LAURINBURG — J.A. Bolton is the best liar in the Sandhills — at least according to a plaque he recently received.
Bolton placed first at the ninth annual Bold-Faced Liars’ Showdown in Laurinburg on Saturday, spinning a better yarn than the other 14 contestants, who hailed from North and South Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky.
“There was some mighty good stories told,” he said a couple days after the event, adding they were all family-friendly. “It got mighty deep in some places.”
The one that made Bolton stand out above the rest was about just another day of fishing on the Pee Dee River.
“I was sitting in the front of the boat and I leaned backward as far as I could to get under the log. Just about the time we started under the log a rather large bobcat came out of nowhere. He leaped up on the log which was right above my head. Why, I was so close to that bobcat I could count the fleas on his belly,” the first part of the story goes.
In the tale, Bolton and his friend continue fishing, catching several 8-pound bass, but he wanted “a wall-hanger.” He throws his plug, which gets caught in a willow tree.
“Well, I got to pulling on that plug so the whole tree was shaking and out flew two turkeys, a hive of bees and 10 water moccasins fell into the water,” the story continues. “One of them snakes was about six foot long and before he could swim back to the bank, a 35-pound bass done jumped up and swallowed that rascal. Now I just knew that was the bass I wanted on my wall.”
He yanks the line again, causing the plug to come loose and flying toward their boat — with one of the hooks catching the turkey by the beard, causing it to crash into the boat and flip them over.
“I don’t rightly know if both my friend and I were Baptists when we went under, but when we came up out of the water, we had been fully immersed, don’t you know!”
They pulled the boat to shore to dump it out, stuffing the turkey under a life jacket. As they got back to the log, a game warden was waiting from them. He spotted the bird and started to write a ticket, since turkey season was out.
“’Bout that time, the same bobcat…the one with all them fleas, appeared on that log right above that warden’s head,” the story concludes. “When that bobcat growled, why, I’ve never seen anybody move so fast in my life. He had that boat motor cranked in a split second and the last thing we seen of that game warden was his new hat flying off as he sped off up the river.”
Bolton said contestants had seven minutes to tell their tall tales in front of the three judges and a crowd of about 100, with points docked off if they fell short of three or exceeded seven.
Like other forms of performance art, Bolton said those doing the listening play a part in how well the show goes.
“The audience makes a difference,” he said. “If they’re into it, you’re into it.”
This was the seventh time Bolton entered the contest.
“First time I entered, I finished fourth and a Methodist preacher won,” he said. “I don’t know if anybody’s ever won it twice. Keep tryin’, I might.”
Bolton said the award is “kinda coveted,” and can be used on a storyteller’s resume to attend other similar events, like the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee.
“That’s where I’d like to go someday,” he said.”
Many of Bolton’s stories have appeared as a weekly column in the pages of the Richmond County Daily Journal. He’s currently writing about Lumbee legend Henry Berry Lowery, and has plans to write about the Beast of Bladenboro. He’s hoping to soon have them published in a book.
Bolton recently had a story published in Carolina Country magazine about his time working as a lineman during a 1968 ice storm.
His wife, Azalea, is a storyteller in her own right. She and her husband now take turns writing the weekly Storyteller column that appears each Wednesday.
“We enjoy telling stories together,” he said. “She sticks to the truth. I’m like Stonewall Jackson, I like to keep ‘em guessin’.”
His stories run the gamut from fact to fiction, often involving tales from the past. He said stories and history go hand-in-hand.
“History’s not all true, it’s just what people wrote down,” he said. “There’s some good stories out there if people will take the time to smell the roses, listen to the stories.”
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_toler.