A Tall-Tale Battle of the Sexes in Plumtree Crossing

The men of Plumtree Crossing challenge the women to a tall-tale-telling competition…and meet their match!
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
July/August 1983

Plumtree Crossing's master of tale tales himself, Ott Bartlett, is no match for the women of the Barren County Ladies Auxiliary and Highminded Civic League.
ILLUSTRATION: FOTOLIA/CARAMAN


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Well sir, I know I did promise you a particular tale this time, an' I aim to keep that pledge, too. But let me warn you, you'd best keep this story to yourself. We don't need folks comin' 'round here to remind us what happened the second time the fellers in the Plumtree Crossin' Truth an' Veracity Assembly tangled with the Barren County Ladies Auxiliary an' Highminded Civic League…especially since those old guys thought up the whole blamed thing in the first place!

It all started one day when Ott Bartlett—an old goat who's inclined to spend his afternoons checkin' the insides of his eyelids for pinholes-got to musin' as to how nice it'd be if the fellers had an outboard motorboat. "Why," he explained to his porch-perched companions out in front of the Crossin's Gen’ral Store, "anytime we wanted to go fishing on Lake Languish, we could rev up our Evinrude an' ride on out, 'stead of having to traipse along that shoreline."

"That vision is a sweet one," Newt Blanchard commented, " 'cept for one thing. How do you propose we pay for a putter boat?"

"Well, as I recollect, Newt, it was you what got us involved with that fund-raiser for the Barren County wimmenfolks last March. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Don't take Ott's word for it; find out for yourself!] An' since we collected some money for them, I figure it's only fair for them to share some of it with us!

"O' course, them ladies–'specially that wily ol’ Snodpebble that heads 'em up—knows that we'd never organize the kind of civic-minded fundraiser they'd support. So I say we challenge 'em to a contest! If they lose, they buy us a motorboat. If they win, we'll do some sort of job that they feel needs doin'."

"What kind of contest?" asked Lafe Higgins.

As you can imagine, the rest of the fellers was quick to come up with ideas.

"Tobaccer Spittin'!"

"Porch Sittin'!"

"Heck," Ott said, "it don't matter. Let's them decide."

"Hold on," Doc Thromberg interrupted. "We oughtn't tree ourselves. Let's make 'em suggest three contests, an' we get to pick one."

An' so they did. The women's league snapped up the bait right quick, too. Seems they'd long been wantin' someone to hang some flowery pink wallpaper in their meetin' hall. In exchange for the gents' promisin' to tackle that job (if they lost, o' course), the ladies proposed three contests: Quiltin', Garden Weedin', or Tale Tellin'.

"They played right into our hands," Newt Blanchard smirked. "Why, even Young Billy Parsons could outlie those women."

Next, both sides agreed upon the rules; namely, that the followin' Saturday, at the town square in Erosion Junction, one of Plumtree's best yarn-spinners would man a stand, whilst the Highminded Civic League's chosen prevaricator would "woman" the other. The two talkers would then prattle on to all passers-by for a full 30 minutes. An', at the end of that half-hour, the tale-teller who had the most listeners around his—or her—stand would be declared the winner.

"Oughta be easier' snappin' suspenders," Doc declared. "I can just see those fat four-pound smallmouths lyin' in the bottom of our new motorboat already!"

Bein' as how Ott Bartlett had contrived this foolproof scheme, the fellers agreed that he should get the honor of carryin' it out. So, come Saturday morn, they all loaded up in Lafe's old high-walled Ford pickup an' rolled on over to Erosion Junction.

Beatrice Snodpebble was right there to greet them, too, lookin' all prim, proper, an'—for some reason—pretty well pleased with herself, to boot. She led Ott up to a chair on his stand. He got hisself comfortable, then looked over to the other platform. There, with both hands clenchin' the handbag she held in her lap, sat a mousy-lookin' woman who, spectacles an' all, couldn't o' weighed more'n a half-starved hound, an' was so dang short she probably had to reach up to tie her shoes.

"Who's that wispy little thing?" Ott asked.

"Oh, that's Sodie Sallyratus," Beatrice cooed. "She works the night-shift switchboard for the county phone comp’ny."

An' before Ott could say another syllable, Miz Snodpebble rang a little tea bell, sweetly announced, "It's ten o'clock. Let the race begin!" and—Jumpin' Jehozaphat!—that little Sallyratus woman began talkin' faster'n a New York squirrel.

