Untamed Lowcountry

Monkeys, gators, rice, graves fluff up Lowcountry lies

Jim Gibson of Beaufort has taken lying to a new level.

He has entered his first liars competition, with the championship coming up next month in the Beaufort Intergalactic Storytelling Festival & Liars Competition.

It may be his first competition, but Gibson said he's been practicing all his life.

"I did it for a living," he said. "I was a trial lawyer."

Growing up in the Davis Crossroads section of Clarendon County, there was precious little to do but tell whoppers. In the winter, when life in the farming community slowed to a mule's pace, Gibson's great-uncles would sit around the stove at Wash Davis' store and re-tell a story about rice.

Seems a woman came in and said, "Mr. Wash, I want some rice."

As he went to the barrel to dip some out, she said: "I need rice that will fluff up real good when I cook it."

When she got her rice, she asked again if it would fluff up real good when she cooked it.

Wash Davis said, "We cooked a pot last night down in the swamp, and we had to climb a pine tree to take the top off it."

Gibson tells about a shrimper who caught a monkey that had escaped from Morgan Island and took it home to raise. He thought it would make a dependable striker, working the back of his boat, even after a big payday. The shrimper and the monkey sat around the house in their white boots, sipping beer, eating boiled peanuts and watching Tarzan movies so the monkey wouldn't get homesick ... until the long arm of the Lowcountry law intervened.

Another lying contestant is Louis Heinemann, raised the son of a crop duster, commercial shrimper and builder in the holy triangle of Walterboro, Allendale and St. Helena Island.

He says he dove off the Woods Memorial Bridge at the 1973 Water Festival and doesn't need to make up whoppers when 55 years in the Lowcountry will do. He tells about crashing through the roof of a chicken coop from the forerunner of a zip line his cousins hooked to a sycamore tree, then hearing his grandmother Bennie Mae shout from the porch once again: "Is he dead yet?"

He tells about almost dying when a "log" that came up in a shrimp net turned out to be an aggravated alligator.

Both liars say their worlds were full of storytellers before television, radio and the Internet sucked the brains out of everybody. Between camping down the river, cooking barbecue, fishing and golfing, Lowcountry people had plenty of time to polish like diamonds tiny specks of truth.

That's why ARTworks of Beaufort will celebrate storytelling April 11 to 14. Director J.W. Rone said more amateur liars are needed for the contest.

In one way, storytelling has always been a dying art.

"After a night of telling stories," Gibson said, "my mother would always say, 'Let's put all these people we dug up to talk about back in their graves, and go on to bed.' "

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