“A good storyteller is a person who has a good memory and hopes other people haven’t.” —Irvin S. Cobb
Well sir (and ma’am), it seems only fittin’ to me thet, seein’ as how we got some vision’ storytellers gracin’ the pages of MOTHER EARTH NEWS this time (you might wants take a gander at “You, Too, Can Learn the Art of Storytelling“), I oughta set back a spell an’ let our guests have the last laugh …with a pair of funny-bone-ticklin’ tales thet jist plain beg to be related out loud.
The First Motorcycle in Black Mountain
The followin’ story, from David Holt’s tale-tellin’ repytoire, is called “The First Motorcycle in Black Mountain” (what were copyrighted in 1981 by David Holt and Grove Norwood). Ol’ David says it’s a good example of creatin’ a full-blown yarn from a single humorous anecdote. (Mr. Holt recites the tale hisself on his storytellin’ record, The Hairyman and Other Wild Tales.)
Now after the war, most folks in Black Mountain, North Carolina had heard of motorcycles, but they’d never seen one. So when old Leroy Teats arrived home from the Navy with his brand-new, blue and chrome Hart-ly Davison motorcycle, folks come a-rennin’ out of their homes and out of their stores to see what was making all that racket.
Why, it was a sight to behold. Had a headlight big as a dinner plate and a seat wide as a buckboard’s, and–in the very back–it had a big old ruby-studded mud flap. It had a windshield that came almost as high as his head, and some folks said that thing was even air-conditioned. They could tell Leroy was happy and Leroy was proud; all they had to do was count the bugs on his teeth.
Wasn’t long though, before some of those mountain boys came up and started teasin’ and tauntin’ him.
“What is that big old thing, Leroy? Why, you can’t take it out on these mountain roads. It’s too shiny, just a play-pretty. It looks like a pregnant bicycle.”
Leroy said, “I can take this motorcycle anywhere in the county, and I mean anywhere.”
About that time, Geter Ledford walked up, leading his mule. He said, “Leroy, I bet you can’t take that thing where my mule can go.”
“I can, too,” says Leroy. “I can take this motorcycle anywhere your old mule can go. “
“All right,” says Geter, “let me see you take it up to the top of High Windy, ’cause I have rid my mule straight up to the top, and there’s no road. It is just trees and rocks and leaves all the way.”
Leroy started her up. VROOOOOOOOM! He had to have it in full throttle and hold on for all he was worth just to stay on the mountain. The crowd all hollered out, “We’ll watch for you, Leroy! “
Now what they all forgot about was Rubarb Golightly, who lived way up at the top of High Windy. Rubarb hadn’t been to town in seven years and didn’t care if he ever went to town again. He just lived up there with his wife, Samanthy. They did all their own chores and were used to hearing the sounds of birds and bees and things like that. They never even heard tell of a motorcycle.
So that day, when old Rubarb Golightly had just finished his big dinner of biscuits and red-eye gravy, skunk cabbage, poke salad, sowbelly gravy with chitlins, bean pie with possum sauce, and sweet’taters–topped off with some crab-apple pudding and two jaw-shrinking dill pickles–he sat down on the front porch to take his ease …when he heard something coming up through the woods. VROOM! VROOM! Rubarb had never knowed a man or a bear or a dog to make a sound like that. Then he saw it coming. That headlight was just a-flashin’, that engine just a-spittin’. There were rocks and sticks flyin’, dogs rennin’, and chickens cacklin’, PLK! PLK! PLK!
Rubarb jumped up and hollered, “Samanthy, Samanthy, bring me my gun! “
She ran outside with his big old shotgun. He leveled that thing and fired. BOOM! BOOM! Leroy went flying one way and the motorcycle flew the other.
Samanthy said, “Did you kill it, honey?”
“I don’t know,” says Rubarb, “but whatever it was, I sure made it turn that boy loose! “
No News … or What Killed the Dog
The next story is one thet’s often related by the Folktellers, Connie Regan and Barbara Freeman. The two women first heered it from a Down East tale-teller by name of Marshall Dodge, but it were created by Mr. Nat M. Wills way back in the early 1900’s. Barbara genially speaks the part of the returnin’ gentleman, whilst Connie plays his friend George. The story is knowed as “No News …or What Killed the Dog”. (You kin hear it on one of the Folktellers’ albums, White Horses and Whippoorwills.)
A certain Southern gentleman was returning home after recuperating in the mountains for three months. His friend, George, met him on the platform at the station.
“George, has there been any news while I’ve been away?”
“Oh no, there hasn’t been any news.”
“No news? Surely, something must have occurred in my absence. I’ve been gone for most nearly three months, and I’m anxious for any little bit of news you may have.”
“Well, since you mention it …’course, it don’t amount to much, but since you been away, your dog died.”
“My dog …died?”
“See, he went in to eat up some of the burnt horseflesh, and that’s what killed the dog.”
“See, after the fire cooled off, the dog went in to eat up some of the burnt horseflesh, and that’s what killed the dog.”
“After …the fire cooled off?”
“See the barn burned down, burned all the cows and horses. When the fire cooled off, the dog went in and ate up some of the horseflesh, and that’s what killed the dog.”
“My barn burned down! Well, how did my barn burn down?”
“It was a spark from the house. See, it flew over onto the roof of the barn, burned down the barn, burned all the cows and horses, and when the fire cooled off, the dog went in to eat up some of the burnt horseflesh, and that’s what killed the dog. “
“A spark …from the house?! “
“Oh yes, now that’s completely burned down.”
“Well, how did my house burn down?”
“See, it was the candles. They were under those curtains. That flame just shot up the wall, burned down that house, a spark went over to the barn, burneddownthebarnburnedallthe cowsandhorsesandwhenthefirecooledoffthedogwentintoeatup someoftheburnthorseflesh …and that’s what killed the dog.”
“Candles! Why, I never have candles in the house. I don’t even allow candles in the house. How did candles get in the house?”
“They was around the coffin.”
‘ …the coffin? Who died?”
“You needn’t worry about that. Since you’ve been away your mother- in-law died.”
“Oh, my …my mother-in-law. What a pity. How in the world did she die?”
“Well, some folks say it was from the shock of hearing that your wife run away with the chauffeur. But other than that, there ain’t been no news.”
“It is only when our old songs and old tales are passing from one human being to another, by word of mouth, that they can attain their full fascination. No printed page can create this spell. It is the living word–the sung ballad and the told tale–that holds our attention and reaches our hearts.”