jenn reidel
Tellers of Tall Tales (Washington Magazine)

"Nettie Connet did just about everything. She was born in Sandy, Oregon, and homesteaded 80 acres there.

"She wore ridin' pants and a man's jacket, and a nice red felt hat. Now, she did put on a dress now and then, but see, she had false teeth very early in life, and she needed a place to put them.

"She was a great hunter, though a bit tricky that way. Sometimes she would go out just when hunting season opened, and she'd be the first one to ride through town with this big deer strapped across the Studebaker truck that she used to drive all the time. Folks that went up noticed that it looked like the same deer every year, and it was pretty cold, but they never told her.

"And she was a moonshiner. One day while driving into Portland she was stopped by a couple of policemen. They asked her if she knew where Nettie Connet lived. 'She's known to be a moonshiner and we want to catch her with the goods.' And Nettie, with a whole truckload of moonshine behind her, gave them precise directions to her house and kept on driving."

Cathy Spagnoli takes a deep breath. She tells the humorous stories of Nettie just as they might be recounted by the old-timers who hand out in Irene's Tavern, where Nettie used to do handstands on the barstools every year on her birthday until she was 84.

Spagnoli, who lives in Seattle, is a professional storyteller spawned by the revival of this art form in Washington. In 1980 a handful of tellers formed the Seattle Storyteller's Guild. Today, there are more than 175 members, most of whom are active storytellers who perform in all types of settings, from great auditoriums to tiny coffee shops.

Spagnoli found out about Nettie while researching archives for stories about Northwest heroines. To her surprise Nettie was one of only a few unusual and colorful female characters she could find on record. Spagnoli believes that tales such as Nettie's are often dismissed as simple ramblings or anecdotes, and thus don't make it into permanent records. But such ramblings, she says, are an important form of lore by and about the folk who helped mold the Northwest, and should be collected and preserved.

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