Last Laugh shares MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader submitted American humor with other readers. Jim Comstock tells the story of a hot summer picnic tale involving Ott Bartlett and the Plumtree boys.
American Humor: A Hot Summer Picnic Tale
"There's a woman on Hinkle Mountain who has strange feelings on two subjects. First, she says there's nothing wrong with ending a sentence with a preposition, and second, she says talking about bad weather makes it come. The other day she remarked, `Oh, let's be cheerful. Why bring weather that one would rather stay in out of up for?'"
Well sir, even Ott Bartlett (who's been around so long thet iffen he don't remember somethin', it ain't nev'r happened) has already broke down an' admitted thet this here's the hottest summer in the entire history of Barren County. An' whilst the stories goin' around—concernin' corn poppin' on the stalk an' hens layin' cooked eggs . . . city folks runnin' their drinkin' water through electric heaters to cool it off an' country people pullin' theirs already boilin' outa their wells . . . an' even goosedrownin' thundershowers not coolin' things off 'cause all them raindrops was evaporatin' afore they hit the ground—cain't quite be taken as gospel, they's a speck er more of truth in 'em!
As you might imagine, then, most of the residents of Plumtree Crossin' has been movin' slower'n Congress in this weather (iffen they move at all). An' naturally enough, about the least active folks in the entire community is thet cluster of porch-perched cronies known as the Truth an' Veracity League. Them pillars of imperturbability is spendin' pretty much all their time with their heads hid under widebrimmed hats an' their backs melted agin' their chairs.
A few days back, though, of Newt Blanchard did manage to start up his lungs long enough to tell Billy Parsons—seein' as Billy's the youngest member of the group—to walk inside the store an' fetch his elder a nice cool Nehi orange. Well, Billy reluctantly peeled hisself off'n his roost an' kinda oozed inta the store. A good ten minutes later, the youngster'd made it back out an' was fixin' to hand the bottle to Newt when he noticed he'd plumb fergot to open it.
"Nevi mind," said Newt, reachin' inta his pocket. "I got an open'r."
Relieved thet he wouldn't have to make another round trip, Billy collapsed on the settin' bench. Newt pried open his soda (which he allowed were so warm already thet he practically had to blow on it afore he could drink it), took a deep swig, an' said, "Now I know all you fellers kin keep a secret, so I'm fixin' to tell you somethin'. This here ain't my bottle opener . . . it belongs to Cleedy McCannon."
It were a good five minutes later when one of the boys (Skeeter Ridges, I b'lieve) stretched open his yapper long enough to comment. "So what?" he asked.
An' Newt (after a consider'ble pause hisself) replied, "You mean you ain't heered tell of the McCannons' picnic?"
Well, another few minutes passed afore anyone got up the energy to snap at Newt's bait. Finally, though, Clarence Smithers mumbled, "What picnic?"
"Iffen someone'll fetch me a honest-to-God cool soda, I'll tell about it." An' after Billy got back (he did seem to move a bit quicker this time) with a second Nehi, Newt proceeded to elocutionate the followin' tale.
Fact is, it took them folks about five hours to pack . . . mostly 'cause Buckeye—a cussed little critter what's feistier'n a teenage bobcat—kept insistin' thet his fav'rite food should be packed right on top of the basket so's not to git squashed . . . an' then changin' his mind about jist what vittles he liked best.
Eventually er so, the McCannons got ev'rything sorted out, an' off they set. Now 'twern't really all thet far to the clearin' where they was fixin' to eat, but ain't nobody about to walk fast in this heat . . . an' the McCannons is slow movers in the best of times. So what with carryin' those heavy baskets an' havin' to rest ev'ry few yards an' all, it were three full days afore they reached their picnic spot.
O'course, the whole family were a bit peaked with hunger by the time they finally got there, so they all set to it an' helped spread the tablecloth an' unpack the eats. Howsomev'r, they was jist about to chow down when Sadie said, "Wait! We cain't eat yet. Where in tarnation's thet bottle opener?"
They all put their food down an' went to searchin' fer thet top popper. They shook out all the baskets, peeked under ev'ry plate an' container, an' poked around in all their pockets, but they couldn't find the blamed thing nowhere. Finally, Miz McCannon turned to her husband an' said, "Cleedy, you left it to home, an' somebody's got to go fetch it."
Well, her of man scowled back like a hound-hemmed bear thet were ready to fight to the death. So without sayin' another word to each other, they both turned their heads an' each fixed a pair of full-bore, double-barrel glares on little Buckeye.
"I ain't movin'!" yipped the youngster.
"But we cain't drink the sodas without we got the opener," Sadie explained in a voice like a saber saw cuttin' tin.
"Well, I ain't goin' after it. I ain't, I ain't, I ain't! You two'll eat up ev'ry blessed bite afore I git back."
"Why boy," crooned Cleedy, "we'd nev'r do a thing like thet."
"Yes you would too," Buckeye snapped.
"Oh no, no, we promise we won't," said his mama an' daddy.
"Cross yet heart an' swear you won't set tooth in a single thing whilst I'm gone?" Buckeye demanded.
"Cross our hearts an' swear!" they said.
"Oh, spit!" Buckeye groaned, defeated . . . an' he turned around an' started walkin'. Cleedy an' Sadie watched the lad trudge inta the woods an' outa sight. Then they turned an' stared at the sandwiches an' meat an' salad an' fruit spread out ready. A day passed . . . another day passed . . . an' a third day passed.
"Dadburn it, Sadie," Cleedy said, "thet boy ain't back yet . . . let's eat." But Sadie looked at her husband through the Eyes of Judgment theyselves. "We promised, Cleedy," she said.
Two more days passed. Cleedy was gettin' powerful hungry, an' Sadie looked a smidge more'n ravenous herself. Still they waited . . . an' waited.
Finally, eight long days since they'd last seen Buckeye, Cleedy croaked, "Sadie, I cain't hold on enny longer. We've jist got to eat . . . one little sandwich, Sade, jist one."
With some effort, the woman turned her head toward her spouse. "I guess Buckeye'll understand ifhen we eat jist one sandwich."
Well, they both lunged an' picked up a sandwich together. They pulled it right up to their mouths, too, an'—at thet very instant—Buckeye appeared at the edge of the clearin'. "I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!" he screamed, jumpin' up an' down. "I knew you'd cheat!" An' with a smug smile on his face, he added, "It sure is a good thing I didn't go back fer thet bottle opener!"
Once't the boys'd all had a prolonged fit of laughter at the story (an' considerin' the heat, both the laughin' an' the tellin' was impressive feats fer sure), Lafe Higgins finally wiped his eyes an' said, "But Newt, what's thet got to do with you havin' the open'r?"
"Well," replied Mister Blanchard, "Cleedy (ergot thet the day afore he started out on thet picnic, him an' me was sippin' Nehi right here on this porch. It seems thet the last time he handed me his open'r, I accident'ly kept the thing . . . an' I be blamed if I got the courage now to go up to his place an' give it back!"
"The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook."