Pennsylvania Jack


a traditional American tall tale

(C) author unknown

When I was just a kid, our family lived next door to Mr. Johnson. He was a farmer. Well truth be told he just had a really big garden, but to a little kid, it looked as big as a farm. Tommy Johnson, Mr. Johnson's son, was my best buddy. We played together all the time.

Every Saturday morning, Tommy and I would help to weed Mr. Johnson's garden. I don't know if Tommy got paid or not, but I got a quarter for my work, and that bought a lot of candy at the corner store.

One day I was using a hoe to dig the weeds from around the corn plants, when Tommy yelled out, "Look out, there's a snake right behind you!"

Well I imagine I jumped up in the air about three feet. When I came down, I turned around quickly and sure enough, there was a snake crawling towards me. I didn't know then what kind it was. It was about three feet long and mostly brown. I stuck the hoe out in front of me to ward it off. I didn't particularly want to hurt it, but I sure didn't want it to hurt me either. Well, wouldn't you know it, that snake just reared up and lunged and bit right into the handle of that hoe. It sort of stuck, I had to shake the handle to make it let go. Then the snake turned and slithered off down the row. I watched it go, making sure it wasn't circling around to come at me again.

We never saw any more of that snake, so we went back to work. About noon time, our usual quitting time, we put the hoes back in the tool shed and took off for the ball field. Didn't think any more about that snake.

A couple days later, we were in the shed for something or other, and I couldn't help noticing that the handle of the hoe the snake had bit seemed to be a little bigger around. But I didn't pay that much attention. The next Saturday, when Tommy and I went to get the tools to work in the garden again, there was no way you couldn't notice. The handle of that hoe was as big around as a log. It had popped the hoe head right off. Wow, this was something! Tommy and I ran to tell Mr. Johnson about it. He came right down to the shed, telling us we must be imagining things. But when he saw that handle, he couldn't believe it either. "Yep," he said. "Look here, you can see the marks where the snake bit it."

Mr. Johnson was a practical man. If you gave him lemons, he'd make lemonade. Since someone had given him this log, he was going to make lumber. He went and got his pickup truck, and Tommy and I helped him load the log into the back. He took it down to the local sawmill, and had that log cut up into boards. Got enough boards to put that addition onto the chicken coop that he had been talking about.

He had almost enough boards for the addition, had to borrow one or two from his board pile. The addition looked right pretty, and the chickens seemed to like it. I guess where he made his mistake was when he painted it. You see, paint back then had a lot of turpentine in it, and turpentine is what you use to take the swelling out of a bruise. Seems that the turpentine in the paint sort of worked against the snake venom that had made that log swell up in the first place. The boards all started shrinking up. Since the boards were now all nailed together, there was a lot of tension building up. After a couple of days, "Boom!" That new addition just exploded!

Yes sir, there were splinters all over the place. Killed thirteen chickens too. I don't think I'll ever forget that as long as I live.

[ This is a classic old American tall tale, that's been around a long time, and has been told by storytellers all over. Versions of it can be found in many a folk tale book. Enjoy.