Henry the Liar

I walked across a deserted parking lot to an old country store. I couldn’t miss the old man sitting on a bench in front. His dog-a gangly mutt that looked older than his master—slept lazily at his feet.


Coffee. I needed coffee.


I mixed my concoction of go-juice and made my way through the maze of stacked boxes to the cash register just as the middle aged cashier glanced out the door. I followed her gaze.


“Do you know that man?” I asked, thinking perhaps he was homeless. I wanted to help.


“Oh him?” She asked, waving her hand dismissively. “That’s just Henry the liar.”


Satisfied that he was a harmless local, I asked, “Does he drink coffee?”


She confirmed his habit was the same as mine and I grabbed him a cup of java and, exited the store, and offered it to him as I sat on the bench beside him.


He looked up in amazement. Apparently not many folks paid much attention to him, let alone buy him coffee. I’m not very good at small talk so I climbed right to the pinnacle of my curiosity and jumped off.


“So why do they call you ‘Henry the liar’”?


“It’s a long story about a long time ago.”


“Well, I love history and I’ve got time.”


He smiled and gazed out in the distance, as if trying to locate a place in his past. Then he took a deep breath and words began to spill out.


It was the Great Depression and he was just a teenager when their small town was hit so hard, it was about to disappear. Folks were leaving in droves, having no choice but to follow the bread. Henry grew up in this town and it broke his heart, particularly when his girlfriend’s family fell among those who left.


As he walked through the woods one day feeling completely helpless, he imagined how things would look in a profitable town where everyone had work. Life would be righted again. He went home and told his parents he heard a big company was coming to town to open up a new factory. He went on to say he met the men in charge of bringing the factory to their town. They were astounded.


The news spread quickly and the story took on a life of its own. Henry suddenly found himself headlong in a whopper of a lie. Many times he thought about owning up to his fantasy but the positive impact on his little town was unmistakable.


So, he kept it going. In fact, he became the liaison between this company and the town. He’d go on trips to meet with the company to “iron out the particulars”. While the mayor and other city officials prodded for information and coached him on what the town needed, Henry the Liar would camp out in the woods until the day he was scheduled to return.


Hope filled the streets. Townspeople was smiling again. Laughing. Singing.


When things got bad, they would say, “It will all be better when the factory comes. We have to hang on.”


For two years the façade continued as Henry kept up his work of fiction. Finally, he asked for a meeting with the townspeople on behalf of “the factory”. That night everyone was there. There was the buzz of electricity throughout the place as they eagerly awaited the good news.


Henry faced the crowd, cleared his throat and spilled the beans. “The factory” had produced hope in the lives and families of those people. They’d held on, helped each other and that hope propelled them to not only survive, but to thrive in the midst of the Great Depression.


There was silence. Utter stunned silence. The longest pregnant pause in history. Then one by one, as reality dawned on them, the townspeople stood and clapped. Finally, the room erupted into applause. Indeed, Henry the Liar had saved their town.


From that moment on, he was known as Henry the liar… the one who singlehandedly saved the town. Today, when he’s called the name, he smiles because he knows it is a term of endearment. His heart swells with pride.


He’s old and sick. He won’t be with us much longer but he will pass from this world to the next in the same town he grew up in and lied to save. His heartbeat will continue to pulse strongly long after he draws his last breath. It’s the Heartbeat of America. It will never fade.


What a sweet and inspiring story! I'd like to meet Henry the liar. :-)