American Humor: Stories From Plumtree Crossing General Store

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The Last Laugh column shares American humor and sage and folksy advice for MOTHER readers.

Enjoy MOTHER’s American humor and folksy advice shared with magazine readers.

American Humor at It’s Best

Well sir, this past summer was a real bear wrassler but it does appear that the worst of the heat is about over. Matter of fact it cooled off so rapid around here a few days ago that half the people in Barren County come down with the croup.

I reckon that’s the reason-what with so many folks wheezin’ and sneezin’ and all-that the loafers down to the Plumtree Crossin’ General Store last Saturday jumped to the conclusion the way they did that Ole Man Bartlett was havin’ a seizure.

Can’t say I blame ’em either . . . the way Ole Ott come a’staggerin’ up the road all doubled over and purple in the face and a’gaspin’ for breath and with the tears a’runnin’ down his face. And then, as if that weren’t bad enough, he give out with such a convulsion, as he fell down all sprawled out full-length across the liar’s bench there to the side of the store, that he bit the stem of his favorite corncob pipe clean in two.

Well that set the boys off for fair. Doe Thromberg started tryin’ to pry Ott’s mouth open so’s he couldn’t swaller his tongue, Newt Blanchard commenced to thumpin’ Ott on the back with a 2 by 4 that jest happened to be handy, and Skeeter Ridges come runnin’ out of the store with a galvanized bucket of water, tripped over Cleedy McConnon’s hound dog, and went skiddin’ across the gravel on his face. It looked a little like “Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops” for a while there.

“Now jest a damn minnit!” It was Ott strugglin’ to his feet and, for an 80-and-then-some-year-old, doin’ a mighty credible job of upendin’ the whole blamed pack of good Samaritans that he’d suddenly fell prey to. “Jest a damn minnit! “

Ott had the 2 by 4 now and he’d backed up against the wall of the store. “If any of you sapsuckers’d like to have his hair parted with this leetle plank of white pine, why jest form a line and I’ll get to each one of ye as soon as I’m able. Otherwise, go on about your business. Whut in thunderation’s the matter with you galoots anyhow? Has the cool weather struck the hull lot of ya plumb daft?”

Skeet just set there in the driveway, pickin’ gravel out of his teeth and marvelin’ at Ott’s miraculous recovery. “Criminee! I don’t know what we done to him, but we sure ’nuff cured him of his fits.”

“Whaddaya mean . . . fits? I weren’t havin’ no fits. I was jest a’ laughin’ so hard I couldn’t stand up no more.” And with that, Ole Man Bartlett dropped the 2 by 4, collapsed against the wall he’d backed up to, and slowly slid down to the ground, all the while laughin’ that crazy wheezy laugh of his, “Wheeeehehehehe . . . huhuhuhuhu . . . wheeeehehehehe . . . huhuhuhuhu.” He sounded kinda like an old John Deere “A” with a loose flywheel.

“I jest come from over to Lafe Higgins’s place, and ole Lafe has really done it this time. You know how skeered he is of snakes? Well, Mandy sent him down into the root cellar last night to fetch back a jar of her pickled crab apples, and the next thing she knowed Lafe was back in the house-he’d run right through the screen door without botherin’ to open it-rummagin’ around for his shotgun.

“What’s wrong Lafe?” she says . . . and he says right back, “They’s a diamondback down in the root cellar!” And Lafe goes tearin’ out the door-it was easier this time, a’course, since he already had a hole to aim at-leavin’ a path of double-ought-buck shells behind him.

“Now the way I jest heered it from Mandy, Lafe was a lot more cautious easin’ back into that cellar the second time he went down than he’d been the first. As a matter of fact, if I got the tale right, he was so cautious on this trip that he jest flat couldn’t work up the courage to start down those rickety stairs into that dark hole in the ground by hisself at all.

“So he spent most of the rest of the night holdin’ a conference there at the head of the steps with a coupla fellers named Jack Daniels and Johnny Walker. And when he’d absorbed all the confidence they had to offer, he sorta watched the sun come up with some of that combination diesel fuel and sheep dip that Purvis Jacobs distills over there in Turkey Thief Holler.

“Well sir, by the time the roosters had been crowin’ a good two hours, ole Lafe had worked his courage up to the bustin’ point. As I understand it, he was proclaimin’ to one and all-which, at that point, was two muley cows and a Hampshire shoat lookin’ at him through the fence-that he was half-horse, half-bull, half-alligator, and he’d been knowed to crochet 40-foot-long rattlesnakes into watch fobs with his bare hands. Nevertheless, when the whiskey finally all run out and there wasn’t nothin’ left to do but venture down cellar, they wasn’t no ‘bare hands’ to it. Lafe went down accompanied by that old double-barrel of his and enough ammunition to list the Titanic at least three degrees to starboard.”

“What happened? What happened? Damn!” Skeeter Ridges had gotten so engrossed in Ott’s story that he’d sucked in a chunk of gravel that’d been a’hangin’ there on his upper lip and cracked a tooth.

“Well mebbe it was because those old root cellar stairs was jest meant to go at that time or mebbe it was because Lafe — after a solid night of drinkin’ — was sufferin’ from the delirious trembles. Whatever the reason, jest as Lafe minced out onto that first step and leaned away over and peered down into the gloom there . . . why, the whole danged flight of stairs — and Lafe with ’em-collapsed into the cellar.”

The mere picture of a catastrophe of that magnitude overtaking the man who’d once shellacked him in a horse trade set Ott off a’laughin’ again and it was a little difficult to follow the rest of his story word for word. The boys got the gist of it though.

“Wheeeehehehehe . . . by the time Lafe hit bottom, he had enough likker in him, I reckon . . . huhuhuhuhu . . . that he wasn’t jest a’seein’ one snake anymore. He . . . wheeeehehehehe . . . was a’seein’ snakes . . . huhuhuhuhu . . . everywhere he looked. And he proceeded to cut ’em down left and right with that old double-barreled 12-gauge of his jest as fast . . . wheeeehehehehe . . . as he . . . huhuhuhuhu . . . could shuck one set of fired shells out and stuff in a coupla fresh ones! Mandy says . . . wheeeehehehehe . . . it sounded like a record of World War II bein’ played . . . huhuhuhuhu . . . down inside a washtub! “

By that time everyone was rollin’ on the ground so overcome with the short-breath convulsions that nobody quite got all the details straight about the rest of Lafe Higgins’s discombobulation. As near as we can piece together the story that’s goin’ ’round the county, though, by the time Lafe’d run dry of shells, he’d taken out three whole rows of Mandy’s prize peach preserves, a case of green beans, and two crocks of dill pickles.

That’s the way Ole Man Bartlett tells it anyway. No one’s been able to get Lafe’s side of it yet, though, for a couple of reasons

Number one: Lafe can’t get up outta that cellar without a ladder and Mandy ain’t about to fetch one for him until he picks all the glass outta the walls down there and that’s liable to take another two or three weeks yet.

And number two: It’ll still be a few days before Lafe’ll be able to understand nosey questions well enough to answer ’em. Do you have any idea how deef you can get firin’ off both barrels of a 12-gauge shotgun at once in a root cellar?