnic thing. I don’t like them because they despise cats. There is a section in “Bury Me Standing” where the author discusses the Gypsy preference for dogs. Gypsies abhor cats as unclean critters because they lick their fur. That’s really twisted logic. So, it’s okay for dogs to go around sniffing each others poop and the orifice from whence it springs but it’s unclean for a cat to preen its fur? I have three cats and three dogs and not once have I observed my cats run over to a fresh pile of dog poop and fight over who gets to gobble the steamy morsel.
But, I digress. Just what the heck does Gypsies and vertical interment have to do with CWWONA?
Of course, all of this brings me around to a discussion of one of my favorite musicals, L’il Abner. When the movie came out in 1960 it was very controversial because of the skimpy attire worn by the ultimate celluloid vixen of all time, Julie Newmar.
Ms. Newmar played the part of Stupefyin’ Jones. Now, Stupefyin’ Jones was a woman who was so unbelievably gorgeous and sexy that men who gazed on her lovely, sensual visage literally froze in their tracks. She was definitely no Medusa and her hair didn’t consist of hissing snakes. One look at Medusa and a man was turned into a permanent stone statue from head to toe.
One look at Stupefyn’ Jones and men were just temporally frozen in place. Well, maybe certain parts of their anatomy did become stone-like but for no more than four hours (consult a physician if longer).
Daisy Mae was the prettiest, most wholesome girl in Dog Patch, USA. She was the kind of girl any man would want to take home to meet his mother. But, when the weekend comes and it’s off to Vegas, I am fairly certain that most down and dirty men, if given the choice, would leave Daisy Mae home to tend to the ironin’, the young uns’, and the pea patch, while they whisk off with Stupefyn’ Jones for less gambling than one normally does on a Vegas Trip.
The reason that I bring up Li’l Abner is because my favorite CWWONA songs is included in this musical: “JUBILATION T. CORNPONE”: Lil’ Abner : The Musical (1956) (Gene De Paul / Johnny Mercer) Stubby Kaye – 1956
When we fought the Yankees and annihilation was near,
Who was there to lead the charge and disappeared for a year?
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone; Old “Toot your own horn-pone.”
Jubilation T. Cornpone, a man who knew no fear!
When we almost had ’em but the issue still was in doubt,
Who suggested the retreat that turned it into a rout?
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone; Old “Tattered and torn-pone.”
Jubilation T. Cornpone, he kept us hidin’ out!
With our ammunition gone and faced with utter defeat,
Who was it that burned the crops and left us nothing to eat?
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone; Old “September Morn-pone.”
Jubilation T. Cornpone, the pants blown off his seat! HURRAY!
When it seemed like our brave boys would keep on fighting for months,
Who took pity on them and ca-pit-u-lated at once?
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone; Unshaven and shorn-pone.
Jubilation T. Cornpone, he weren’t nobody’s dunce!
Who went re-con-noiter-ing to flank the enemy’s rear,
Circled through the piney woods, and disappeared for a year?
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone; Old “treat ’em with scorn-pone”
Jubilation T. Cornpone, the missing mountaineer!
Okay, so technically this isn’t a CWWONA song because it was written in 1956. I would submit, however, that a vast segment of the population of this country, if polled, would probably say 1956 “sounds right” as far as a timetable for the CWWONA is concerned. Hey, who needs scholarship when you have polls?
One of my favorites CWWONA books is “Confederates in the Attic” by Tony Horowitz. In this book, Mr. Horowitz not only chronicles the travels of a Confederate reenactor, but he also recounts battle reenactments. The man who he is traveling with is a real stickler for detail. Everything must be authentic from the hardtack down to the buttons on uniforms. This is vital in order for the staged events to be true to original form. A certain derision is reserved for those who fail to follow this formula. I got to thinking about the authenticity factor and, should these dedicated participants wish to ratchet it up to the one-hundred percent level, maybe they should consider the late George Carlin’s suggestion that they use live ammo. I am sure that this move would increase attendance at such events to record levels.
Oh, yes, lest we forget, absolute authenticity would dictate no ether for the Southern wounded (or a very limited supply as in the real conflict), no sterilized surgical hands or amputation tools, and no prosthetic devices other than wooden stool legs. Just make sure that there is plenty of moonshine. Also, because the level of desertion was so high on both sides (especially in the later stages of the conflict amongst the Southern forces) maybe they should, for authenticity sake, have hundreds of guys hauling butt through the woods trying to get home in time for spring planting or just getting the heck out of Dodge. Add to that the court-martials, the summary executions, and the pillaging of local convenience stores and we could witness a truly authentic show.
I must also mention the camp followers. Union and Confederate armies invariably had a group of civilians who would follow in their trail offering up gambling, whiskey, and women. If you are a re-enactor bent on exactitude, next time you contract a STD tell the Doc that, for authenticity’s sake, you would prefer that he forgo the penicillin and offer up an injection of mercury. Don’t forget to roll the syringe in mud. Now that’s authentic!