Southern Scribe
    our culture of storytelling


 Porch Tale    




By Ulmer Speed


Most of the womenfolk said she looked like a little princess sitting there in bed propped up with pillows so she could see everyone who had come to visit and sympathize with her about her broken leg.  Some said that she reminded them of a kewpie doll with her wide smile, long lashes, and bright brown eyes.  I didnít think the girl on the bed was anything like a princess or a kewpie doll.  

Mama had read me stories about kings and queens and castles and things, so I knew all about princesses.  She had read one story about a princess who kissed a frog to turn him into a prince.  I liked the frog story, but I knew it couldnít be true.  No girl in her right mind would kiss a frog.  Hardly any boys I knew would kiss a frog.  On the other hand, I would try anything.  When Mama first read the frog story to me I went right out, caught an old bullfrog, and kissed him.  But nothing happened to the frog so I didnít let anybody know what I had done.  Nothing happened to me either; I checked for several weeks to see whether I had gotten warts on my lips.  After failing to turn the frog into royalty I figured a girl had to kiss the frog for something to happen - maybe a real dumb girl.  The girl up on the bed didnít look anywhere near that dumb.   

We had a kewpie doll that belonged to Mama at home.  It was nothing to look at but Mama kept it up on the mantel in the front room.  She said that Daddy had won it for her at the fair before they were married.  She said that she only kept it because it made her think of Daddy.  Mama didnít even have to worry about me messing with it: I didnít play with dolls.  The girl in the bed didnít look a thing like that worthless chalk doll on the mantel.  

Aunt Flora had taken Doug and me with her to visit the family of the girl lying propped up in the bed.  When we got into the car, Aunt Flora prepared us to see a little girl in bed, but with a broken leg.  She said that the girl had broken her leg when she took a bad fall trying to keep up with her brothers skinning cats.  Then she gave us a speech about girls being different than boys Ė they were not as strong as boys were for one thing, she said.  Doug whispered to me that his mama wouldnít be saying that if she had seen Lillian Palmer whip Rodney Pippin for picking on her little brother at school. 

The family of the girl with the broken leg lived over near the Alabama line in what had been a ďshot-gunĒ house of three rooms with an additional room connected to the side of the main house with a dog porch.  The family had moved the girlís bed to the new front room so she could remain in bed and receive visitors at the same time.  As soon as I saw her, I loved her.  I couldnít take my eyes off that helpless beauty lying in bed with her leg in a cast.  Even with her dark summer tanned skin that matched perfectly with her auburn hair and brown eyes, she appeared pale and fragile.  She never acknowledged me, but I watched her all night from my vantage point on the floor absolutely sure that she and I were meant to be together forever.  Feeling sympathy for her because of her broken leg and wanting to be near her for reasons I didnít yet understand, my chest hurt right where I thought my heart was.  That night I began to look forward to starting school, so we could be together.  While the adults discussed and re-discussed her broken leg, the reason she broke it, and the remedies for rapid healing, I sat on the floor mesmerized by her beauty.  The girl looked exactly like I thought an angel would look, which was nothing like a princess or a kewpie doll.   

On the way home, I wondered aloud how a person could know they were in love, and Doug, Aunt Floraís son, who had sat next to me on the floor, and knew what was up, said a bunch of stuff that I didnít understand.  But he finished up by saying that he knew for sure that I couldnít be in love because my heart would have to hurt.  I was overjoyed. 

Predictably, Aunt Flora, listening in on our conversation and ever the one with a solution said that the love-struck could save time pining over a person who wouldnít even be in the picture anyway when marrying time came.  She suggested that a person who counted seven stars for seven nights would on the seventh night, dream of the one they would marry. That very night I went out onto the front porch and started counting.  I counted seven stars faithfully for seven nights and dreamed every night; except for the seventh night.  Nothing.  I dreamed absolutely nothing.  I resigned myself to bachelorhood then and there.  At the time I didnít fret over it too much, but somehow I knew that someday I would find myself lonely and alone under some future starry sky.  Doug, I was sure, had thwarted my glimpse into the future and prospect for marriage when he whispered to me just before I started counting stars on the last night that the object of my affection had already finished the first grade.  She was at least six years old.  Doug was telling me what I instinctively knew; she was much too old for me.  I thought of her a long time after that.  I still think of her from time to time.

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

His e-mail address is

© 2003, Ulmer Speed, All Rights Reserved