Callin’ On The Devil, And Other Lies

Well, let me settle down here has see what I can think of that is in some way comical. I have the radio on, listening to a station in, from the accents, Ireland. They are playing a pretty tun, but those are not the words I know. Windy Bowlin’s words for that song would singe the stickers off a cactus!

Old Windy, the guy who introduced me to that song sung it to a tune from Lane Cooter Junior’s squeeze box. And he was pretty much a character. You had to watch him close, because his chin moved up and down when he talked. Anybody’s chin that will move up and down when he talks will lie. If you don’t believe that, just watch the next candidate you see close and you will see what I mean.

I ‘mind the time Windy came in Trout’s Store telling about riding his fence line and as he passes the new “Catlic” church he sees two wildcats fighting. First one cat got on top of t’other. Then the other got on top of the first cat. Then the first cat climbed back on top, and t’other clumb up. What with them trading up that way, it was natural that pretty soon both cats were off the ground, plumb. They kept on going around and around, one on top and then t’other, until they rose so high they were plumb out of sight – but a long way from being out of hearing.
Windy ‘lows he watches until they were out of sight and keeps on riding towards supper. Early the next morning he goes back that way and he can’t see nor hear no cat fight. But folks gathered for early mass are all talking about the fur falling out of a clear sky so he knows those cats are still having it out.
Now, speaking of Trout’s, before the homesteaders “run” for land that place was about sixty miles from nowhere and the nearest town east was Anadarko and west was Amarillo. Natural, a little community grew up around the store and everybody traded there. As well as getting traffic from all the folks that had to swim the Red from Texas in a hurry.
Trout had a mail window, a room in the back for the local croaker, rooms upstairs for a couple of regulars and anyone who happened to wander through, kept explosives for those that wanted a mess of fish, gunpowder for the hunters, and all sorts of plunder and truck for the ladies. If Trout didn’t have it, you didn’t need it.

Trout sold out to Jimmy Frost and went to California back in the thirties. Trout had been there a long time. I heard that during the big Spanish Influenza epidemic the folks around there got skeered to take their money to town, so they started getting Trout to keep their savin’s in his store safe.

One day he opens up and discovers somebody had chiseled the lock off and made off with all the valuables. That was before insurance, so Trout was stuck. He managed to borrow enough to pay his neighbors for their losses – and he wrote off to Chicago for a sure enough stout safe.

Natural, Trout making their losses good did his business so much good that he made his money back in a year or so. So he kept on acting as the local vault.

Early one morning during the bank panic of ’21, when nobody in their right mind had money in a bank, the whole township was knocked plumb out of bed by one heckuva blast. Everyone gets out and around – and discovers that the whole front half of Trout’s is missing. There’s all sorts of piece goods and hams and chaw terbaccer and ammunition and stuff layin’ around loose. Along with two dead men.

Trout’s standing there surveyin’ the damage when the Sheriff comes driving up. “Wotinell happened here?” asks the Law.

Had a little explosion,” sez Trout, not in the least upset. “I figger them two dead’uns there tried to blow my safe and got a heap more bang than they bargained for.”

“Hellsfar,” sez the Sheriff, “This is the second time your safe has been busted into! Did they get much money?”

“They got nuthin, I done lost faith in safes,” sez Frost. “I keep money and valuables in the powder magazine out back. It’s got a good strong lock on it.”

“It’s against the law to store explosives without locking it up. Where do you store your dynamite?” asks the Law, right sharp.

“Oh, I kept a few cases in the safe,” grins Frost.

But anyhow I was talking about Windy Bowlin. Windy tells about wildcat jumping from tree to tree to get away from a mockingbird, a story I just relates to the liars bench and nobody can think of a thing to say. But somebody who was buyin’ a plug of chaw tobacco and kerosene at the counter speaks up, just plumb out of the clear blue sky.

“I just come from visitin’ my sister in Texas,” announces the codger in a cracked sort of voice. “She’s got a place out from that Amariller town. It’s purty flat, but it backs up to that Palo Duro gulch. Her two oldest boys got to tusslin, and durned if they didn’t scuffle themselves plumb off the edge of the cap rock.”

Everybody there knew the Palo Duro is a quarter to a half mile deep, so we figured the boys had been killed when they went splat at the bottom. Doc Sharp speaks up and sez he’s sorry for the codgers loss.

