The legend of Talkin’ John

Published 1:09 pm Thursday, July 4, 2024

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To say Talkin’ John was a conversationalist would be like saying the Atlantic Ocean is wet. This Dark Corner legend truly earned his nickname by his non-stop chatter. Folks said he could talk the horns off the proverbial Billy goat. 

This prompted some fellows who had gathered at Broughton Turner’s store one day to speculate about just how long Talkin’ John could talk. Hobe Howard figured the old man could go all night long. Rufe Campbell had his doubts. As good old boys sometimes do, a wager was laid. Mr. Turner and Clarence Dill witnessed it. Five dollars! A lot of money to a couple of dirt farmers. The date was set.

It was an early October evening. Talkin’ John dwelt in a tiny farmhouse by the side of the road. He had lived by himself since his wife Thursie died a few years before. Hobe made sure supper was over. And sure enough, Talkin’ John had just washed his few dishes and put them away. He stoked the old cookstove and seemed delighted Hobe had stopped by. “Come in, Hobe! What brings you out?”

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“Well, John, I just wanted to check on you. See how you was a doin’.”

“That’s great! Why don’t I put on a pot of coffee?”

Hobe thought that was a good idea, seeing as how he was going to try to keep the old man up all night.

The conversation started out slowly. They talked about the last cutting of their hay fields, and how much corn an acre they harvested. John brought up a pesky squash bore that had laid his pumpkins low. Hobe looked at the old clock on the mantle. It was grinding away the hour. Seven o’clock!

Meanwhile, Rufe had taken up residence in Talkin’ John’s barn just to be sure Hobe made it through the night. After all, a man’s got to protect his investment.

Nine o’clock. Talkin’ John seemed unfazed that Hobe was still there. He droned on. He talked about the flood of 1916 and how the Pacolet made a mess of everything. That was a tough year for Talkin’ John on many levels. He and his wife Thursie lost their first child that year. “It was milk sickness,” John recalled. They lost another young ‘un two years later when the Spanish flu arrived. Hobe had no idea. Hobe couldn’t get a word in edgewise, but it didn’t matter. He listened and he learned. He heard Civil War tales and a story about his grandpa Howard he had never heard before. He even learned he and John were a little kin on the Plumley side. The night passed. The sun rose. John was still talking. Finally, Hobe excused himself at seven. He had work to do. As he passed the barn, Rufe handed him five dollars. “Keep it, Rufe,” Hobe said. “Last night, I learned a hundred dollars’ worth and made a friend besides. I figger I still come out on top!”