Southern Scribe
    our culture of storytelling


Porch Tales    

The Secret of the Corn Crib
By Janie Spence



Papa had the biggest hogs around!  You wondered as you watched him "slop" them, why those animals would eat that stuff!  You know they'd probably like fried chicken or some other southern delicacy if they ever had the opportunity to develop a taste for it.  Papa grew most of the family's food and raised his own feed.  He was particularly proud of his corn crib and that's just where it all happened.

It was 1934 in Eastern Arkansas and a steamy-hot Sunday afternoon.  All the cousins were entertaining themselves while the grown-ups sat on the front porch and made big decisions...mostly about the crops and the weather.  Since there were few "toys" to play with, young people had to be creative to pass the time.  It was ten year old Letha, one of the oldest of the group of children, who decided that they should climb to the top of the barn and divide up into choir and congregation and of course, she would be the preacher during this "pretend" Sunday service. 

Letha lined up her spectators.  The girls held their dolls and shushed them during the sermon.  Letha placed the choir to her right and of course, SHE occupied the seat of honor, right over the corn crib.  The choir sang, the ladies fanned, and Letha preached on and on.  Finally, she ended her Sunday service with orders that everyone should come by and shake hands with the preacher before departing for home and a big Sunday dinner. 

Pat held her babydoll close as she made her way to the front.  Then came Don and Mary Jo and Billy and Fred.  Walton was next in line as Letha continued to bless them all.  Finally, it was Christine's turn to shake hands with the preacher.  She was the youngest and they always made her go last.  Letha extended her hand and was just about to give her last "amen" when Christine stepped up to the makeshift pulpit.  What happened next put the fear in them all!  The loud crack was followed by a squeal and little "Stein" disappeared from the imaginary church. 

Make believe babies were thrown wildly out the hayloft...make believe deacons ran for the ladder to see who could get out of the barn first...and the make believe preacher...well, she did what any preacher would have done...she jumped through the big hole in the floor into the corn crib to save little Stein. 

It was dark in the corn crib, but she knew she'd found Stein's limp body when she landed right straddle her back. 

What in the world would Papa do?  He NEVER allowed children to play in his corn crib.  Enterprising Walton offered a solution to the dilemma.  (Walton was always good at thinking of ways to get out of trouble!)  Walton slithered through the barn door and tiptoed in spy-like fashion across the back yard.  He crept quietly through the back door and found the key to the corn crib, hanging just where Papa always kept it...on a nail by the screen door.  He snatched the key and ran back to the barn as fast as his legs would carry him.  He unlocked the corn crib and the two girls made their escape just in time.  The grown-ups were beginning to scatter and it would be time for Sunday night services soon. 

Stein's back ached as they sat on the REAL pew that night, listening to the REAL choir and the REAL preacher.  Papa glanced at them occasionally.  His eyes seemed to bore a hole right through them as they sat quietly in the small country church.  They feared what Papa would say when he discovered the hole in his hayloft. 

That Sunday came and went, along with many other Sundays.  The old folks continued to spend hours, sitting on the front porch, making big decisions about their crops and the weather.  The children held their breaths each time Papa took the key off the nail by the screen door.  Would this be the day they would finally get their due? 

Decades have since passed.  Little Stein is now seventy-six.  She's convinced that Papa must have known that waiting to be caught was the worst punishment of all...because, you see...he never...ever...said a word about that gaping hole over his prized corn crib. 

Janie Spence is a rehabilitation professional, living in Marion, Arkansas.  She has authored several text books.  She and her son are involved in videography and have won several national video awards.  Most of the recognition they have received has been for videos that document some important event in local history.  Stories about the South and its people are a favorite topic for film and pen.

2002, Janie Spence, All Rights Reserved