Brenda Sommer, a bartender in Austin, Texas, sent me the best account of a story-swapping session I've read lately.
She also has the neatest handwriting I've seen since I struggled to copy my third-grade teacher's elegant Spencerian style, which makes it a double pleasure to devote most of today's column to her letter.DEAR DR. B. - I have to write to you before the bar napkin that my notes are written upon disappears into the mess that is my desk.
To set the mood: It was a slow Wednesday night at the bar, muggy outside but just right inside for Margaritas.
Two good-old-boys who wouldn't allow me to ignore them had reached the end of their list of current jokes, when one began a tale that started out, "Now, I swear, this is true."
He continued, "It happened to a friend of my sister's up in Long Island. . . ."
I left the dirty glasses to soak and grabbed my pen.
It seems that the friend's sister's ladyfriend was driving home in the rain one night, husband at her side, on a dark, curvy country road.
They were startled to a halt by the sudden appearance of a woman standing in the road, frantically waving her arms to stop the car.
She ran up to the car, her dress splattered with blood, and cried, "Go for help, my car went off the road, and my baby is trapped inside!"
The couple, terrified, raced to the nearest telephone and called 911. Deciding to go back and see the outcome of the accident, they returned to the scene to find paramedics already there, just returning from the ditch where the car lay.
They were carrying the baby, safe and sound.
The friends asked about the woman they had seen, only to be told that she had died on impact and had been pinned in by the steering column.
The paramedics said that there was no way that she had ever left the car.
Well, you can just imagine how interesting this story was to me. I wondered, though, who would leave a bloody woman alone in the rain, and wouldn't one of the travelers have stayed with her?
But before I had time to speculate further, the other Bubba sitting at the bar was reminded of a story his uncle had heard about a fellow in Beeville, Texas.
It seems that one afternoon, this fellow had killed a big rattlesnake out by his woodpile, chopping its head off with a hoe.
Later that night, he happened to recall that his grandson was collecting rattles for a school project, so this bright guy went out in the dark and over to the woodpile.
He felt around until he found the rattle end of the snake, chopped it off, and went back inside to bed.
The next day he went past the woodpile and noticed that the decapitated snake was still there with its rattle intact.
After he awoke from his dead faint, he realized that in the dark he must have removed the rattle of this snake's live mate!
"Well, now, wait just a minute," said the first storyteller. "I heard that one in Louisiana."
But at that point I had drinks to make, and I missed the rest of their conversation.
Sometimes my job can be really amusing! Let me know if you've heard these, and keep cranking out the books.
DEAR BRENDA - I thought my job was amusing, but I get most of my stories in the mail rather than straight from the mouths of Bubbas. And I generally use a notebook or tape recorder for field collecting, not a bar napkin.
Your method seems to work just fine, though.
Yes, I've heard variations of both the ghost story and the snake story, but seldom so well-told as in your account, and never narrated consecutively.
With correspondents like you, I'll have no difficulty cranking out the next urban legend book!
Maybe I should start by applying for a government grant to visit bars in Texas.- "Curses! Broiled Again," Jan Harold Brunvand's fourth collection of urban legends, is now available in paperback from Norton. Send your questions and urban legends to him in care of the Deseret News.
1991 United Feature Syndicate Inc.