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Mother didn’t know about telling stories for fun and profit
Our mother always told us children not to tell stories. That was a nice way of saying, “Don’t you lie to me, young’un.”
But now I realize that telling stories is not only sanctioned, but profitable, too. In fact, a guy named Bil (with one l) Lepp makes a living off of lying. He travels all around the country, telling tales so tall that a 40-foot ladder couldn’t reach them.
And he’s not alone. The woods are full of professional storytellers — many of them expert liars and proud of it.
Bil Lepp of South Charleston, W.Va., is a champion liar. He won the West Virginia Liars’ Contest not once, but five times. The story that brought him national attention was about a dog named Buck, whose mother was a German shepherd and daddy a determined basset hound. He looked like a shepherd, but he had basset hound legs and basset hound ears.
Picture, if you can, the mating process.
“I always said I didn’t believe it myself until I saw a basset hound running through the neighborhood with a stepladder tied to his back,” Lepp says.
The late Buck really was the Lepps’dog, and he really was a cross between a German shepherd mama and a basset hound daddy. Anything else Lepp says about that dog is a story. Pretty good for a former Methodist preacher.
Lepp came by his lying honestly. He says everybody in his family lied, usually around the dinner table. Somebody would start telling something that happened, but then over the years, the story would grow and grow into some wild, fantastic tale. It was up to the listener to figure out if anything was true.
As far as Lepp was concerned, storytelling started with his grandfather. Same thing with Rosann Kent, assistant director of the Appalachian Studies Center in Dahlonega, Ga. Her grandfather, Arthur Kent of Maysville, Ga., told practical joke stories that held the rapt attention of everyone in the family, even previously bored teenagers. He’d tell about tying a snake to a plow handle to frighten his oldest brother, Carey, not to mention the mules; about burning the log over the creek, forcing Carey to take the long way home; about tying the tails of two ’possums together and setting them on the chest of his sleeping brother, Bob.
Today, Rosann Kent herself is a grandmother and a storyteller, “hoping to ascend the throne as the bearer of oral tradition in our family,” she writes in a paper about her grandfather’s storytelling. College has sanitized her public language, banning all ain’ts and cain’ts, all have wents and done gones. But now she remembers the richness of her linguistic heritage and yearns to give voice once again to the story language she gave up long ago.
So, mamas, telling a story can be all right, if it’s done right. Through storytelling, the memories of a beloved grandfather — and even a dog named Buck — live on in the most amusing ways.
Phil Hudgins’ column is published in many newspapers around the Southeast.