Gertie's Gone Prankin'!

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By: Gertrude Butterbean

With the approach of October, many folks feel the need to pull a trick on their friends or family. Halloween may have something to do with it, but I think that pulling pranks in October after a big harvest is just about as common as an acorn on an oak tree. Tricks and jokes could inject fun to a situation and you can bet that after all that fall work, our forebears liked to play too.

It's hard to imagine Great-Granny getting up to the devil's business, especially when all those photos of her are yellow-toned and stern, but I guarantee that she did more than plant taters and bake bread. I have it on the best authority that she occasionally put marbles under the guest's sheets, offered chocolate-covered cotton balls to Aunt Barbara, pinned the sheets down so that no one could get in bed, and served ice cream that was really scoops of chilled mashed potatoes.

Great Grandpa's pranks were more on the lazy side. He liked to sit and whittle, then send the younguns on "sleeveless errands" looking for hen's teeth, striped paint, a soft-pointed chisel, a box of straight hooks, sweet vinegar, a stick with one end, or elbow grease. One time, a cousin fell for the old go-to-a-leather-shop-and-ask-for-a-strong-strapping trick.


At school, kids played pranks on each other by putting bugs in pen wells, water on chairs, and rotten vegetables in desks. They also played tricks on the teacher. In the one-roomed schoolhouse, some of the kids showed up early, covered the chimney with sticks and eventually the room would be smoked out. The teacher had ways of dealing with pranksters. A quick rap on the knuckles with a yardstick would kill the urge to slip a lizard down little Susie's dress in a heartbeat.

We've all heard of the strategically placed "kick me" sign, but there are countless tales of mischievous ghosts, boogers, and haints that turned out to be bored relatives looking for something to do. Many folks thought that ghosts inhabited old buildings when it was actually a few of the boys hiding from the wives playing pinochle. Well, that's what they said they were doing. Ahem.

A couple of my relatives - for the purposes of this story we'll call them Stinky Bill and Ferocious Frank - used to like to tip over occupied outhouses back in their younger days.

"Ya hadda be real quiet like," Stinky Bill reminded us through spits of snuff, "cuz ya didn't want to tip off the thunder-box sitter that y'all was approachin'."

Ferocious Frank added, "Ayyup, if the crapper was situated on the creek, we had the biggest time splashin' folks up through the holes. I remember how Stinky Bill got his nickname. He went to tip over the Blanchard's double-holer, but Hoss Blanchard knew he was comin' so he moved the crapper over a few feet. You could hear Stinky Bill hollerin' all the way across the valley when he fell into the fart pit."

When I asked Bill and Frank why they wanted to flip over outhouses, they got a really confused look on their faces. Nice guys. No wonder they ended up in jail.

Out in the country, pranksters took victims snipe hunting, tipped over sleeping cows, sent victims to the store for a "long stand" (where they would be told that they could stand as long as they wanted), and then showed off their naked buttocks in the silvery moon.

Momma wasn't without trickery, either. She might put sugar in the salt saucer or tell you that she'd pay you a Yankee Dime for fetching the mail.

Harmless pranks are my favorite kind of fall fun. I'm a firm believer that the prank is only as funny as the victim. The nastier the victim, the funnier the prank, but there's another reason for pranks: affection. It was the old snake-in-the-jar trick that Great-Grandpa used to get Great-Granny's attention, you know.

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Copyright © 2004, Gertrude Butterbean (Angela Gillaspie)
Revised - 09/29/04