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Introduction

 

When I visited Akers Cemetery in 2003 I knew nothing of the folks buried there.  They were names and dates that I recorded.  Later, after reading Cora Lee Russom's memoirs, I came to know these people and a little community called Westview that once thrived here near the line with Grayson County.  Westview was never a town.  There was the service station run by Clyde Thompson and nearby the Methodist church which all the Russoms attended.  Down CR 107 was Fairview School which played such a central role in the lives of the children of these farming families. It was torn down years ago.  Today, there are few reminders of this little neighborhood except the old cemetery and Cora Lee's memories of growing up there,   surrounded by her family and neighbors. 

 

The value in Cora Lee's memoirs extends far beyond her own small community, as it reflects what life in rural North Texas was like in the early 1900s.   It was a real pleasure to peek into her world for a glimpse of the way it was when she was a young girl.

 

Barbara Jarvis

December 23, 2003

 

 

 

Cora Lee Russom Lyons

1902 - 1993

 

 

 

 

THE MEMOIRS OF CORA LEE RUSSOM LYONS

 

 

My particular star arose on the morning of July 9, 1902.  Of course that event, and the few years following it are known to me only by hearsay.  But as most children do, I asked my folks where I came from, and was told Dr. King had brought me and left me to live with them.  It seems too, that on that momentous occasion, my three year-old brother Walter, commonly known as Buzz, had set up a howl because he could not sleep with my mother.  And Watch, the pup, had gotten involved somehow, and had been banished to the kitchen to sleep under the stove, where he immediately “treed” the ash bucket and broke forth into a yapping that called for measures with the good old broom handle.

 

I was born on a Wednesday.  Mrs. Dora Mitchell of Gainesville, told me recently that on the following Sunday she called at our house with a party of friends to see the new baby.  The church house was, and still is, about a half-mile from our house, and Mrs. Mitchell and her sister had attended church that morning and had gone home with Mrs. Pearl Boaz for dinner.  In the afternoon all of them had come to our house in the wagon.  I was a small baby, puny I suspect, and weighed about six pounds.  When I said to Mrs. Mitchell that I must have been a rough looker, she discreetly passed over the remark and confined her compliments to Buzz, saying he was still wearing dresses, and was a very pretty child, “fat as a butter ball”, to use her exact words.

 

Besides Buzz and myself and our parents, our family consisted of my older brother Rodney, then eight years old, and my maternal grandmother, Christian Ann Formby.  My mother, whose name was Jane, called her mother “Ma”, and we children called her Ma too.  I think of Ma as a pioneer of the old school.  She was born and reared in Georgia.  It was there that she was married and had a family of twelve children, among them being two sets of twins, the younger of which was my mother and her brother Hill, who were as mean a pair as it has ever been my lot to hear about.  However, only six of these children lived to be grown.  Ma was widowed during the Civil War.  Her husband died, not on the field of battle in undying glory, but in an Army camp with the measles.  His comrades said that he worried himself to death about his family.  My grandmother received word that he was sick and was to be sent home.  So she hitched the pony to the buggy and drove the twelve miles to Rome to meet him.  When the train arrived he was not on it.  There was only a letter, saying he had died in camp and had been buried there.  So she drove the twelve miles back, and began the reconstruction of her little world.

 

It was in 1869 that she packed her belongings and brought her little brood to Texas.  There is no need to tell here of the hardships she suffered nor of the indignities she endured from those who should have helped her most.  It is enough to say that there were also those who were kind and good to her.  There were those who would have adopted her children and given them a good home, but she would not have that.  Like others before her, she made it somehow, and lived to the ripe old age of eighty-four.  My only reason for mentioning Ma at such great length is to say that all I have ever had of grit and determination and endurance, I feel that I owe in part at least, to the example she set me.  Also I was her pet, a memory that I treasure greatly.  For our family was a hard-headed practical clan, and not given to demonstrations of affection.

 

But for all of Ma’s sterling qualities, she was an old lady of seventy-eight when I was born and had acquired some of the childishness of age.  We children were taught to be strictly obedient and respectful to her, or else.  Once Mother came out on the porch and found her crying.  On enquiring the reason for the tears, Ma said that Buzz had hit her with a rock.  Buzz said that he had been throwing chips up on the roof and one had gone astray and hit Ma.  He got a licking for it.  Then Dad came in and found out what he had done and was fixing to give him another licking, when Mother intervened.  After all, enough was enough.

 

Rodney was always a good child and gave very little trouble.  He did not have a high temper as Buzz and I did.  But there were times when he too had a taste of the old peach tree limb.  One such occasion was when Mother sent him to the next door neighbor’s house to borrow something, and told him to come straight home with it.  She watched him as he followed Mr. Allen round after round as he plowed in the field.  Then, being short of patience anyway, she got her stick and started after him.  When Rod saw her coming he started home in a hurry, and as soon as he got near enough to make her hear him, he said, “Why Mammy, you didn’t give me time to ask Laura to come!”  The only other whipping I ever knew of Rod getting was about the geese.  We had a few geese and one night they were slow about getting to their roosting place.  All hands turned out to hunt them, and Rod was the lucky guy.  When asked where he had found them, he said they had been floating around on the damned tank.  Mother said, “Where have you ever heard talk like that?”  Rod replied, “I heard Uncle Mott say it.”  I am sure that Rod has heard the word damn many times since then, but he himself has never said it in his mother’s hearing, nor have I ever heard him say it.

