Boomer Winfrey  

Varmint County Correspondent

Spring has at last brought some relief to Varmint County’s collective frostbitten nose. 

Farmers are plowing, the little old ladies of the Lower Primroy Garden Club are trimming their rose bushes, Coach B. O. Snodgrass has put away his basketballs and dug out the baseball bats and the crowd out at Ike Pinetar’s Mud Lake Marina are oiling their fishing reels and tuning up their outboard motors.

One of the rituals of Spring around Varmint County for the past fifty years or so has involved April 1–April fool’s Day–and the unofficial competition to see who can pull off the best April Fool’s joke.

The tradition started, I guess, with old Sheriff Shirley Bandit, father of retired Sheriff Smoky T. Bandit and grandfather of current chief deputy Belinda Bandit. One April 1st back in the 1950s, Sheriff Shirley unlocked the cells to the jail and gathered his prisoners, all 43 of them, together in the parking lot next to the courthouse.

“Boys, seein’ as how it’s Spring and all, I thought ya’ll could use a little fresh air and exercise. We’re going to take everyone out to the lake for a little sunbathing and you can even go swimming if you can stand the cold water. Oh, and there’s barbecued chicken for anybody with a taste for good smoked meat.”

Sheriff Shirley took the convicts to the lake all right, to the road over Mud Lake Dam where a truckload of chickens from Clem Hockmeyer’s poultry farm had collided with a truck hauling sorghum on its way to Haig Hollow.

The sorghum had spilled and spread all over the highway, liberally sprinkled with feathers, while the poultry truck had plunged down the embankment and burst into flames just short of the water, barbecuing roughly 600 pullets in their cages.

“OK, boys. Over there is a truckload of shovels, mops and buckets. Half of you start cleaning the mess off this highway. The other half, start unloading those bunt out cages from the poultry truck so we can hook a cable to the chassis and haul it up from the lake bank,” the Sheriff announced.

Several prisoners whined that Sheriff Shirley had lied to them but he simply smiled and said, “Well, it’s sunny so ya’ll get a good tan, there’s plenty of barbecue chicken in those cages and when ya’ll get all sticky from the sorghum, that cold lake water will feel mighty good. Oh, and it’s April 1st so you can consider this your April Fool’s joke.”

From that point on, Varmint County folks have tried to one up each other with April Fool’s antics. One recent year Smiley’s Pool Emporium & Tobacco Mercantile announced free table time all day. Turned out he was replacing his worn out pool tables with a load of new ones, so he cut the legs off the old tables and left them one foot off the floor.

“The tables are free today, fellas, but you gotta get down on your knees to make a shot,” Smiley told the angry pack of pool sharks and billiard bums who packed into his place, “Happy April Fool’s Day.”

Another year, the Stinking Creek Church of the Tabernacle sent out a press release announcing a snake handling service on Sunday, April 1. Reporters from all over the state, TV news crews from three states and a representative of a reality TV program all showed up for the spectacle. The preacher and deacons then began to pass out harmless garter snakes to the congregation.

“What, you thought we’d be handling copperheads and rattle snakes? Do you fellas think we’re crazy?” Pastor G. A. Honeycutt laughed as the frustrated media types filed out the door.

One April, Doc Filstrup had Coach B. O. Snodgrass quarantine his entire Viper baseball squad because a couple of players came into the office with swollen private parts.

“They’ve got Rubicon’s Disease. It’s highly contagious and I imagine the entire team will come down with it. You better keep them under quarantine in the high school gym or it could spread into an epidemic,” Doc told B. O.

An hour before Varmint County was scheduled to play a doubleheader with Burrville, Doc told B. O. to go ahead and let the boys suit up. 

“Those two boys with the swollen genitals? They went hunting for spring lizards to use as fish bait, digging around in that moss up by the old mill spring. They’re just eat up with chigger bites,” Doc told the coach. “The swelling will go down in a few days and by the way, ain’t today April the first?” 

Sometimes the April Fool’s jokes backfire. Take the time Corny “Little Poison” Haig posted fake winning numbers for the $100 million Powerball lottery on his bulletin board at his Dead Rat Tavern. 

He had sold a Powerball ticket the previous day to Rufus Hockmeyer, who always bought one ticket for each weekly drawing, picking the same numbers each time that represented the birthdays of his children and the ages of his three ex-wives.

Rufus walked in the door, read the numbers posted on the winner’s sheet and dropped dead on the spot from a heart attack. His oldest son heard about his father’s untimely demise and the winning Powerball ticket and stopped off to buy a new SUV and bass boat on his way to the funeral home.

When the ruse was exposed, poor Corny had to pay off the bass boat and SUV to keep Rufus’ family from putting a contract out on him. Fortunately Rufus was not that well liked, so the boat and vehicle satisfied the entire family and Corney avoided further repercussions for his joke gone bad.    

This year the April Fool’s jokes rose to new heights as the lawyers at the courthouse decided to get in on the act. Lawyer Philbert McSwine and Assistant D.A. Gabe Boswell, over a bottle of Jack Daniels at the Elk’s Club in Burrville, cooked up a little April Fool’s joke to play on Judge Hobert “Hard Time” Harwell.

On April 1, Judge Harwell was scheduled to hear preliminary motions in the murder trial of Caswell “Beano” Tobin, who was accused of gunning down three tourists from Ohio while they were cruising in their boat out on Mud Lake.

When it came time to file motions, Gabe announced, “Your honor, defense attorney McSwine and the prosecution have worked out a plea agreement. Mr. Tobin, it appears, was out baiting his trot lines with chicken gizzards when the three Yankees, uh, victims, passed by his fishing boat at a high rate of speed, nearly capsizing his small boat.

“The three gentlemen then turned and passed by again, in an obvious attempt to cause Mr. Tobin bodily harm. He tried to fire shots over their heads to warn them off but his boat was rocking in the waves so violently that his shots hit the other boaters instead. This is an obvious case of self defense and the state has agreed to a reduced charge of illegal discharge of a firearm and involuntary manslaughter. We recommend a fifty dollar fine on the firearms charge and six month’s probation for manslaughter.”

Hard Time looked down over his glasses, first at Gabe Boswell, then at Philbert McSwine. “Amazing stroke of luck, those wild shots from a rocking boat. Hit all three victims square between the eyes,” the Judge observed. “Mr. McSwine, do you concur with this plea agreement?”

“Well, yes your honor, although considering my client was merely defending himself, I would prefer that the manslaughter charge be dropped.”

Then the lawyers blew it. Gabe choked back a laugh when the Judge rolled his eyes while Philbert could not keep a straight face any longer and broke out in an uncontrolled series of chuckles and sniffles. “Happy April Fool’s Day, your honor,” both attorneys announced as the courtroom roared with laughter.

Hard Time peered out as a wicked little grin spread over his face. “That’s a good one, boys. I have to admit you had me going there for a minute. I suppose the only thing to do is postpone Mr. Tobin’s motions hearing until next Monday.”

“Oh, we’re ready to proceed today, your honor. The state is prepared to answer all of the defense motions and proceed with our charges of second degree murder against Caswell ‘Beano’ Tobin,” prosecutor Boswell announced.

“Well, normally that would be the case,” Hard Time replied. “But in this instance I’m going to have to postpone the hearing until Monday because it will be Monday morning before the defense attorney and the prosecutor are released from their jail cells. I sentence both of you to 96 hours for contempt of court. Happy April Fool’s Day, boys!”