“Oh, them boys come out of it without a scratch,” cackles the feller. “Them boys fell at the same time and had presence of mind to catch one another in the air. So they saved each other’s life.”

That was the second time in about two minutes the liars bench didn’t have a word to say.

Now, Doc Sharp, most folks called him Piles Sharp on account of he walked like somebody had stuck a shoe in his whatsis, was the local doctor. Young feller, hadn’t been in town too long. Piles had been an Army croaker, and was pretty up to 1948 date. Penicillin cured everything except pregnancy and constipation and time cured the first and citrite of magnesia would get a move on. .

Piles came out from somewhere around Chicago and bought old Doc Johnstun’s practice out. Which was a good thing because Doc Johnstun came from the old school that believed that if ipecac doses, mercury boluses, blue squills, quinine pills, cod liver oil, purgatives, or nature didn’t cure you, you would just have to die. He practiced sympathetic medicine. He didn’t mean he was sympathetic – if you had the greenapple quickstep he gave you a laxative.

Doc Johnstun took Doc Sharp of the Rock Island Rocket at the Elk City station, loaded him up in his Buick and took him out on his rounds. So he could get the lay of the land and see what the value of the practice might be.

The first place they stopped the two croakers walks in and there’s an enormous woman holdin’ down a rocking chair, too puny to move. The old croaker whips out some pills and sez “You been eating too many sweets. You take these pills, cut back on the sweets, and I will be back next week.”

Doc collects his two bucks for the pills and house call, and they load up in the old Buick and heads for the next patient. They ain’t hardly cleared the front gate when Piles turns to the other croaker and asks “You didn’t examine that woman at all. How did you know she had been eating too many sweets?”

“Didn’t you see all the candy wrappers in the fireplace? Her old man would blow away in a stiff breeze and there wasn’t a sign of a child in the house. She had to be eating all that candy.”

They get to the next place, go in, and the old doc walks up to the sick bed and intones “Mister, you been smokin’ too many cigars and cigarettes. Take these lung pills and you got to cut back on your smokin’. That will be two dollars.”

After they clear the place Piles turns to the other croaker and sez “You didn’t examine that man either. How did you know he’d been smoking too much?”

“Didn’t you see all those cigar butts and cigarette packs in the fireplace?” was the reply. “Now, the next place we are going is an old patient of mine. You examine her and see how you make out.”

So they walk in, the old doc introduces Piles and sez he’s going to make the diagnosis. Piles looks her up one side and down the other and sez “You been doin’ way too much church work. You are going to have to take it easy for a while or you will be going to church in a box. Now you take these pills and get lots of rest, you hear? That will be two dollars please.”

After they get on the road Doc Johnstun turns to Piles with an inquiring look on his face. “That woman has been working herself to death for her church for over twenty years. And I been telling her to take a rest all that time. But you never saw her before. How in the world did you know what was wrong with her that quick?”

Piles just gave a smile and a little chuckle. “Didn’t you see that preacher under the bed?” he asks.

Now, the liars bench was mostly men. But the champion liars were all women. For one thing, the women were alone most of the day, so they had more time to put together a convincing lie. One with a good snapper on the end.

Like the time Monk Harviston’s wife Madge come in to do her weekly shopping and allows she’s expecting her niece from over in Arkansas to visit just any time now. Her niece, and her niece’s new husband.

“Oh, your niece is married,” sez Fats Henry, who was getting her order up.

“Well, now she is,” sez Miz Harviston. “It come over her sudden like.”

Now, that sort of got everybody’s attention. We all heard of sudden sickness and dyin’ and such, but matrimony coming on sudden was a new concept. The expectant silence was all the encouragement Madge needed.

he was walking home from Wednesday night services, there in Fort Smith, when she hears a voice say `Hello, good looking.” Mary looks all around and don’t see nobody. So she starts to go on and the same voice says `goodbye toots.’ So Mary looks around again and she can’t see anything but a little toad frog settin’ on a rock.”

“Mary starts off again, and that same voice says `Don’t be in such a hurry to go, pretty lady.’ Mary had the voice pretty well spotted, but all she could see is that toad frog, settin’ on that rock and looking at her.”

“So Mary sez `I don’t believe no toad frog can talk’, and starts off down the sidewalk again. But the toad frog hops after her.”

“`Sure I can talk, toots. I learned how when I was a man, before the Witch that lives on Blue Mountain turned me into a toad frog.'”