 

One thing that always brought delight to our souls was to see Caldwell and Aunt Eve coming to see us.  Caldwell was Dad’s half-brother and Aunt Eve was Mother’s sister.  They had two houses near Fairview schoolhouse, and about a mile from where we lived; and they and their two sons, John and Clay and their families lived with them.  When they wanted to pay us a visit, they would walk through the field as often as not.  First, we would see Caldwell coming, and dash in the house yelling, “Yonder comes Caldwell and Aunt Eve.”  And sure enough, in about three minutes Aunt Eve would come into sight.  He was always that far ahead of her.  We never saw them walking together.

 

We visited them frequently too, and one of our trips to their house was not funny, though it has been good for a laugh ever afterward.  We were in the wagon, and the team got scared and ran away with us.  Before they could be stopped, Ma had fallen out on the ground and Mother was hanging on to the wagon for dear life.  All of us were badly scared and shaken up, but thankful that no one was really hurt.  All but me, that is.  My wails of woe were as loud as the excited barking of Watch, who thought it was all a lark.  I kept yelling, Oh, I’ve lost my wax!  I’ve lost my wax!”

 

The main thing that kept me filled with my own importance was the attention I received from the Thompson family, who were our nearest neighbors.  Mrs. Thompson’s bachelor brother, John I. Butler, was the lodestar that drew me ever to their door.  I used to beg Mother to let me go to Thompsons to stay awhile, and when she would get tired of me, she would say, “If I let you go, will you stay out of John I’s lap?”  I would promise and away I’d go, and of course the first thing I did was get in John I’s lap.  I cannot remember it myself, but I have heard him tell it many times, and roar with laughter.  He is a great lover of children, and I am quite sure that no child has ever been able to resist him.

 

Mrs. Thompson made many little dresses for me.  When she would finish a dress for me, she would put it on me and start me home, and say, “Now strut.”  And the way I would strut and twist down the road would be a caution to behold.

 

There is no doubt that I did most of the strutting and twisting, but it was Mrs. Thompson’s own son, Clyde, who handed down most of our bright sayings to posterity.  Once Clyde was standing by the gate when some men came along going to the Douglas place, and stopped and asked him the way to reach the house. 

He said, "You go right through this gate, down that road, through the tank, and right on up the road to the house."  They thought that was funny and desiring to see what else he would say, they asked him, "And after we get there, how do we get back?"  Clyde told them, "You get back just like you come."

 

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It was in my early days that Rod had a bad case of typhoid fever, and almost died.  Dr. King made many trips, driving his old sway-backed grey horse to the buggy.  Often some of his children would come along, just for the ride.  Once, while in the house starving Rod to death, Buzz and Marguerite King went to the watermelon patch and proudly brought up a lot of green melons.  When parental recriminations began to fall on Buzz's hapless head, he wanted to see that the woman has to pay and told them all that Marguerite told him to pull them.  He found an unexpected ally in Dr. King, who said, "It's probably all her fault, Hugh.  She ain't got a bit of sense."

 

But Buzz wasn't so lucky during another of Dr. King's calls.  Uncle Mott's folks were at our house that day, and when the doctor went and sat at the dining room table to fill some capsules with quinine, Buzz and Zac got up on the table to watch him.  Dr. King said, "Which one of you boys is going to take these pills?"  Zac said, "Me not," and began climbing down.  Buzz said, "Me not," too, and he and Zac tore out of the room and around the house, and Dr. King didn't have any more trouble with them getting in his way.

 

Ma was sick quite a bit too, and it was in my sixth year that she had her last illness.  She was in bed for several weeks.  The neighbors were in and out every day, and sat up a lot at night too.  Mother had her hands full during that time.  Among other things, the geese had to be picked.  Clay's wife, Addie, was at our house that day and stayed at the house with Ma, and did the ironing, while Mother picked the geese in the cow shed.  I stayed with Addie, but kept getting in her way until she threatened to pop me over, so I beat it to the barn where I thought I'd be safe.

 

Another time Clay was at our house and I begged Mother to let me go home with him to stay all night.  Clay thought it might give her less to do to get rid of me for a night, so he suggested that she let me go.  And she finally consented, though I had never spent the night away from home.  I set off in high glee, and all went well for an hour or two.  But when darkness came, I began to get homesick, and as time passed I grew worse.    I squalled right heartily, and poor Addie did everything she could think of to get my mind off my woes.  She read to me and showed me the family album, but I refused to be comforted.  When I had worn everyone else out, I finally got off to sleep.  When we got up the next morning, the weather had turned cold and was snowing, but I was anxious to get home.  Addie was anxious too, and poor Clay had to get out in the cold and take me home faster than he took me over there.

