The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Biggest Liars In Three States

By Taylor Ryan © 1986

Issue: May, 1986

Wednesday evenings at Squire Hobb's General Store, after most of the regular customers have come and gone, the liars club begins to assemble. Tom Rainwater and Boozer Payton and Carl Sutton. All long-jawed liars, some of the best in the Cumberlands.

There's one fly in their soup. None of them can out do Carl's uncle, old Steve Sutton. When they are without Steve in the country it gives them relief. That's why for the past week things have been hunkydory. Old Steve has gone to Harlan for a spell. Left real sudden after selling that dry goods drummer a solid gold radio aerial that turned out to be copper.

It is kind of warm this evening. Most of the boys are sitting out on the porch. Squire Hobbs is sitting nursing his knees in the door, looking kind of preoccupied.

"Pearten up, Squire," Boozer Payton says. "You've not lost your best friend, 'long as I'm here."

"I'm thinkin'," Squire says. "Which one of you borrowed my cant hook? I need it to load some logs."

"Why I borrowed it," Tom Rainwater brightens. "I had to have it to turn my peaches over with."

"Hmmm," says Carl Sutton. "Your peaches kind of remind me of that old cow of mine. She fell in a sinkhole nine feet deep and eleven yards wide. The milk commenced to runnin' and fillin' up the sinkhole. The old cow had to swim round and round. When I found her she was standin' on a ball of butter."

Suddenly there is a diversion. "Oh my gaw," Boozer Payton groans. "Look who's comin'!"

Through the gathering dusk everybody recognizes old Steve Sutton hurrying down the road. He knows this is the night for the gathering of the club. "I thought the old windbag was still in Harlan," his nephew Carl says.

Squire jumps up from the doorway with a sudden brainstorm. "Boys I tell you what I'll do. If one of you can tell a bigger lie than Steve I'll give you a ten dollar bill. I'll hand it to you right in front of his eyes. It'll drive him crazy."

Steve must not have gone home yet because his overnight bag is still flopping on his left stub shoulder. He lost his left arm you know.

Huffing and puffing, Steve marches right up on the porch and through the front door, ignoring the puns and slurs thrown at him. He sheds his satchel on the counter. "Squire, come in here a minit."

He claws out seventy-five cents of that dollar he borrowed, from Squire to go to Harlan on. "Here's part of what I owe you. I'll send the rest down in the mornin'. How much is the balance, Squire?"

Squire calculates his 25 percent interest on one dollar for ten days, plus the twenty-five cents still due, and says, "Fifty cents, countin interest. And I know you'll send it down. Your word is as good as the gold on that rod you sold the drummer."

The boys start coming in the store. That ten dollar bill has sparked a challenge in everybody's eye. "Why are you puffin' so, Steve? Afraid a wildcat will jump you in the woods?" Boozer Payton bantered.

"Sure I've been runnin'," Steve says. "Wouldn't you run from a bear?"

"I didn't run from the last one," Boozer says. "I rammed my hand down his throat, grabbed him by the tail, turned him wrong-side-out and sent him back the way he come."

"That lie is so old it ain't even funny," Tom Rainwater snorts.

"I'm talkin' about a real bear," Steve insists.

He waits a minute. He senses they have a conspiracy brewing. His nephew Carl is rolling out a nail keg to get a better seat. Boozer Payton hunkers down in a corner and scoots his heels up a little closer under him.

"Look here, Steve, " Squire says. "See this ten dollar bill? I'm givin' it to the man who tells the biggest lie. Better come off that bear tale if it was a real one."

"What I have come off is lyin'. If you boys want to sell your honor fer ten dollars that's your business. That bear scared me worse than a holyroller preacher preachin' hellfire in a revival. I just want to clean up my rotten soul and make peace with my Maker. But just let me tell you how big that bear was."

"Here it comes," says Boozer Payton.

