Most folks, if you asked them, would probably tell you that telling lies is not a good thing, some might even consider it a bit sinful. But like so many things, that often depends on your perspective. There are times when a good lie comes in handy, but you have to know when that time comes. There was a time when the act of telling a lie was practiced by more people, and developed into a fine art that brought the teller fame if not fortune. In an old country churchyard in the mountains of North Carolina is the grave of one “Samel Hoskin” who passed away at the age of 70 back in 1896. The words on the stone are few, but they speak volumes about the man. He “wars farmer and grate lier,” is all it says. Let’s hope that our kin folk can find something good to say about us when our time comes.
You would think that most anybody can tell a good lie, but that’s not so. Some people are just better at it than others, either naturally or through practice. Lots of people can tell little white lies; fewer still are good at fibs. To tell a big old hornswaggling bold face whopper and never let a smile cross your face, now that takes a special person. My brother Dan, and old Jim Grabbe from up Lewistown way are three of the biggest liars I’ve ever known. Dan is one of them, and Jim is the other two.
Bill Greenfield was one of the great liars, probably the greatest that Pennsylvania has ever known. He was from Forksville, up in the Endless Mountains of Sullivan County. He’d show up at Lying Contests at the County Fairs and they would just hand him first prize right off. Otherwise he’d win all the prizes. Bill would lie when the truth would be better served. He was known to be able to lie the pants off two preachers at once. Yes sir, Bill Greenfield could spin a whopper.
One day Bill was out working in the barn, trying to redd up after the livestock. After a while he got that strange feeling like you get when you think someone is watching you. Bill looked around. At first he didn’t see anybody. But then he got that feeling again. He walked over to the barn door, and there, leaning against the beam, was none other than the devil himself – Old Scratch.
“Bill, I need you to come with me,” the devil told him. “I need a liar of your caliber.”
Needless to say, Bill was flattered to be so recognized, but on the other hand he just wasn’t ready to leave this life yet. “No, I won’t go with ya,” replied Bill
“I’m sorry, Bill, but you don’t have a choice. Come along now.” With that, the devil turned and headed out the lane.
“Can’t it wait a little bit? A year or two maybe?” Bill asked after him.
Well it so happened the devil was in a good mood that day. He thought awhile, and decided to offer Bill a chance. “Bill,” the devil told him, “I’m going to let you ask me to do three things. If I do them all, you’ll come along with me now. If I can’t do any one of them, I’ll go away and not ever bother you again.”
This seemed more than fair to Bill, so he thought and thought about what it might be that the devil couldn’t do. After a bit, Bill reached down to the dirt along the edge of the barn and pulled up a little oak tree seedling that had started to grow there. Squirrel must have planted an acorn there. Bill shook the dirt off the roots, and threw the little tree aside. Then he said to the devil, “I want you to do the same thing to that big oak tree there in the pasture.” Bill pointed to a tree that was two feet wide and eighty feet tall.
The devil chuckled a bit. Then he walked to the tree, put his hand on the trunk, and that huge old tree lifted from the ground with no more trouble than Bill had had pulling up the little one. The devil shook it a time or two and threw it aside. “What else do you have for me to do, Bill?” he asked.
Bill thought and thought some more. Then he reached down and picked up a little pebble that was by his feet. He threw the pebble out into the pasture by the barn. “I want you to do that to that rock sticking up out of the ground over yonder.” Bill pointed to a big rock. He knew that only a little bit of that rock was sticking out of the ground.
The devil didn’t even chuckle this time. He just went over to that rock and pointed at it, and that huge rock came up out of the ground with ease. He threw it over towards the woods, knocking down several trees. There was a huge hole in the ground where the rock had been. “That’s two, Bill. What else do you have?”
This time it only took a moment for Bill to think of a third request. He quietly said, “I want you to go and find a bigger liar than Bill Greenfield.”
Well the devil didn’t chuckle this time either. He laughed out loud. “Bill,” he said, “You’ve beat me fair and square. There isn’t any such thing as a bigger liar than you.”
True to his word, the devil turned away, and he disappeared so quickly Bill found it hard to believe he had ever been there. But he never bothered Bill again, at least for the rest of his long life here on earth.
[ There are many many tales in folk literature of people being summoned by the devil but who save themselves by outwitting him. This is one of them. Hope you enjoyed it. ]