 

My grandmother died soon after that.  She had always wanted to be buried in a winding sheet, so they buried her in one.  They bought white silk and lace, and Mrs. Douglas and Mrs. Thompson made a cap to put on her head.  Buzz followed Mother every step she took, wanting to see everything they put on Ma.  I cannot remember much that went on; I just knew I had lost my best friend.

 

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We had to stay home when Ma was living, but the summer following her death we took a trip in the covered wagon.  We went to Delta County to see Mother's twin brother, Uncle Hill Formby and his family, and the McFadden cousins.  We camped out in the open while going and coming, and I was always afraid something would get us during the night.  The food we cooked over the camp fire was wonderful, I thought, though it couldn't have been as good as that we had at home.

 

Rod and Buzz had some merry times with Taylor and Robert Formby, and I played around with Nellie McFadden.  We stayed a few days and started home, and were half way there, when it was discovered that Rod had brought one of his shoes and one of Taylor's, which necessitated mailing Taylor's shoe back to them and waiting for them to mail Rod's shoe to us when we got home.

 

My cousin John and his family stayed at our house while we were gone, and took care of the cows and chickens.  They had the Sunday school picnic at Westview church during our absence and we missed it, but Lelia and Mrs. Thompson had a great time preparing for it together.  It was the custom in those days to spread tablecloths on the ground and put the food upon them.  While they were eating lunch, Mrs. Thompson noticed that Addie's baby, Ethel, was crawling onto the "table".  She was just thinking, "Now if that was my youngun, I'd blister her," when she happened to look on her own side of the cloth, and there was her little S.L., nearly half way across and with his hand in a bowl of potato salad.

 

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We lived on a small farm of eighty-four acres in Cooke County.  Dad raised crops of corn, cotton and cane.  In the fall of the year, he would make syrup, often called sorghum molasses, for himself and the neighbors.  Dad dearly loved to make syrup, but of all the work on the place, I always hated it most.  It had its happy moments, however.  When he would make up the  neighbor's cane, their folks would often come and help us pick cotton to pay back the work.  And their kids in the field with us always meant a frolic.  Once he made syrup for Mr. Price.  Mrs. Price and her two daughters, Villa and Eulalah, and Bob Mills, an orphan boy who was living with them, were picking cotton for us.  I was the only one of our family in the field that day, so I tried to hold the floor.  During my entire childhood, Dad was a subscriber to the old Semi-Weekly Dallas News.  And at that particular time "Mrs. Minerva and William Green Hill," was running as a serial in it, with illustrations.  The day before the cotton-picking there had been a picture of William Green Hill churning, and underneath it the caption:  "It gives me the bellyache to churn".  So I told them all about it.  Unknown to me, it amused them very much and when we got to the house they told Mother all about it, much to my dismay.  She was dismayed too, and said, "My goodness, did she say bellyache right in front of Bob?"  Mrs. Price saved the day for me by assuring Mother that Bob had been working by himself at the other end of the rows.

 

Dad often hired the Hardin family to help us get the cotton out.  Frankie Hardin was my age, and we spent a lot of time feeling sorry for the poor ants who had nothing to eat.  We decided to do something about that economic problem and were to bring bread to feed them the next day.  I forgot my fine resolve as soon as it was made, but upon beholding the starving ants the next day, it was immediately recalled to my mind.  Frankie, however, had not forgotten.  But she was a gentle child, and instead of snitching the bread had asked her mother for it, and told her what it was for.  Her mother explained about the ants being not only in the King's houses, but in much lower abodes also, where they put out as much energy as a standing army would have done.  So we abandoned them and turned our thoughts into other channels. 

 

Of all the neighbors we ever had, none can more surely bring the smiles of memory than Mr. Ritchey.  The Ritcheys owned the land adjoining ours on the south, and from my earliest memory they have been near us.  When Mr. Ritchey and Dee and Sam were working in their field near our house, they would always come to our well to get water, and of course to pass the time of day.  They were a hard-working family, and there is no telling at what ungodly hour they arose in the mornings.  At any rate, Mr. Ritchey would always feel the need of a little nourishment about the middle of the morning, and here he would come and say, "Jane, I've got the weak trembles, and I wish you would give me a biscuit and a glass of buttermilk."  Mother would bring the milk and bread out to the porch, and Mr. Ritchey would take the chew of tobacco out of his mouth and lay it on the shelf.  Then he would eat the bread and milk and bring the local news up to date.  Mr. Ritchey was a Confederate veteran, and of course he fairly teemed with all sorts of tales to delight a youngsters ears.  Whether he used a veteran's prerogative to embellish his tales I do not know, but I do know that he had a vivid imagination, and nothing he told was ever dull or monotonous.  Dad called him "Massa John", and all that was needed to make him give the rebel yell was just a few bars of the tune of "Dixie".