"He was so big I could stand up in his mouth. That bear swallered me. He shore enough did. I took my knife and cut my way out. I cut all night before I got to the hide. When I stepped out I thought I was in the woods, the fur was so long."

Tom Rainwater snorts. "Bears don't have hairs on their stummicks."

"The devil they don't!"

"Hush," cautions Carl Sutton. "Here comes a girl."

Everybody looked at the girl approaching the store. It is a girl Boozer Payton is struck on. To make out he is important he decides to do some trading as she comes in. He says to Squire, sort of like speaking to an audience, "Squire, gimme a can of sardines and a horseshoe nail. I ain't eat since yesterday morning. And kind of kink the end of that nail. I can't pick sardines with a nail."

"Kink your dadburned nail yourself," Squire swears disgustedly. "And that nail will cost you a penny."

Maybe the girl saw Boozer, or heard him. Anyhow she wanted no part of what she was about to walk into. She got no further than the porch when she turned and hustled away.

"The devil a bear don't have fur on its stummick!" Steve resumes his defense. "I come out under his armpit. The hairs there was like poplars. I run up against a tick the size of an elephant."

Tom Rainwater interrupts. "Did you ever hear of them Santa Fe mules of mine? Tom leans over the counter. "It was back in saloon days when I lived in Centerboro. I had a team of little Santa Fe mules I used to move houses with. When a man got ready to move his house from one end of town, I'd move it to the other end for him. One day they was makin' up a train load of coal. When they got the train ready it was so long the engine stalled on the upgrade. There it set right on the main track and the four-thirty passenger train due in twenty-six minutes. If they didn't hustle that freight train out of there it'd be a worse head-on than Casey Joneses.

"Well, there was but one thing to be done. I hitched them Santa Fe mules to that train and had it on the sidetrack just twenty seconds ahead of the passenger."

Nobody says anything for a minute. Boozer Payton looks around with that kind of grin like he cain't believe it. Somebody has finally bested Steve Sutton. Squire Hobbs is actually waving that ten dollar bill at Tom Rainwater.

"Wait a minit!" Steve steps right in front of Squire. "I ain't through with that bear tale yet. Let me see. I was on his belly. I mistook it fer the side of Cumberland Mountain."

His nephew Carl grins. "How did you get off the bear?"

"I climbed on a flea and rode off."

Squire halts in his tracks. Tom Rainwater gets up off his nail keg ready to fight. But nobody can deny Steve's bear outdid Tom's mules. Squire is looking furious and pinching that ten dollar bill and glaring as if Tom let him down.

Steve turns around to Tom. "Would you say them Sante Fe mules could have pulled that bear?"

That's when Tom makes his mistake. "I had them Santa Fe mules. They was for real. You know dadburn well there wern't no such bear."

It is a pointblank admission that Steve's lie is bigger. Squire Hobbs is shaking in rage at Tom. He is not sure whether Tom is really mad or whether he is giving away the show just to see Squire have to give up that ten dollars.

The longer Squire looks at the bill the more it breaks his heart. These big mouth loafers are good for nothing but to waste him time and cost him money.

All of a sudden he catches his breath. He jerks the ten dollars bill away from Steve Sutton. He clutches it to his chest.

"Boys," the quiver subsides in Squire's voice. "Now I've got proof by all of you that I said this ten dollar bill goes to the one tellin' the biggest lie. Now ain't that right?

"Shore that's right," Steve says. "Now hand it here."

"Now how many of you actually believed I'd give anybody ten dollars?"

"Well," Tom Rainwater reckons, "We all know you charged Steve twenty-five percent interest on one dollar fer ten days. And we saw you take a penny from Boozer for one horseshoe nail. Any man that stingy ain't about to give nobody a dime."

"Thank you, Tom!" Squire rams the ten dollar bill to the bottom of his pocket.

Carl Sutton gets up off his nail keg and clamps a hand on Steve's shoulder. "You've got to hand it to him, Uncle Steve."