Pennsylvania Jack


Traditional Appalachian tale

Author Unknown

Mildred and Maude had been friends for so long they hardly remembered when it all started. They had done a lot of things together over the years. But now, as they got older, they seemed to spend most of their time complaining about their husbands. "Land's sakes," Mildred would say, "that husband of mine surely does some foolish things!" "I'll bet he can't hold a candle to my husband," Maude would respond. Then they would go on to tell just what it was that these husbands did all the time. You can be sure that they themselves never did any thing that seemed foolish or annoying to the menfolk.

"Why just the other day," Maude mentioned on another time, "that foolish husband of mine was out in the barn trying to lift the cow up to the hay mow because there wasn't any hay on the lower level." "Hmmmmmmm," Mildred agreed, that's downright foolish all right. But wait until I tell you what my Clarence did the other morning." Off they would go, for hours at a time. One day Mildred made Maude a bet. "I'll bet I can get my husband Clarence to do something more foolish than yours." "You've got a bet there, girl," Maude quickly replied. "My man can out foolish your husband any old day." So the two women went on home, planning what they could get their silly old husbands to do and to win that bet.

A few nights later, Mildred and Clarence were sitting by the fire after supper. Mildred looked over and asked him, "How are you feeling? You look a little peaked." Well up until then, Clarence had been feeling just peachy, but something about the way Mildred asked him made him kind of wonder. She never said another thing until a few days later, when Clarence came in from the barn. "My goodness, old man," she told him, "you seem to be looking a bit puny today. Are you sure you feel all right?" Clarence mumbled that he thought he was fine, and went on into the kitchen to get a cup of tea and a cookie.

The next night, just before bedtime, Mildred told Clarence again how poorly he was looking. "I'd better doctor you up a bit," she told him. Like most families back then, going to a real doctor didn't happen very often, but there were a lot of home remedy potions and powders that any good wife had and knew about. Well Mildred mixed up three or four concoctions and dosed Clarence up good. He was beginning to agree that something definitely was wrong with him.

Well Mildred dosed the old boy up pretty good for the next day or two, and kept telling him he must be feeling low. One afternoon, Clarence sees a wagon coming into the barnyard. It has a coffin in the back. "Yep, it's for you," Mildred tells him. "I just know we're going to need it soon, so I went ahead and bought it." After Clarence helped the delivery man unload it and bring it on in the house, Mildred asked him to get on in it and try it out for size. Clarence climbed in and allowed it did seem to fit just right. Not that night, but the next, Mildred suggested that maybe Clarence should sleep in the coffin, "just to get used to it," and so he did. All the while Mildred was pouring so much medicine down him and telling him how poorly he looked, he got to the point where he figured he must be just about dead. So he climbed into the coffin and just sort of tranced out. When Mildred saw him there, she vowed not to put so much of that corn liquor into the "medicine." But nevertheless, she told Clarence that she'd gone ahead and made all the arrangements for his funeral. Clarence was feeling so bad, he was almost looking forward to it. Mildred figured that once they get to the cemetery, she would let Clarence in on the gag, and collect on her bet with Maude.

Meanwhile, over at Maude's house, she got out her big old spinning wheel, sat herself down and proceeded to make it spin. Except there wasn't any wool on the wheel, and no wool yarn was growing on the spindle. At least there wasn't any you or I could see anyway. When Thomas came in the house from work, he saw her busy spinning. He came on over to see what she was doing. "What are you working on now, old woman?" he asked. "I'm finally getting around to making you that new suit of clothes you've been needing," she tells him. Well just about then, Thomas was really wondering, because he couldn't see any wool or yarn anywhere near that spinning wheel, even though it was whirling around and around. Before he could say anything, Maude told him, "I'm using the best kind of wool anywhere. People say that if a husband has been telling his wife any lies, he won't be able to see the wool or the yarn, or even the cloth it makes." She looked up at Thomas, "You haven't been telling me any lies have you?"

Well right then and there, old Thomas decided he wasn't about to let on that he couldn't see that wool. He knew right well that he threw Maude a fib once in awhile, or maybe even pretty often. "Well, thank you dear. That is good looking yarn you're spinning there," he tells her and wanders off to the kitchen to get a cup of tea and a cookie.

Maude spends night after night spinning. Every now and then she takes off the "full" spindle and puts on a new one. "I think I've got enough yarn," she tells Thomas one day. "How about you help me get the loom set up, so I can weave it into cloth?" Thomas is only too glad to help. "Yes sir," he tells her, "that is a lot of yarn, and nice looking yarn too." For the next many nights, Maude works at that loom, making the shuttle go back and forth. "Isn't this lovely looking wool cloth?" she asks her husband, and he agrees that it surely is.

It's a few days later when Thomas comes home that Maude says to him, "Here, try on these new pants. Let's see how they fit." She is holding out her hands towards him as if she was handing him a pair of pants. Thomas doesn't see anything, but he isn't about to let on. So he pulls off his old overalls and boots, sits down in a chair at the table and pulls on the new pants. "They look fine," says Maude, "how do they feel?" Thomas stands up, walks around the table, and allows that they are mighty fine pants indeed.

Over the next couple of days, Maude finishes making a new shirt, a new vest, and a new coat to go with those pants. She has Thomas try them all on together. He's standing there by the table in nothing but his long underwear and his derby hat, but Maude tells him he looks like a million dollars, and he readily agrees. "These clothes feel so good, I just wish I had someplace to go," Thomas announced.

Well the very next day, Maude rode into town. She stopped to visit Mildred, and found out about poor old Clarence. She couldn't wait to get home. "Thomas, Thomas," she called out as she drove the buggy into the yard. "Good news! You can wear your new clothes to Clarence's funeral tomorrow."

So the next day, people from miles around are gathered in the churchyard. They were sort of wondering why nobody had seemed to have dug a grave, but darned if a wagon with a coffin in the back wasn't coming up the road. Also coming up the road, hurrying to get there ahead of the wagon, was a tall man in a derby hat and boots, wearing nothing but his long underwear. People started to snicker. Some of the younger ones started to giggle. Pretty soon they were all looking at Thomas and laughing right out loud.

Poor old Clarence was lying in the coffin. The lid was off - Maude told the teamster they'd put it on after all the mourners got a "last look." Clarence was just lying there thinking that he really didn't feel all that dead anymore afterall. About that time, he heard all the laughter going on around the wagon, so he just sat straight up in that coffin and looked around. When he saw Thomas standing there in his underwear, he let out the biggest laugh of all.

"Where are your clothes?" Clarence asked him. "You look awful foolish."

"I'm wearing my clothes. I'm wearing this fine new suit of clothes my wife just made for me!" Thomas replied. "What are you doing sitting up in that coffin?" Thomas asked Clarence. "That seems pretty foolish too! I thought you were dead."

"I've been so sick lately, I thought I'd died," Clarence answered.

About that time the two men noticed their wives laughing and laughing as they debated which one of them had the most foolish husband. In the end they had to agree it was a tie, and so neither one of them won the bet after all.