 

Dad had a team of mules and their names were Jake and Bet.  Old Jake was a black mule and Bet was white.  All the farm work was done with this team, and they were a good pair indeed.  But like most mules, there had to be a streak of meanness somewhere.  I do not know if Jake had a fault but I have enough faith in the mule family to believe that he did.  Old Bet had one however, and it was a dilly.  She would work faithfully to the plow, planter, and harrow; and to the wagon when it was loaded with anything in the world but cotton.  But just let Dad get a bale of cotton on the wagon and ready to go to the gin, and the fun would begin.  For old Bet would balk every time.  Dad would holler, “Giddap!” and flop the lines and old Jake would begin to go, but when he saw that Bet remained as firm in her tracks as the Rock of Gibraltar, he had no choice but to stop too, as he could not pull a whole bale of cotton by himself.  So Dad would take a new grip on the lines and try again, and the same thing would happen.  Thus, for five or six times.  Until finally, when hope was almost gone as the poet said, Bet would make an unexpected lurch, and away they would go.  When she did start, she started in high.  That would always catch Dad unprepared and on the ground, and he would have no choice but to sail along behind at a dead run, and gripping the lines like he was never going to let go, which indeed he dared not, until Bet slowed down, anyway.  Massa John would not have missed one of these occasions for anything less than death or high water.  He always kept his trained old eye on our cotton wagon when it was in the field, and when he saw preparations being made to move it, he was Johnny-on-the-spot, by the time any one else was there.  He enjoyed every minute to the fullest, and when the climax came and Dad and the wagon sailed out of the field, he would slap his leg with his cap and shout with laughter, and always wind up with the observation, “By gosh, you could play checkers on Hugh’s shirt-tail!”

 

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People seemed to have more leisure time back in those days than they do now, and the relatives and neighbors visited back and forth quite a bit.  It was a common thing for a neighboring family to come in the wagon to spend Sunday, and sometimes several families would come at the same time.  The men folk looked over the crops and predicted how much cotton would be made, the women cooked and gossiped, and the kids scattered all over the place and played, and fussed and fought.  When dinner time came, the grown folks always ate at the first table and the kids would have to wait.  And it seemed they would never get through eating; we would have plenty of time to worry about nothing being left.  My cousin Grace expressed it forcibly one time when she said, “My God, they eat like pigs!”

 

As I began to get along toward school age, I was given a lot of advice about how I should conduct myself at school, with dire warnings of what I would get if I didn’t behave properly.  It worked fine too, for the first year.  I was so afraid of the teacher that I was a model of decorum and only had to stand in the corner one time.  At the end of the year I received a little story book as a prize for my good behavior.  I have it yet, and it is one of my dearest possessions, for it is the only thing of its kind I ever received.  If its donor, Mr. Walter Clements, were alive today, I should like to tell him that.

 

My second teacher was Miss Pearl Livingstone, and while I was as much in awe of her as I was of Mr. Clements, I was much more daring.  “Learning the ropes,” I suppose.  In those days, the little girls sat with the “big” girls, or just in front of them; that is, we were not seated according to age or grade, as later became the custom in one or two teacher schools.  During Miss Pearl’s tenure in office I sat in front of a “big” girl named Elva Boaz.  One day during recess I had a difference of opinion with Elva’s younger sister Serena, and bit her on the arm.  Of course she squalled and told on me.  After the bell had rung and we were in our seats, Elva whispered to me, “What did you bite S’rener for?”  My conscience was already pestering me, so I burst out crying.  Then Miss Pearl came around and gave me a good scolding.  “Just look,” she said.  “There are the prints of your teeth on her arm.”  Serena won that battle after all.

 

Most of the children that went to Fairview school also attended church and Sunday school at Westview on Sunday.  In my earliest recollections of Sunday school, I was a member of the “card” class, and Miss Pearl was my teacher there also.  We had our lesson on one of the back seats, and if there were any visiting young men present, they always sat on the bench behind us.  I know now they came to admire the young ladies in the choir, but their presence always threw us younger fry into a dither, with whispers and giggles and all that sort of thing.  When the class was over Miss Pearl called the roll and each member answered her name with a verse from the Bible.  One Sunday several young men were sitting behind us, and when my name was called I could not think of a single thing.  One of the boys told me a verse to say: “Jesus wept, Peter crept, and John came crawling.”  That same young man was my best beau about ten years later, but he never again said anything so exciting to me as the Bible verse he tried to get me to say to Miss Pearl.

 

A big event in our community was the revival meeting that was held at Westview each summer.  At revival time one year the preacher, Bro. Henderson and his wife camped in a tent on the church grounds while the meeting was in progress.  My cousin Clara was spending a few days with me, and one morning we went to the services.  We got there much too early; in fact the preacher and his wife must not have been through half their chores, for they kept saying, “Honey, will you hand me that?” or, “Please get so and so for me dear,” until Clara declared we were worked half to death before church ever started.  But the preachers preached brimstone in those days, and when he did get in the pulpit, he made up for lost time.  We were probably not over eleven years old and couldn’t have been very deep in sin, but no hardened criminal ever felt guiltier, and certainly none have ever been more scared than we were when he got through with us.  But it didn’t quite make a believer out of us, Clara at least.  When they had the testimony service, Grandma Sheegog and Grandma Hudgens got to crying and hitting each other on the back, and Clara, ever the cynic, said, “My gosh, if you have to pound one another like that, I don’t want to be a Christian.”

