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So there I was the other night at a fancy corporate banquet in the mid-coast region, waiting to provide the evening’s entertainment, when the conversation at my table turned to storytelling. That's when this fella from Massachusetts – with an accent so thick you could've cut and stacked it like cordwood – attempted to tell one of my Down East stories.
Within seconds this Son of the Commonwealth had the story so mangled and mutilated that it became too painful for me to listen. Finally in desperation he turns to me and says: "Have you ever heard that story, John? Is that more or less how it goes?"
It's been suggested that warning labels be placed on all Maine humor tapes and CDs, warning amateurs about the dangers of attempting to tell these seemingly simple stories at home.
I told my table-mate that I knew the story well and when asked to tell it I began by straightening out some of the more dented details.
I'll tell the story here if you promise not to try to retell it without supervision.
In the story Tewkey Merrill is sitting on his front porch reading his newspaper when a car comes tearing around the corner by his house and stops. A man jumps from the car, runs up onto the porch and frantically asks Tewkey for directions to Bangor.
Realizing the fella is in a hurry Tewkey tries his best to move him right along.
"You want to take this road out of town about five miles and you're gonna' come to a fork in the road..."
"Does it make any difference which way I go at the fork?" the stranger asks, thinking he'll speed things up.
"Not to me, it don't," Tewkey says, honestly.
The stranger decides to just stand there and listen.
"You take a left at that fork and after you go another two miles you'll see a big, red barn... No come to think of it it's a green barn... Two miles after that left at the fork in the road you'll see a big, green barn...
Tewkey pauses again to think, while the stranger taps his foot, waiting.
"Now that I've colored the barn green I realize it's not on the left side but on the right side," says Tewkey. "So, remember - two miles after the left at the fork in the road on your right hand side you're going see a big, green...
Another long pause, more thinking, stranger is fit to be tied...
"For the last eight years that barn's been nothing but trouble," Tewkey finally said:
"Eight years ago the fella who owns that barn decided to paint it even though it didn't need painting. In the middle of the job he gets a call from his daughter in Canton, Ohio who just had her first baby.
"Well, he and mother pack up and fly to Canton to see their new grandchild. They stay out there for months, visiting. By the time they got back he couldn't remember whether his barn was red and he'd been painting it green, or she was green and he'd been painting it red. What's worse, he couldn't find any of the paint.
"His neighbor, Frank Farron, said, 'Just wait 'til one side starts peeling. Whatever side peels first is probably the side you painted first, so just paint that side the other color.'
"Fella agreed that was the answer. Trouble is, til he finishes painting his barn I can't remember - when giving directions - whether his barn is the red barn on the left heading north or she's the green barn on the right heading south.
"But I know for sure that two miles after the left at the fork in the road on either your left or right hand side I guarantee you're going to see a big red or green barn," Tewkey said all emphatic.
"Then what do I do?" the stranger asked.
"Nothin.'" said Tewkey. "You see it and just go sailing by.
Well, by now the stranger concluded that he had picked the last person in Maine to ask for directions but by then it was too late.
From around the same corner came a deputy sheriff with siren wailing and all lights blazing. He cut off the stranger's car, came up on the porch, slapped some cuffs to this stranger and arrested him on the spot. It was quite dramatic.
It seems this fella had just robbed a bank in Union and was trying to make a getaway to Rockland and Tewkey Merrill managed to stop this fella armed with nothing more than his index finger and his colorful directions.
Well, they hauled the fella off to jail and under intense questioning by the department's elite criminal division they finally wrung it out of him: He had been in that very town about eight years previous and the only mischief he managed to get into was - he broke into somebody’s big red and green barn and made-off with about twenty gallons of paint. Before retelling this story, please consult a board-certified professional storyteller.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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