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
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
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
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.
Back around the end of June (Newt began), jist a couple of
weeks after this roof-blisterin' hot spell begun, an'
whilst some folks was still foolish enough to try an' do
things once't in a while, the McCannons took it inta their
minds to head off to the cove thet runs up behind their
place fer a family picnic. So Cleedy, his wife Sadie, an'
their eight-year-old young'un Buckeye started packin' up
food baskets. They loaded 'em with bottles of soda, peanut
butter sandwiches, fruit salad, baloney, pickles, fried
bread rolls, half a watermelon, an' about two dozen other
kinds of eatables.
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
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
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
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
"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
"Yes you would too," Buckeye snapped.
"Oh no, no, we promise we won't," said his mama
"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,
With some effort, the woman turned her head toward her
spouse. "I guess Buckeye'll understand ifhen we eat jist
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."