 

I am the world’s worst cook and I despise to cook, so I cannot understand now, why in those days I was forever begging Mother to let me make a cake or some cookies.  Nor can I understand why she allowed me to waste good materials on my unearthly concoctions.  But she did let me, a lot, and so it was that during

Clara’s visit, we asked and received permission to make a cake.  Joe Bailey was a candidate for Governor of Texas that year, and when we found one little orphan chicken on our hands, it seemed the very thing to name him “Joe Bailey.”  Joe became the family pet and had the run of the house.  Needless to say he took advantage of his liberties.  After Clara and I had made our layer cake, we left it on the table to cool, and went into the front room to rest and take a nap.  In about fifteen minutes Mother came in and told us, “Joe Bailey got on the table and ate the cake.”  I think I can safely say that I made one cake that has been fully appreciated.

 

We often read stories pertaining to peddlers going round the country with their wares.  But The peddler of my career was Mr. Jim Hayes of Whitesboro, who used to come by our house every Friday.  He bought our eggs and butter, and in return we bought from him many things in the grocery, hardware, and notion line.  We children would eagerly await his coming, and we always had from one Friday until the next to decide what we wanted Mother to buy with her butter and egg money.  The things I remember of our purchases from Mr. Hayes are a set of cups and saucers, a large pitcher with a group of pears painted on either side from which we used to pour the sweet milk at the table, jars of pickled gherkins, a pickle dish shaped like a boat, a grater, and of course stick candy and chewing gum.  Mr. Hayes always praised Mother for making her pounds of butter weigh a pound.  He worked for the Sloan grocery store, and had to weigh the butter; if it didn’t weigh a pound, he could not pay for a pound.  He told her about some of our neighbors whose butter was not up to par and how mad they would get, but of course, he swore her to eternal secrecy.  Thus he served two purposes:  he got it off his chest, and flattered her to bits at the same time.  When Dad came in to dinner that would be the first thing she would tell him.  Of course he understood that he must keep quiet about it too.  As far as we children were concerned, we had ever been taught to keep our mouths shut about carrying little tales here and there, or meddling with things that did not concern us.  And I want to say right here that that is a fine thing to teach one’s children.  As a rule, I have never forgotten it.  And the only times I did forget it have brought me nothing but trouble.

 

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My third grade teacher was Mr. Dee Otts.  He was young and single and popular, and when he came to our community he and Miss Pearl fell for each other like a ton of bricks.  That quite met with my approval, in spite of the fact that I was crazy about him myself.  At church on Sundays, Mr. Otts would lead the singing and Miss Pearl played the organ.  I thought that was a grand arrangement.  I just knew that match was made in heaven and to tell the truth, I think they thought so themselves.  But alas, fair love!  During his second year as our teacher the serpent entered the garden.  Mr. Otts began going around with Mae Hardin, Frankie’s sister.  I was intensely jealous for Miss Pearl but she and I were defeated, and Mr. Otts and Mae were married in the summer and have been living happily ever since, as far as I know.

 

Buzz had a side-kick whose name was Arthur Newsom, and among the affinities that drew them together was a great and lasting hatred of grammar.  One day on the way home from school they happened to be passing the tank when Arthur decided that he would dispense forever with that noble work, and hurled his grammar into the middle of the water.  But Mr. Otts boarded with the Newsom family and Arthur had an enemy right in camp, as it were.  Outnumbered as he was, it did not take long to wear him down, and he had the pleasure of fishing his book out of the tank, and finishing the term with a wrinkled and bedraggled text-book from which to learn his nouns and verbs.  I am a poor student of grammar myself, and have no right to sit in judgment on Buzz and Arthur, but some of their efforts moved my soul to sheer astonishment and sometimes to envy.  Once the teacher told the class to write a sentence about a vegetable he would name; Arthur was to write about a beet and Buzz the sweet potato.  Arthur wrote, “The beet is round and red,” and Buzz:  “The sweet potato is long and yellow.”

 

Buzz was far too busy with other things to be much of a ladies man, but at this point he became enamored with the charms of Jewel Boaz.  They would send notes back and forth, and if by chance (!) any of these fell into my hands, I felt no compunction about perusing the contents.  One day Buzz received, by the grapevine route, a very colorful and secondhand postcard.  In addition to seeing the written message, I wanted to look at the picture.  But he jealously guarded it from me and I had begun to lose hope of ever seeing it, when I happened to open his grammar one day, and there it was.  I suppose he thought no one would ever open a grammar unless under compulsion.  The picture on the post card was that of a girl holding a bouquet of flowers, with the inscription “To My Friend.”

