by Jim Riggs
Early spring or early autumn were the favorite times for our gang of eleven year old boys to gather for clod fights. Any time we could find the ammunition worked for us. Sometimes they were planned and sometimes the results of an impromptu throw by a random boy.
Lee and Larry Baker’s grandpa lived next door to them on Ankeny Street, two blocks from my house. Their grandpa had a garden behind their house that was often filled with a formidable supply of dirt clods. The soil was rich and the clods were solid black and held together well.
Larry and Lee and I were cautious kids. Larry decreed and we all agreed that we didn’t want to put out an eye or hurt anybody too badly, so we outlawed rock fights. Our rules forbid throwing a rock at anyone and hitting above the waist was strictly prohibited. Clod fights were a favorite and well-governed activity.
So we had two strict and universally understood rules. No throwing rocks or faucets or other hard stuff, and no hitting above the waist. A clod striking a boy above the waist usually led to an immediate apology from the perpetrator before the game continued. Fairness surrounded the activity as if we were modern professional golfers, calling our own fouls.
The Laughlin boys lived down the block from Larry’s and across the street from his grandpa’s house. One day in late August, they joined us in a clod fight and started throwing rocks. We explained our rules, but the Laughlin’s chose to ignore them. We retreated from the battlefield and began plotting new strategies against them. It was our duty to teach them a lesson.
Grandpa’s garden had a good supply of over-ripe vegetables. We gathered a batch of tomatoes and stood in his yard across the street from the Laughlin house, calling the boys to come out and face us. Our numbers were growing. Boys from blocks around heard the commotion and came to join us in our battle against unfair tactics.
The Laughlin boys wouldn’t show their faces, so we began throwing ripe tomatoes onto their broad, front porch. For some reason, our tactics irritated their mother. In loud voices, we suggested that they were cowards to hide behind their mother’s skirt.
It didn’t take long for the police to arrive. I don’t think the cops understood our point about the Laughlin boys not fighting fair. We tried to explain that they had been throwing rocks and faucets. The policemen listened, but they didn’t get it.
Eventually, my father got involved. Dad seemed to think it would be a good idea for us boys to go over to the Laughlin’s, apologized to their mom, and clean up the tomatoes off their porch. He thought pails of soap and water and brooms would work well. And they did.