Clifford Harris Byrd
Those were the days and I didn't realize it then, but as I look back on them now, they were the greatest. If I had had known how great they were going to be, I would have made a lot more memories so I could have written a book about them now. I might even have published it. Ha.
Walking wasn't crowded in those days. We rode our shanks ponies to school and wore out a lot of shoe leather. When the weather was good, we took our time, especially coming home from school. We ran, hollered, jumped all the ditches and had to throw rocks at every fence post and tree on the way home, even at a horse or cow some times. Of course, the county furnished us with rocks when they spread them on the pike road.
The fields and woods were sprinkled with little white rocks. In the winter time we would throw snow balls at each other or stuff snow down some ones back. The girls didn't appreciate that. On the way home from school we passed the church on the right and the next road on the left was the road that went over the hill to Oscar Hammond's place. Next we passed the lane that went up to Rob and Hattie Cole's place on the left. Arthur and Roman Knight would cut across the field at the church and take a short cut home. The King children would usually take the short cut home too.
One day on the way home from school, Clinton Byrd and Leonard Laswell got into a scuffle which ended up in the thicket on the right side of the road. It ended up as they were rolling around on the ground when Clinton found a puffball and covered Leonard's face with black powder. We walked on as if nothing had happened. At the Cole farm, we parted ways with Russell Goldman (Hattie's son) as we cut across the field to the old barn. Hattie made delicious cookies. Some times Russell would give us some leftover cookies from his lunch pail. I always felt safe when Russell was around since he was bigger and older. Clinton liked taking care of problems, but I was afraid and usually ended up striking back which sometimes caused more problems.
About nineteen and thirty-five when I was eleven years old, things began to change. Lucille Luff became a "magnet" to me. You know what I mean; I was kindly struck on her. She caused butterflies to flutter in my stomach when I knew there wasn't a single one in there. We would sit in the choir with our arms folded across our chest and hold hands. Can you believe that? It's the truth, just ask her. One day while running through the woods near the school, I got tired and returned to the school grounds where I found my "heart throb" with that old "rascal" Farrell Roberson. Little did I know that my mother would end up marrying her uncle, Lester Benham in nineteen and thirty six. That was one way getting her in the family with out her asking me to marry her. Because my Mother married Lester, that meant good by to the Roberson School and Hello to Mifflin, Indiana. At the last Benham Family Reunion, I let Lucille know that she broke my heart. O, the things that might have been. Ha.
The years flew by swiftly. There was a war to be fought. We put away our marbles, tops, slingshots, popguns and other games that filled our spare moments in life. Those things that bound us together as friends, we put on the shelf of our memories of life. It seems strange and precious now as we take them off the shelf and look at them again. When we share them with one another, they become fresh in our mind as if they only happened last week and we wonder why we didn't enjoy them as much then as now. I guess it's because, who among us can play jail base, ante over, run the hills and hollers, jump the ditches, throw snow balls or even little white rocks without loosing an arm or at least throwing it out of joint? Isn't it wonderful to travel back in time and to enjoy remembering our friends? The best memories are those of family and friends. Isn't that what it is all about?
In my mind, I can still run, jump ditches, throw rocks and snow balls, but my body won't co-operate with my mind. I'm not sure if my joints would let me sit in the choir, cross my arms and hold my wife's hand or not. During the war, I was in the Air Force. Fortunately, I was not around any of the fighting. I had the time of my life in the Islands, East Indies, and the Philippines. Those times at the recitation bench, class exercises and all the interaction among my friends at the Roberson School and the Church helped to prepare me for my time in the service. I was pretty good with the trombone and got to play in many parades, even down Collins Avenue at Miami Beach, retreats and everywhere, except the chow hall. At Morati Island and the East Indies, the music in the 13th AAF band was too much for someone from a Wesleyan background. There was an opening from the 3rd dance band to a statistical unit and I jumped at it. IBM machines replaced the "horn". I finished the last of WWII in a statistical unit attached to the FEAF (Far Eastern Air Force).
It has been good for me to reminisce about the good old days. I'm feeling better already. I think I might be able to throw a rock or two if my joints would co-operate with my mind. To be honest I doubt if I could hit the side of a barn, even if I was on the inside of it. Thanks to all my teachers, "I love you Mrs. Reasor". I don't know how he did it, but it seemed that W.W. Jones knew everything, or maybe it was because I knew so little. Thanks to all my Sunday school Teachers at the Union Chapel Church and thanks to all the preachers and evangelists that preached the Bible to me. They didn't do it all in vain.