And on the back was this soul-stirring message, written in pencil:  “Remember to the party last night,” and signed, “Guess who.”  Upon another occasion Buzz got a Valentine through the mail, with no signature at all but “Rural Free Delivery,” which he quickly interpreted to mean Ruby Fay Davis, and when Easter rolled around he sent her a card in reply and signed it, “Wild Horse Rider.”

 

Another romance that blossomed right under my very nose was that between Grace Byrne, my seat-mate at the old double desk, and Marvin Sewell, commonly called Shorty because he was fat and much shorter than most boys his age.  I am sure that reams of paper were used to tell of their undying devotion; what their written messages lacked in dignity and grace was more than compensated for in rhythm, color and force.  Here are some shining gems:

Roses are red, violets are blue,

Sugar is sweet, and so are you!

 

As sure as the vine grows up the rafter,

You are the girl that I am after.

 

The greatest oracle that ever lived could not have convinced them that they would not be wedded at the earliest possible moment and live in bliss forever; yet Shorty is now living with his second wife, and Grace has been the faithful and devoted wife of one Roy Moore for nearly thirty years.

 

I often wonder why it was that I never had a school romance.  I feel sort of cheated that I did not, for I won’t pass that way again.  I should have been madly in love with Homer Hardin, for he could stroke an imaginary beard and spit imaginary tobacco juice in mimicry of Mr. Ritchey, with a talent that amounted to sheer genius, in my admiring eyes.  But I only admired, I did not worship.  Goodness no, my love was always lavished upon some older man, and I had to suffer in secret.  One such hero was Eulalah Price’s cousin Esker, who used to come up from Ellis county to visit the Prices.  He was at least ten years older than I was, and was very popular with the young ladies of the community.  Therefore he was hardly aware of the younger fry, who when present, always remained on the outer edges of the crowd, to observe and to adore.

 

All was not love however, during that term of school.  Mr. Otts had a problem pupil who gave him no end of trouble.  He was a great over-grown and overbearing boy named Rube Hudgens.  Mr. Otts had tried different methods of punishment on Rube, such as standing in the floor and sitting on the dunce stool, but none of these had brought Rube to the proper form of obedience and behavior.  So came the fateful morning when Mr. Otts decided that the time had come to give Rube a good old-fashioned licking.  He got the switch and started, but Rube objected so violently that it resulted in a free-for-all fist fight between them.  Round and round they went and their noses began to bleed and their eyes to swell.  Of course all the rest of us got excited and piled out of the house pell-mell.  When it was over, Mr. Otts told us that we would have to go home for the remainder of the day, and he would resume school on the morrow.  We needed no second bidding, and fairly flew home with but two thoughts in mind.  One was to get away from the schoolhouse and the other was to hurry home so we could tell about the fight.  Half-way home, I remembered I had let Jewel Boaz wear my locket that day and she still had it on.  The worry over the returning of my single item of jewelry somewhat dimmed my enjoyment of the fight, but the locket was safely returned the next day, and all’s well that ends well.  Perhaps I should say that the fight part ended well too.  Rube is now a prosperous and respected farmer of western Texas.  He has a wife and has raised a family, and is suffering from diabetes.  What more can a worthwhile citizen do?

 

We had a week’s holiday at Christmas time, and it was then that I went with my parents to Arkansas to visit Mother’s sister, Aunt Puss Jordan and her family.  Mother had not seen Aunt Puss for twenty-eight years, and I had never seen any of them.  Buzz had been asked if he wanted to go, but he said no; he was going to help Rod care for the stock and they would go to Clay’s house every night to sleep.  The night before we left, Clay and Addie came to stay all night, and Uncle Mott came to stay until bedtime.  Zac sent me a pink and white handkerchief with the cheering remark, delivered verbatim by Uncle Mott, that he might never see me again and he wanted me to have it.  I treasured it highly, but got no farther than Paris with it, where I lost it in the station.

 

We had to get up long before daylight the next morning, as the train was to leave about sun-up.  Mr. Thompson came to take us to the depot, and there was a great to-do, getting ready to go.  While Mother dressed herself, Addie dressed me, and put my dress on hind part before, and had to take it off and start over.  Buzz got a belated notion to go along and hung around underfoot, sniffling.  Mother told him that he would just have to forget it, for she didn’t have his clothes ready.  He went with us to the station and stayed on the train until it started. 

 

Everything went according to Hoyle until we got into the Ozarks.  Several coaches had been added to the train, due to Christmas travel no doubt, and the engine could not pull its load up the mountain.  So it took some of the coaches up, and left the others waiting on the track until it could back for them.  We were on the waiting list.  It was at night, and Mother just knew another train was going to come along and knock us off the mountain.  We got to Fort Smith sometime that night and went to a hotel, where Uncle Jordan came for us the next morning.  We had to ride about fifteen miles in a covered wagon to their place.  The weather was cold, but Aunt Puss had put lots of quilts in the wagon to keep us warm.  She had also put in a lot of fried chicken and bread, which I nibbled on during most of the fifteen miles.

