Southern Scribe
    our culture of storytelling


  Porch Tales    



The Calf Stall Defense

 By Ulmer Speed

  Corncob fights took place every Saturday evening on our farm in Sand Flat, Miss’ippi.  Evenings to us in included all that time in a day between noon and when the dew began to fall.  After that it became night.  Changing temperature, not fading light, defined evening from night; evenings were hot and nights were not as hot.  For most of our extended family and neighbors, the corncob fights were spontaneous but not for me.  Plenty of corncobs stockpiled in strategic places were the key to my survival.  With the grownups in town, protection was something kids had to attend to themselves.  The show of pity was a ploy used to get an unsuspecting target out in the open and within range.  Big allied against little, old ran down the young, and crying wouldn’t stop the onslaught.  Raising a welt was the goal -- on the head if possible.  Anybody, boy or hapless girl, who was foolish enough to enter the general area of the barn soon felt the sting of a corncob thrown with the accuracy and effect of a smooth flat river rock.  Alliances shifted with the tide of battle and those who had the best position and the most corncobs had the most friends and consequently were most likely to survive the day unscathed.  There were exceptions though. 

Nell, the oldest sister of the boy who lived across the road, came down to the barn during one of our epic battles to see what all the commotion was about and got beaned right between the eyes by her own brother.  If she had stayed up at the house, and not peered around that corner, she wouldn’t have that scar today.  Luckily she wears bangs and if she lets them get real long the scar hardly shows.  Crying and screaming at the top of her lungs, she sat down when she got hit and began to name all of us that she was going to tell on and all those daddies and mamas she was going to tell.  It was a good tactic since she didn’t know for sure who had hit her.   The combatants, on the other hand, knew that daddies always believed their little girls no matter what, so an unjustified whuppin might as well be justified -- the attack intensified.  When she finally realized the mistake she made by threatening to tell, she made a run for the house and the protection it offered her.  Girls had free run of the house.  Boys couldn’t go inside when the grownups were gone unless accompanied by a girl.  The reason, we were told, was that boys always messed things up.  Later that night when the grownups returned from town we held our breath but she didn’t tattle.  Nell understood that we all stood ready to repeat to the grownups what she had called us during our attack.  I never heard the word before but the older boys told us younger kids that the term called into question our legitimacy.  Our Mamas would not have liked to hear any thing regarding their reputation or the reputation of their young’uns and Nell knew it.  I didn’t even know what legitimacy meant. 

When I carried water to the workers over in the thirty-acre cut, I had to go right between the calf stalls and the barn.  I smiled as I passed that way on my way to the field comforted with the memories of many successes during those corncob battles and the finesse I used to survive.  There was that one miscalculation, however, in my calf stall defense.  During that ill-fated battle I had chosen to defend the calf stalls and had done so with unusual valor before I realized that withdrawing from combat is sometimes necessary.   The stalls proved to be a trap -- there was a single door.  The well-prepared position with its large cache of heavy wet cobs and a wide field of view gave me the advantage over my adversaries.  But when the enemy learned of my location, family and neighbor alike converged in front of that single opening to wait for my escape attempt so they could inflict unmerciful punishment on me.  And they did.  I couldn’t have had more fun. 

The front porch provided a refuge.  It was a retreat from campaigns wavering and causes lost. Throwing and fighting was kept to the yard, otherwise a window might get broken or somebody might get hurt.  That’s what we were told and they were the only rules to govern Saturday’s entertainment, that and girls were the only ones allowed in the house.  A broken window could result from an errant corncob thrown from a wrong angle.  I understood that, but how could fighting on the porch result in more injuries than fighting in the yard?  That conclusion was never justified to me.  I lost a tooth once in a yard fight with my cousin and suffered a bloodied nose in every fight I was in -- then and now.  The lost tooth and bloodied noses resulted from my lack of pugilistic skills; leading with the face is not the way to begin a fight much less winning a fight.  I never overcame that unlearned lesson, paying dearly through the years with blackened eyes, loosened teeth, bruises, and skinned nose.  Nevertheless, I couldn’t imagine how a porch fight could possibly be more severe than a yard fight.  What I did understand was that the porch offered safe haven and I, along with others, took it when the tide of battle turned for the worse.  Catcalls of sissies, girls, cowards and other offensive epithets were hurled trying to shame those of us who had taken refuge to move into the yard and back into battle.  It didn’t work.  There was no honor in taking sanctuary on the porch, but it was safe.

The author is Mr. Ellis Ulmer Speed, a 1970 engineering graduate of Mississippi State University.  He current works for the Defense Technology Security Administration in Alexandria, Virginia.

His e-mail address is  


© 2002, Ulmer Speed, All Rights Reserved