Today, I'm a better man for having attended Roberson School and the Chapel Church. I appreciate all the good Christians who lived a good Christian life before me. Their example gave me something to strive for. And last, but not least, I thank God for giving me a good long life and for so many friends of which you are a part. I'm looking forward to reading your memories too. Clifford H. Byrd, 350 E. Jackson St., Apt. 104, Orlando, FL. 32801
Howard Clinton Byrd
Union Chapel and Roberson School! They bring back memories of my boyhood days on the farm with my Batman Grandparents. Clifford and I grew up there because our father died when we were very young and mother, Lela Batman Byrd went to work at the hospital in Evansville. Ben and Minnie Batman had raised nine children before we got there. They had also raised some others, so I always considered myself number thirteen.
Everyone called them Pa and Ma so Clifford and I called them Pa and Ma also. Pa was the unofficial lay leader and janitor for Union Chapel. He always kept three big lanterns for the church and every week we helped clean and fill the lanterns which were used for the Thursday evening prayer meeting and Sunday evening service. On those nights we walked carefully to church, carrying the lanterns so we would not break a mantle. Clifford and I were pretty small, but Pa always let us help carry everything. We also would go down to the church with Pa and Ma to help clean and get ready for a service.
We had an interesting mix of people who attended Union Chapel in the twenties and thirties. Most people had a membership in a church elsewhere, but came to Union chapel because it was in the neighborhood. We had Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists and other denominations; everyone was welcome. Ma always had a lot of people in to eat after church on Sunday. If we had a visiting pastor, often from Asbury College, Pa was sure to bring him home for Sunday dinner. There were two people I can remember always being there, even if there was no other company; Willie May (Mays) and Charlie Engleman. Willie May lived in a little cabin behind my grandfather's farm and he made delicious rhubarb pies. I always heard that he was part Indian. His wife had died before I can remember so he was always a welcomed guest at Ma's table. Charlie Engleman was a bachelor and he had cancer for many years. I can remember when he would come to church with his face bandaged. He was very poor, but many people were in those days. When he died, the county allowed $25 for a casket and funeral. I remember going to the funeral at Union Chapel and he was buried there in the church cemetery; I doubt if there was ever a marker. It worried my mother because his casket was plain wood with no lining, but Pa said he "allowed that Willie was not concerned about the kind of box he had."
I remember so much about Roberson School, yet when I started to analyze my years there, they only add up to four. I was in school in Mifflin one year, and in Grantsburg two years before high school in English. I guess my Roberson School years left a big impression because that was the period of time I spent on the farm with my Grandparents. Helen Riser was my first grade teacher. She was young and I was very much in love with her for the first three months. Then on December 1st (which was my birthday) she put me in 2nd grade. I had started school with the entire first reader memorized and my astute teacher soon realized I would never learn unless I had to work. So my birthday present was a move to the second reader and my life of ease ended.
For the rest of my school years, W.W. Jones was the teacher, people in the community called him Will. He must have had the patience of a saint. I say this because I can remember how he would take us out to the woods to hunt for a Christmas tree, which we would cut and carry into the school building to decorate. Can you believe, one teacher keeping track of 55 kids running all through the woods? That wouldn't happen today. When we finally selected a tree, it could not be cut down until we all agreed that it was the perfect one. Fifty-five kids being in agreement; that in itself was quite an accomplishment.
Will Jones had another great idea; he let us vote on the length of our lunch hour. In spring and fall, when there was daylight for longer periods, we usually voted for an hour lunch period so we could enjoy the out of doors. But in the winter, when it got dark so early, we ate quickly so we could be out of school sooner and home before dark. Did we really make those decisions, or did Will Jones manipulate us into thinking it was our decision. Anyway, I can remember that we would vote.
We were a pretty active bunch of kids when we were outside. Our entertainment came from simple games that did not use props. After all, Roberson School did not have athletic equipment. There was "ante-over", Red Rover, kick the can and others that I have forgotten. There was no teacher directing our play time. We chose up sides, and the entire school, first through eighth grade, usually played together. Naturally the younger ones were the last to be picked, but that did not make you feel bad because you knew that some day you would be one of the big ones. I was pretty small for my age and probably was always last for Red Rover. But the big kids took care of me. Always, a big girl would get on one side and a big boy on the other and when someone ran our direction they would move in close so no one could break through and hurt me.