 

There is lots of honey available in Texas, but I had to go all the way to Arkansas to see my first honeycomb, and had to ask what it was.  My aunt lived in the Boston mountains and they called it the backwoods, but I have never seen anyone who had better “vittles” than they had.  There was an abundance of big red apples, and they had cake and pie, and good old ham and fried chicken, and picklelilli, among other things.

 

After we had spent a couple of days with Aunt Puss, we all went to her son Tom’s house to visit.  Tom had a log store near his house with nearly everything in it.  He also had several children, so I did not lack for playmates from then on out.  With Myrtie and Hubert I wandered over the mountains and across the creeks and rail fences, and tried to see all there was to see.  Tom’s “grown” children and their boy and girl friends had a party and sang songs and ate cake.  Myrtie and Hubert and I watched and listened from the sidelines, also eating cake.  Myrtie returned with us to Aunt Puss’s house, and stayed there during the remainder of my visit.  Leonard Richardson, another cousin, was there too, much of the time.

 

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It was customary every summer to observe Children’s Day at the church.  Usually Spring Grove, another Methodist church located about three miles west of Westview, would join us for the event.  One year we would go to Spring Grove and the next year they would come to Westview; and they would present their program in the morning , and we would have ours in the afternoon, or vice versa.  Of course, there would be “dinner on the ground” with the best culinary efforts from both communities to feed the inner man.  About a month before Children’s Day Sunday, a committee was appointed at Westview to find “speeches” and dialogues and tableaux for us children , and to train us to do them properly.  Once they found a recitation for me entitled “My Mother’s Hands,” and Mr. Hardin said it was the best one on the entire program, but Mr. Hardin must have been very fond of his mother; for the life of me, I simply cannot see why such a subject could be appropriate for a Children’s Day program.  Of course that thought did not occur to me until years after my proud delivery. 

 

Once they arranged a little number with six or eight little girls in it.  Each child carried her doll.  We stood in a row upon the platform arranged according to our height.  Each of us said a verse and when all were through, we rocked our dolls in our arms and sang a song:

 

Lord Jesus was a little child

The children’s Friend so meek and mild.

And while I’m rocking you, my dear;

A lovely story you shall hear.

(chorus)

My own dear little dolly

Bright angels in the sky.

Sing glory be, to God on high

While you and I go rock-a-bye.

 

Of course, having our dolls along necessitated our carrying them about with us all day long.  That drew attention our way, as we intended it should, and many people spoke to us about them that would never have noticed us otherwise.  Even Esker noticed my doll and said it was the loveliest one present, and asked me if I wanted him to hold her awhile.

 

Another time all the children marched into the church house at the beginning of the program singing “We Are Soldiers of the Cross.”

 

We’ve enlisted in the army and we’re fighting sin,

We are soldiers, loyal soldiers of the cross;

Christ is leading forth this army, and we’re sure to win,

We are soldiers, loyal soldiers of the cross.

(chorus)

Marching onward, marching onward,

Sound aloud the battle cry,

Jesus leads the way, we shall win the day.

Marching onward, marching onward,

Raise, O raise yours banners high,

We are soldiers, loyal soldiers of the cross.

 

When this war is over and we lay our armor down,

We are soldiers, loyal soldiers of the cross;

Christ will take us then to heaven, give to us a crown,

We are soldiers, loyal soldiers of the cross.

 

Serena Boaz and Lillian Leslie led that procession, carrying the church flag.  When we reached the chorus and sang, “Raise O raise your banners high,” they held the flag as high as they could reach.  At the conclusion of the song, the banner was put in its place at the back of the pulpit, and the program was presented.

 

Frankie Hardin was always good for recitations, and one year she had a very good one to recite and had learned it well.  We went to Spring Grove that year and they had their program in the morning.  One of the high-lights of their performance was Frankie’s recitation, given by Lillian Stansbury.  Of course, all us loyal Westviewites declared that Lillian couldn’t hold Frankie a light, but poor Frankie’s day was ruined.  Her broken heart dissolved in tears, and she wouldn’t even try to speak her piece.  If memory serves me right, I believe that was the day we carried the dolls.  That must have brought some comfort to the heart.  She was not completely left out.

 

Some of those half-remembered programs bring laughter, but they also bring a sweet nostalgic thankfulness that we had them and were a part of them.  They were created in love and delivered in innocence, and I believe that Christ was honored to have it so.  Certainly  it made my childhood better, and enriched my adult life as well.  That is why I say that the church is the child’s, and for the child.  “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  That aged injunction has its exceptions of course, but it is still a powerful agent in the rearing of worthwhile citizens.

