Last Laugh: Stories From Religious Traditions

From the double album Storytelling: The National Festival.

| January/February 1984

Well sir, the past two Januarys I've just had to tell you about all the extraordinary tale-tellin' I'd heard the previous falls at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. And I'm a-goin' to do the same thing right now, too. This time, though, I've got a new wrinkle to add . . . namely, that you no longer have to jist read about this annual storytellers' shindig. Now, you kin listen to it, too! You see, the folks at the National Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling—NAPPS, fer short—have jist cut a two-record set featuring twenty of the festival's best tales and tellers. Now I cain't describe all the wide variety of stories on this pair of discs. But I kin share a couple of the shorter tales with you. Still, remember as you read, that lookin' at these stories compared to hearin' professional tellers perform them . . . well, it's like readin' about a twenty-course feast compared to eatin' it! Pleasant DeSpain told the first one, "Old Joe and the Carpenter" (copyright ©1979 by Pleasant DeSpain). 

Old Joe lived way out in the countryside, and he had one good neighbor. They'd been friends all their lives long. It seemed that they had grown old together. And now that their spouses were dead and buried and their children raised and living lives of their own in other places, all they had left were their farms . . . and each other.

But for the first time in their long relationship, they'd had an argument. And it was a silly argument. It was over a stray calf that neither one really needed. It seemed as though the calf was found on Joe's neighbor's land, and so he claimed it as his own. But Old Joe said, "No, no, now that calf has the same markings as my favorite cow, and I recognize it as being mine."

Well, they were both a bit stubborn, so the upshot of it was they just stopped talking to each other. That happened about a week before, and it seemed that a dark cloud had settled over Old Joe . . . until there came a knock on his door.

He wasn't expecting anybody that morning, and as he opened the door, he saw standing before him a young man who had a box of wooden tools on his shoulder. He had a kind voice and rather dark, deep eyes, and he said, "I'm just a carpenter, and I'm looking for a bit of work. Maybe you'd have some small jobs here and there that I can help with."

Old Joe wasn't the kind of fellow to take someone on just right off, so he brought him on into the kitchen and sat him down and gave him some stew that he had on the back of the stove. There was some homemade bread (it was baked fresh early that morning), some fresh churned butter, and homemade jam. While they were sitting and eating and talking, Joe decided that he liked this young fellow, and he said, "I do have a job for you. Look right there through my kitchen window. See that farm over there across the way? That's my neighbor's place. And you see that crick running right down there between our property lines? That crick, it wasn't there last week. My neighbor did that to spite me, dadburn it. He took his plow up there with a tractor, and he just dug a big old furrow from the upper pond, and then he flooded it.


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