We all had chores and kids always thought it was an honor to help. Everyday the blackboards were washed clean with a bucket of water that was carried in. And the erasers had to be dusted daily. That was accomplished by carrying them outside and beating them on rocks. The water for washing blackboards and for drinking came from the Goldman farm across the road. It was fun to draw that duty. You took the bucket over to the well and then made your way back to the school without too many spills. The water for drinking was poured into a big crock with a spigot and each child had their own tin mug to use when they needed to draw out a drink of good cold well water.
Do you remember the church chowders? I always looked forward to those events. We used Henry Balding's big kettle. I wish I could see that kettle today to see if it was as large as I remember it. Henry was always in charge; after all it was his kettle. Someone would butcher a beef and the men would start the meat cooking very early in the day. Then people would eventually arrive with contributions of vegetables. Tables were set up all over the grove and the people would gather in family groups. One person from a family would go up to the chowder kettle and get a bucket of soup which he carried back and ladled out to his family members. It was always the best thing I ever ate.
Children's Day at Union Chapel was perhaps the biggest holiday when I was a small boy, probably because it came at a good time of the year for everyone to gather outside. We always had a stage built beside the church. Since I was young I did not take part in the stage building, but I think whoever had some extra lumber just brought it in for the day and everyone pitched in to build the stage. All of the children had parts to recite and it was more anticipated and looked forward to both by children and parents, than any Broadway production would have been.
I mentioned the fact that Ma usually had extra folks in for dinner after church. Pa loved to talk so he was fond of inviting people. Rob and I Hattie Cole were frequent guests and so were Oscar and Rosie Hammond. The family that Clifford and I liked to see arriving was the Luffs, Willard and Lela Luff had lots of kids; Myrl Luff was probably the closest to my age. I thought about Myrl just a few weeks ago while watching the 2000 Olympics from Sidney, Australia. After dinner, the kids would go outside to play and if it was cold or rainy we always went to the barn. There, the favorite activity would be climbing high up into the rafters and jumping down on the hay. We were only nine or ten years old but no one seemed to worry about us. Myrl, even though she was wearing a skirt would always be right up in the top with all of the boys. When it was her turn to jump, she would lean down, clasp her long skin around her ankles and roll off of the rafter head first. She could turn two somersaults in the air before she hit the hay. Today, she might have been on an Olympic team.
There is a picture of the 1941 Union Chapel Bible School. I am not in the picture, neither is Clifford. In fact, if you study the picture, there are no older boys. I was working in New Albany and I am sure the others were also employed on farms or in industry by that time. So the girls had to get along without us. I went to Bible school when I was younger, and my mother or Martha Miller would be the teacher. Martha Miller also taught Sunday school at Union chapel. I guess I am dating myself when I show this picture of Martha Miller and one of my Sunday school classes. Clifford & I are near the left side of the back row.
Did we ever wash our hands during the school day? I certainly have no memory of ever doing so. Yet, I do not remember being ill and missing school so we surely did not pass around too many germs. Of course, there were the contagious diseases; the ones you used to be quarantined for. Clifford and I had whooping cough at the same time and we were hardly ill. But the law said we had to stay at home for six weeks. We soon grew tired of just wandering around the farm and we also grew hungry, my grandmother heard that it was best not to feed us too much. Probably it was that old saying "starve a fever". Eventually, Clifford and I were so hungry that we would go to the orchard and eat green apples. At any rate, we had a long vacation and the worst part was returning to school to learn we were behind in arithmetic. I can remember doing pages and pages of figures in order to catch up. That was 4th grade so the arithmetic was getting pretty hard.
My 5th grade year was spent in Mifflin. Mother married Lester Benham and we were all together as a family again. But nine months later, Lester was killed in a lumbering accident. So, 6th grade was back in Roberson School. That was the year that Clifford and I had a little job. We walked to school early and swept the school room and carried the wood into the clock room. When it was cold we started a fire. Will Jones paid us something like 25 cents a week for these chores and claimed it was a big help to him. But now I suspect that he hired us for this job because he felt sorry for us. We did not think we had a difficult life; after all we were surrounded with a loving family.
The summer after my 6th grade year, my grandmother died, so my grandfather moved to Grantsburg and Clifford and I went along. And that ended my connection with Roberson School and with most of the classmates I had during those school years. I went to high school in English and most or maybe the entire Roberson School crowd went to Leavenworth.