Last Laugh shares MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader submitted American humor with other readers.
WELL SIR, IT'S BEEN SO LONG SINCE the traveling rail riders of the Plumtree Crossing General Assembly have been home (21 issues, to be exact!) that a good many of you readers probably don't even know where Plumtree Crossing is. Let me correct that right now.
Plumtree Crossing is related by name to Plum Nelly, Tennessee (a little burg" plum" out of Georgia and "nelly" out of Tennessee), but of P.C. is actually plum out of near and nelly out of far away. Its center (actually, its only it) is Sylvester T. Pennywhistle's General Store at the crossing itself. That junction joins two seldom-clogged rural arteries, the first of which heads toward Erosion junction, the capital of Barren County, while the other is the kind of twisty mountain back road that never gets where it's headed 'cause every time it goes around a curve it meets itself coming back.
At that crossing, on the front porch of that general store, on a recent hot July day (the kind that's so dry the trees follow the dogs around), our friends perched and parched on their benches and rocking chairs and engaged in their most charming (and highly developed) native folk art.
That's right, the boys decided to have a lying contest. According to the official rules, the losers would have to spring for a round of Nehi sodas and Moon Pies. Just to make things interesting, Ott Bartlett (the oldest and biggest liar of the bunch) was appointed judge. Anyone who told a tale Ott admitted he didn't believe would be declared the winner.
"Heck, I'll end this contest right now," Lafe Higgins began. "I used to have a coonhunting dog so good I could show her a board and she'd go racin' off in the woods to find a hide to fit it. Once, though, she spotted my missus's ironing board and went hunting for a raccoon big enough to fit that. I like to never got her back.
"It took me a year to find her," Lafe went on. "When I finally did, sure enough, she'd treed a coon so big it'd must had a bear for a grandpa. Not only that, that dog'd had pups during that time, and all three youngsters were cryin' `treed' like their ma!"
Lafe figured he'd be walking off with the persimmons after that whopper, but Ott didn't even look up. He just pulled his pocketknife out of his pants, opened the blade and said, "I remember that dog. She drowned in my well, and I made gloves out of her hide. The next time I saw a raccoon, those gloves jumped off my fingers, grabbed that coon and choked it to death."
Lafe had to fold his hand at that, so Clarence Smithers went to work. "Speaking of hunting, I used to be pretty good at making my own duck calls. I made one so good once that it called in three wooden decoys. We had to shoot 'em through the chest to keep 'em from landing on us!"
Clarence grinned like a horse eating briars. But Bartlett just split a few hairs on his forearm to test his knife's sharpness, then said, "I recollect eating one of those ducks you shot, Clarence. Took me an hour to get the splinters out of my teeth."
"The way Clarence shoots, I'm surprised he hit those decoys," Doc Thromberg broke in. "Now me, nothin' I like more than nailing a penny to a tree and backing up a hundred yards. Then I throw a needle in the air and shoot it straight into the eye of Lincoln!"
Thromberg smiled proud as a dog with two tails at that. But Ott ran that knife under a fingernail or two, cool as a polecat at a camp meeting, and said, "Seems you forgot how I come along, load my rifle with a piece of string, fire away and thread your needle, Doc. "
That passed the snuf to August Carmichael. "I got a pond out my way—it's deep enuff to drown a 100-year-old man and filled with the biggest fish this side of Hereafter. I rowed out on it one day, cast my line and pulled in a bass so big the water level dropped a foot!"
Ott stroked his knife edge 'long a toothpick a few times, till Carmichael finally got his tail up and stinger out. "Well? Ya believe it or don't ya?"
"Why, sure," Ott said. "But you left out the time we went fishing there together. We caught so many of those whoppers that the pond went dry. We had to throw half the fish back in so we could row back to shore."
"Confernation!" August barked. "All right, let's put the bud to you once! We'll be the judge. Now, you tell a story that we won't believe."
With that, Bartlett threw his knife point into the porch floor quick as a duck on a June bug. Before it'd stopped quivering, he said, "Today, you fellas are going to buy me a Moon Pie and a Nehi soda."
The boys were dumbstruck. If they agreed Ott was telling the truth, they had to buy him the pie and soda. But if they said he was lying, they'd lost the contest and—by the original rules—still had to buy him a pie and soda. He had 'em tongue-tied at all four corners.
Later, after he'd downed his first swallow of that cool orange bellywasher, Ott wiped his lips and shared his secret: "Boys, you oughta know by now there's only one way to outlie a liar. Tell 'im the truth."
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