“What did the Witch turn you into a toad frog for?” asks Mary.”

“I was the best looking boy in Logan County and she wanted me to marry her sister. But I liked another girl better,” sez the toad frog.

“`Well, ain’t there no way you can turn back into a man?’ asks Mary.”

“Oh yes, but it’s been hard. I have to sleep all night in a bed beside a pretty girl, and I will turn back into a man in the morning. I haven’t found a girl who is willing to let me sleep with her.”

“So Mary took pity on the toad frog and took him home with her. When she got ready for bed she put the toad frog on the pillow right next to hers and went right to sleep.”

Madge shuts up and goes on with her shopping. Finally Piles can’t stand it no more and he asks what happened.

“Oh, when her mama came to wake her up she found a man in bed with Mary. Mary’s daddy didn’t believe that toad frog story no more’n you do. So they’s hitched.”

Now, the funny thing about that story is there was a witch woman lived on Blue Mountain, back when Judge Parker was hanging ’em in bunches in Fort Smith. Handsome enough gal, they said, with a beautiful sister she was always trying to marry off to a rich man.

The men liked the sister, right enough – but they were scared of having a witch for a sister in law. I suppose that would be as bad as having a witch for a mother in law. Nearabout as bad as taking a witch for a wife. Not that a sure-enough witch would marry a man, they are already spliced to the Devil. You sure would not want to put the horns on the Evil One, for sure!

Anyhow, the Witch and her sister witches were supposed to meet with Satan under Blue Mountain every so often and have a regular hoedown, with the Devil playing the tune. Ol’ Scratch never said anything, just played the fiddle.

Now, the story goes that as a young man a fellow name of Young John Little was a regular hellion. Young John was a by-blow of a Congressman, had been spoiled rotten, and was about what you could expect. He’d drink and cuss, gamble, steal anything that wasn’t red hot or nailed down, have his way with the womenfolks, all the time depending on his daddy to pay for the trouble he caused.

One time John, following his daddy’s bad example, had gotten a gal in the family way, and decided it would be the safest thing to take a slow trip to see his mama in Little Rock. So he steals a boat and some provisions, and drifts down the Arkansas toward the state capitol. Along about dark John was under Blue Mountain, and he feels safe enough to wet a line and see if he could catch supper. And he does catch a couple of nice brim.

Young John pulls up to the bank, builds up way more fire than he needed, lards up the iron skillet he’d stole with the boat, and starts cooking fish. But John was a thief, not a cook! If you have ever cooked fish, you know throwing cold fish in hot grease will splatter burning hot grease every which a way. So John got pretty well peppered with sizzling hot lard.

John being what he was, he starts cussin, taking the Lord’s Name in vain, calling on the devil to do this, that and the other and all that. Just then a limb on the other side of the fire snaps real loud! John looks up, and there’s the devil himself grinning at him.

John knew it was the devil because it was ten feet tall, black as midnight, with burning red eyes, had two big horns on his head, and he was lashing a big tail like a bull whip with a big black arrowhead looking horn on the end! And besides all that, the devil had a fiddle slung over its back.

Old devil don’t say a word. He just opens his mouth in a grin, showing John a row of teeth like an alligator gar! Old devil lashes his tail around some more, holds his arms out like a man wants to hug his best gal, gaps his mouth open like he was going to take a bite out of a whale, and starts to step across the fire towards John.

Now, John was sure his last day had come. The only thing he could think of to do was to snatch up that burning hot skillet, grease, fish, and all, and throw it down Old Devil’s gaping gullet. Which is exactly what he did!

Old devil wasn’t expecting that hot load down his gullet. He lets out a beller that shook leaves off the trees, whips his tail around until it popped something awful, and disappears in a big puff of sulfury smoke.

John was so upset he gets back in the boat and heads off down the Arkansas. He makes the first settlement on the river, so scared his teeth chatterin’ and rattlin’ just about raised everybody in town. Come daylight the men got a posse together and took John back to where his campfire was still smoldering.

There wasn’t much to see, John’s coffee pot and bedroll where he’d left them, there were some burning coals in the ashes and unburnt faggot ends, along with a few hoofprints on the other side of the fire from John’s bedroll, like a big razorback hog had wandered in and jumped back out.

So the men started sayin’ John needed to lay off the whiskey, moonshine and moonlight being a particularly bad combination. But John was looking around, too.

