June 2018

By Marshall Chapman

I’ve never been a good liar. And believe me, there’ve been times it would have served me well. But it was just never in the cards for me to lie.

My older sister, Mary, on the other hand, could lie like a rug. Mary was so good at lying, it almost seemed virtuous. With one hand in the cookie jar, she could look you right in the eye and tell you her hand was not in the cookie jar, and you’d believe her.

You’ve probably heard the old saying: “He’d rather climb a tree and tell a lie than stand on the ground and tell the truth.” Well, Mary wasn’t that kind of liar. She simply lied to avoid trouble. And she was quick on her feet, which helps if you’re going to tell those kinds of lies.

One time my family and the Ballengers (another family from Spartanburg) were sharing a house at Pawleys Island. It was the summer of 1961. I was twelve and Mary was fourteen. Okay. So one night Mary went out with a bunch of teenaged friends, and when she came back later that night, she reeked of alcohol. Namely, beer. I was standing there watching the whole thing. Mama and Daddy were sitting there with Taddy and Clancy Ballenger, and when Mama smelled beer on Mary, she confronted her.

“Mary!” she exclaimed. “Have you been drinking beer? You know you’re not supposed to drink beer!”

With all those adult eyes fixed on her, Mary stayed cool.

“Y’all aren’t gonna believe this,” she said. “But I was at this party where all these boys were drinking beer. And there was this big dog—a Labrador Retriever, I believe it was. And those stupid boys thought it’d be funny to pour beer all over that poor dog, so that’s what they did.”

No one flinched, so Mary continued. She had them, and she knew it.
“And would you believe,” she said, “after they poured beer all over that dog, it ran shaking between my legs?!”

Words fail in describing the look that passed between my parents and the Ballengers in that moment—a mixture of disbelief, restraint, and pride.

After Mary made her exit, Mr. Ballenger shook his head.

“Damn!” he said, “That’s a helluva story. How could anybody make something like that up?”

“I’ll be damned if I know,” Daddy said, as he took another sip from his Scotch.

Marshall Chapman is a Nashville-based singer/songwriter, author, and actress. For more information, visit www.tallgirl.com.

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