American Humor: Country Debts and Political Follies

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Illustration by the MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff
More American humor from the gang gathered at Plumtree Crossin' General Store.

Last Laugh shares MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader submitted American humor with other readers. The gang at the Plumtree Crossin’ General Store laugh about country debts and political follies.

Remember Senator Dudley LeBlanc and Hadacol (the alcohol-heavy ‘good for what ails you’ drugstore medicine that he peddled all over the country back in the 1950’s?) Many were the stories of legendary cures that the elixir was supposed to have brought about. And many were the slightly more tongue-in-cheek ‘miracles’ attributed to the tonic.

One of the tales in the second category was recently revived by John P. Wirtz, a copywriter from Brooklyn. ‘Of all the millions of folks who started each day with a snort of Hadacol,’ John says, ‘only one was ever reported to have died . . . a 102-year-old woman in Baton Rouge. Fortunately, however, they were able to save the baby.’

The stars ain’t so close together as they look to be.
Mark Twain

Well sir, last Tuesday was more or less overcome by the spring drearies here in Barren County. You know the kind of day . . . gray, overcast, with the cricks all out of their banks, and not a bud on a tree. The ruts in front of the Plumtree Crossin’ General Store were all runnin’ level full from the cold rain that had fallen the night before . . . and the few chickens that was out in Doe Thromberg’ back yard across the way was all puffed up and walkin’ around stiff-legged from the sheer indignity of it all.

Inside the store things weren’t much better. The boys had taken turns spittin’ terbaccy juice on the hot potbelly stove and watchin’ it sizzle until they’d wore all the sport and novelty outta the game. After that the afternoon jist sorta went downhill . . . until Cleedy McCannon happened to glance out the big plate glass window there in the front.

“Well Billy be damned. Ain’t that Fletcher Roebuck’ boy jist drove up out there by the gas pumps?”

Everybody crowded up against the window and watched the heavyset, middle-aged fellow in the checkered suit hoist hisself out of a car that was jist a mite too flashy and begin tiptoein’ through the mud toward the store. His ears stuck out so far he looked like a taxicab goin’ down the street with both doors open, he had a cowlick, there were so many freckles on his face that his cheeks resembled a field of straw flowers in bloom, and he had a set of buck teeth on him that stuck out far enough — Emory Smithers allowed — for him to eat an apple through a picket fence.

“Yep, that’s Fletcher’s boy all right. Ain’t seen him since the funeral. But he ain’t never worked a day in his life, as near as I can gather. Wonder what brings him back to Barren County after all these years.”

Well sir, we didn’t haft’ta wonder long. Ole Clovis that was his name, Clovis . . . still is I reckon — picked his way on up to the store’s front door, wiped his shoes on the burlap mat that Mrs. McCannon had wove up outta old feed sacks, and sashayed on in.

“Hiyall!’ His greeting was jist a mite too hearty for most of the fellers’ likin’.”

“Hi yourself. You’re Fletcher Roebuck’ boy ain’tcha? What brings you back to Barren County?”

“Yessir, that’ me. I got myself inta politics since I left home . . . and I jist thought I’d drop around, see the ole gang, rustle up a few votes for the big elections comin’ up in the fall — haw, haw! — and see iffen en they’s anything I can use my Washington connections to fix up for you fellers. How about it? Is they anything you want?”

“Why yes.’ It was Ott Bartlett clearin’ his throat in the back of the crowd. “How about returnin’ that 20 bucks I lent you 10 years ago the day we was out poachin’ squirrels off of the Jarvis Boys up on Cedar Ridge?”

“Mummmm. Harumph. Well I don’t seem to have my checkbook with me at the moment. But I’ll make a note of it. How ’bout the rest of you boys?”

Well sir, that set the whole roomful of ’em off. Seems that durn near everybody in that store had an old debt he wanted to settle with Clovis. Everything from the paint he’d sold Lafe Higgins that’d washed off in the first rainstorm, to the five-gallon bucketful of bluewinged teal that he’d once generously given to Newt Blanchard . . . jist before the game warden walked in. I tell yuh if Clovis hadn’t suddenly recollected an urgent meetin’ that he was supposed to attend over in the state capitol, it’s doubtful he’d of gotten out of that room all right side up with care. At one point there was even dark mutterin’ about tar and feathers off in the corner there by the penny candies and hair ribbons. But before anybody could say ‘Fat Sam’, ole Clovis was out of the store, in his car, and movin’ on down the road.

“Well . . . good riddance, I say. None of them Roebucks ever amounted to a hill of beans anyhow.”

“Amen. They was the loafinest family in the county,’ chimed in someone — no name mentioned — who a few of the neighbors had pegged as a purty good loafer hisself. I can’t recall that they ever did anything worthwhile ‘cept make beet wine.”

“Yeah, and they drank alla that before anyone else had a chance at it.”

“Hey, you remember that parrot they usta have?”

“That was the ugliest bird in the whole universe and Canada.”

“Yeah, but he sure could cuss good. And bite! Why I’ve seen that damn sawed-off vulture take a hunk outta man’ arm as big as a Bing cherry.”

“He loved peanut brittle though. My missus usta take pound or so over there to the Roebucks and feed it to that danged bird. Sounded like a Gatlin’ gun goin’ off in one of those old John Wayne movies. What ever happened to that parrot anyway?”

“Well sir, I can’t tell you that. But I can tell you what’ gonna happen to Fletcher Roebuck’ boy iffen he ever shows up in Barren County again.”

And that, of course, was the signal for everybody to buy a Moon Pie and a Nehi orange and launch into a general commiseration with each other over all the petty thievin’ and lyin’ that Clovis had engaged in before he’d run off to Washington . . . where, the all-round opinion had it, he’d probably found that he fit in tolerable well.

Like I said, last Tuesday was more or less overcome by the spring drearies here in Barren County. Matter of fact, that little interlude I jist described was the high point of the whole afternoon. Pathetic, ain’t it?

Do the thing and you will have the power.

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live a life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.
John Gardner

Editor’ Note: Do you have a distinctive bit of regional American humor you think the Plumtree boys should hear on their travels? If so, send it to Last Laugh, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Hendersonville, NC. We’ll pay $10 for any joke we publish (that the fellas didn’t know already!).