Pretty soon John bellers “Y’all looky here. I told you the Devil was here, and here’s where he broke the end off his tail.”

The men went to where John was pointing, and sure enough, there was an arrowhead shaped piece of horn as long as a man’s forearm sticking clean through a pine tree as thick as a man’s thigh.

The men wouldn’t touch that horn, of course, so they cut that tree down, and took a four foot chunk of it with the horn still in it to Fort Smith, where a priest could douse it in Holy Water. My dad took me to see it in a church there, back in the forties, and I reckon it’s still there if nobody has moved it.

Young John, now, gave up all his evil ways. He went back to Fort Smith and threw himself on the mercy of the daddy of the gal he’d been fooling, married her, raised a big family, and became one of the best preachers in the Ozarks.

Young John Little, he believed strong in the Lord and hot grease, but he didn’t hold with sects. John said one house was as good as the next, so long as the Lord was there. He told the folks at his revivals to go to any Church but go to church. Baptist, Methodist, Pentecost, Catholic, he preached God, Repentance, and Hot Grease to them all.

They say Old devil quit fiddling for the Blue Mountain Witch after he got his goozle scalded, so she lost most of her power. Her sister married a US Deputy marshal from over in Indian Territory, and they had a house full of kids.

I hear they had a few troubles, but they lived as long and as happy as most married folks do, I reckon. I know the family name – but I won’t call it. The kids made bankers and politicians, though – which seems sort of appropriate considering their mama’s kin and connections. But all this went on seventy, eighty years before Mary “married her toad frog.”

‘Course, they say toad frogs do live a long time. That boy did have a noticeable old fashioned way of expressing himself. Well enough set up feller, except he was a little goggle eyed, even if he was a little longer in the leg and bigger in the thigh than most. The way he could jump, he would have made a champion basketball player.

But anyhoo, I was talking about the liars bench, not witches nor yet preachers nor politicians. The liars gave Frost plenty of trouble. Every time the weather got a little sour every liar in three counties showed up to swap whoppers. It got so customers couldn’t get around in there, and Frost couldn’t sell a thing but cigarettes and chaw terbaccer when it rained. And darn little of those, liars not usually packing much pocket lining.

One raw cold day the place was packed with liars setting around warmin’ by a red hot stove. The yarnin’ was going as hot and heavy as the stove, when this Texas looking cowboy walks in.

Bowlegs looks around and finally goes up to the counter and asks for six sticks of dynamite “to open up a well.” There wasn’t anything unusual about that, dug wells were always silting up and had to be “opened.” Blasting was quicker than digging and speed was usually important. No coffee when the pump don’t work.

Frost goes in the back and comes back with the necessary articles. Fats Henry tears off some butcher paper and wraps that dynamite up, making a nice little parcel out of the lot.

The puncher is standing there looking around, and just as Frost’s about to stick his mitt out for payment the puncher asks for a “twist of chaw.”

Frost gets it and the puncher asks “‘Twist’s four bits?”

Frost grunts assent, the puncher drops two quarters in his hand, picks up the dynamite and his chaw and bowlegs himself for the door.

“Hey,” yells Frost, “Ain’t you gunna pay me for that giant powder?”

“Pay, I jest paid you,” sputters Bowlegs, turning around. “I ain’t going to pay you twice.”

“You paid me for the chaw,” sez Frost, turning toward Piles Sharp. “But you ain’t paid me for the dynamite. Doc Sharp here saw it all, you didn’t see him pay for no dynamite, did you, Doc?”

“I seen him pay for the tobacco, but I didn’t see him pay for the dynamite,” sez Piles, cautious like.

“Well, be thataway, then,” sez the cowboy. Who promptly strides to the red hot potbelly stove, snatches the door open, and throws the parcel of dynamite inside.

Now, you talk about a crowd scatterin’! It’s a worlds wonder that at least one or two of the liars didn’t get tromped plumb to death, gettin’ out of there.

They stopped across the street and waited for the boom. You can’t throw dynamite on a fire without a boom, you know. But they didn’t hear no boom. So a couple of the bravest ones sneaked back up and peeked in the window.

And there was Frost and the cowboy eatin’ sardines and laughing about how they had put the fear of God in that crowd. Well, the liars sort of felt unwanted after that, so they started gatherin’ down at Katie-Bar-the-Door’s pool hall. Ten cents a game, and they could make a game last all afternoon.

Stranger

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