"You'll never believe what Widder Napps and Fletcher was sayin' to each other on the phone last night! That's right, of Fletcher Bottoms, the coot that's always wakin' Doc Billfolds up at three in the momin' to get another prescription of you-know-what-but-I really shouldn't-say. Well, Fletcher started on about wantin' the widder's hand in marriage, but right away she said, `What'd you give me for it?', an' before I could cover my ears they were both hagglin' like hens about just how many sides of beef Miz Napps' hand was worth! An' speakin' of Doc Billfolds, you know that eye-fillin' little Lisa May Applebaum that works at the BL&T Lunchroom? Well, she's been…"

Naturally, the sight an' sound of some tee-ninetsy woman spittin' out words quicker'n firecrackers was enough to attract a good crowd, an' when the listeners started hearin' what she was sayin’, they began to logjam in right close. Ott figured he'd better start lyin' but good!

"T'ain't a soul in this entire county don't know that Clovis Roebucks, our elected representative, is the biggest fool born since some male horse first discovered female mules. Fact is, he's done his best to prove that, if `pro' is the opposite of `con', then `Progress' is the opposite of `Congress'!"

Well, if there's anythin' most people find funnier'n a good joke, it's a good joke at the expense of a politician. So pretty soon of Ott had hisself a fair to middlin' crowd of listeners too. But that little Sodie woman just kept on hummin'.

"Ever wonder the real reason why Fire Chief Rumfelt's house bumed down last winter? I did…till I heard Mrs. Rumfelt talkin' to her mother about the little distillery he was settin' up next to the basement furnace, an'…"

Ott weren't pausin' for breath neither. "You see, iffen you listen to one of Clovis's speeches, you'll realize that, to him, an acceptable level of unemployment means that he still has a job!"

It got to be a right tense seesaw battle. Every time Ott cracked an especially good belly whopper, his listeners would laugh so loud that some of Sodie's crowd'd come on over to hear. But whenever Miz Sallyratus let out a partic'larly hot ear scorcher, her audience'd gasp so loud that a bunch of Mister Bartlett's group would rush over to her side.

In short, Ott figured he'd better unravel a full-blown oral narrytive to make his listeners get hooked an' stay hooked. "The truth of it is," he announced, "as a youngster, Clovis didn't used to be more' just a mite slow… till his playmates talked him into dabbin' hisself with honey to catch a bear!"

Ott started in on how the gullible young Roebucks took a slingshot, crawled into a hollow chestnut tree, dabbed hisself all over with honey, made little buzzin' noises, an' then—jist afore a big black bear did come amblin' along—was discovered (an' covered) by a mess o' real bees what felt like tonguin' up a free meal. As the story built in suspense, his crowd began to grow and Sodie's to shrink. (Why, Ott's lumberin' animal imitation alone pulled in a good 25 listeners!) The peculiar thing, though, was that Beatrice Snodpebble herself joined in Ott's audience fer a few moments, then she peeked at her watch, slipped away to other side, and whispered in Sodie's ear. Sodie winked at her and recommenced talkin'.

"You all have prob'ly heard that of story Ott Bartlett likes to tell about how Clovis Roebucks got his brain dimmed when some bear clubbed him on the head. Well, the fact is—at least Olive Carmichael said so over the phone one night when I just happened to be at the switchboard—that tale ain't rightly on Clovis a-tall, it's about Ott Bartlett hisself!"

Well, that drew the largest howl yet from her crowd. Furthermore, a couple of Sodie's hangers-on ran right over to Ott's side an' told him what she was sayin' Ott stopped short.

"Why, you skirted scallawag!" he yelled. "Olive Carmichael don't know the first thing about that bear story!"

Sodie just kept yammerin'. "What's more, Ott didn't even have a slingshot. He hid hisself in that tree with nothin' more'n a little ol’ peashooter!"

Well, Ott heard that remark hisself! He rushed down from his stand, tromped right to Miz Sallyratus's face, and opened his gums to let fly a double load of verbal buckshot, when—tingle, tingle, ting!—Beatrice Snodpebble rang her teabell. "It's 10:30 on the dot, people. The contest is over!"

Ott turned 'round—his jaw droppin' down to his drawers—to see the entire assemblage of spectators, from both sides, gathered about him and Sodie, right beside her stand. "Oh, by the way," Miz Snodpebble chimed, " Do you boys think you could start hangin' that flowery wallpaper next week? We would so like to have it up in time for next months meetin'!"








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