 

Very few families in our community had pianos but many owned parlor organs.  One summer Mrs. Annie Stansbury, a widow, “let out” to teach music lessons, and Rod and I were among her pupils.  She came to our house every other day to give us our lessons, and each lesson lasted an hour.  I hate to tell it, but I was a problem child to Mrs. Stansbury.  It just happened that Rod had taught me the shaped notes before I ever saw Mrs. Stansbury.  She had no way of knowing that, and after she told me about the lines and spaces, she began having me play from a sacred song book that had shaped notes.  I was smart, and learned quickly, and I think now that she was secretly proud of me and regarded me as her prize pupil for some of her other would-be players were young ladies engaged to be married, who could not keep their minds on their music.

 

But the serpent entered our Eden one day when she happened to pick up a songbook having round notes, selected a song and told me to play it.  The song was not familiar to me and I did not know how to begin.  It did not take her long to find out how I had been reading my music, nor did it take me long to see what a frustrated woman looks like.  She was mad as a wet hen.  “You little stink!” she said.  “You have not learned a single thing I’ve been trying to teach you all this time.”  And she sailed out to the sorghum mill, where Dad was making the inevitable molasses, to pour her woes in his ears, and it did not improve her disposition any to step in a puddle of skimmings and get syrup all over her shoes.  Dad was on her side immediately and poured oil on the troubled waters by telling her not to worry and he would see that I learned the lines and spaces.  So that night he made the lines and spaces on the back of an old calender and told me to learn them.  I want to ask right here, how on earth can a child learn the lines and spaces just by looking at them?  I took a dozen lessons from another teacher afterwards, and was just beginning to learn them when I had to quit.  To this day I do not know the lines and spaces, and I never will unless I put out a good hard practice on it.

 

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When school began the next fall we had a new teacher, a Mr. Bob McGaugh.  And because the school had grown quite large, Miss Myrtle Peters was employed to teach the primary grades.  A curtain was hung across the center of the schoolhouse to separate Mr. McGaugh and his flock from Miss Myrtle and hers.  Miss Myrtle was a plump, red-headed girl, and had only one leg, so she had to walk with a crutch.

 

I was in the fifth grade that year, so I was in Mr. McGaugh’s room.  Mr. McGaugh instituted one feature that we had never had in school, and that was singing.  He got some songbooks like the ones we used at church, and every morning we raised the roof.  Sometimes we did more than that; we marched all over the house while singing at the top of our lungs such old favorites as “The Fight Is On,” “He Is Able To Deliver Thee,” and many others.  All of us did not always carry a true tune, but what we lacked in artistry we made up in enthusiasm.

 

To this day, the people in that community will join in the singing wherever they are.  They do not try to be in the front of the crowd or to be noticed; they just sing.  I have thought a lot about those old schoolmates of mine.  No great tenors or sopranos have come out of them.  In fact, there are no great and famous people among them.  But no notorious ones either, thank God.  Many of them have done well enough in their lines, but they are just good old everyday folks.  They, and their kind, are the salt of the earth.  They are America.

 

Mr. McGaugh was a queer egg in many ways but he insisted on justice.  If he felt that a pupil had wronged another, or him, an apology was in order.  His brother-in-law, Walter Grigsby, lived with him and attended school, and became a great friend to Zac Russom.  One day Walter and Zac misbehaved grievously and Mr. McGaugh gave them the choice of apologizing publicly, or taking a whipping.  They chose to apologize.  I do not remember how Walter couched his apology, but I have never forgotten how Zac stood in the floor and said, “I’m sorry I did it.”

 

There was a time when I shook in my boots too, but I turned out to be quite a heroine, in Miss Myrtle’s eyes at least.  Mr. McGaugh had said that we had a right to do anything he did, and if he offended us in any way we must tell him so.  He had a nasty habit of spitting on the floor and it offended me very much, but I did not have quite the courage to tell him about it.  But one day when I saw him spit on the floor, I thought I’d get Robert Boaz to do the dirty work for me. 

      “ROBERT!” I hissed at him across the aisle.  Robert paid me no mind, and I became so engrossed in trying to attract his attention that I didn’t know Mr. McGaugh was watching me until he asked,

      “What do you want with Robert?”

      “I want him to tell you to quit spitting on the floor.”

      “Why do you want me to quit spitting on the floor?”

      “You said that if we didn’t like anything you do, we must tell you, and I don’t like for you to spit on the floor.”

      “Well, why didn’t you tell me yourself?”

      “I was afraid to.”

And glory be, I got by with it.  Miss Myrtle heard it all from her side of the curtain, and told me at recess time that she was never so glad to hear anything in her life.  She had been wanting some one to tell him that all the time.

 

Our mothers dressed their children for warmth in those days, and all of us little girls wore union suits during the winter, with knee length drawers over them.  Sometimes our drawers would have lace around the bottom and sometimes not; and oftentimes when a dress had shrunk in the washing, one would be guilty of one’s drawers showing.  At recess time there was always a crowd at the pump to get water, and the ground was always muddy thereabout.  One day Clyde Thompson came charging to the pump like the Comanches were after him, and splattered mud all over Delia Riddle’s dress.  Delia was a vain and foolish girl, and didn’t like having her beauty spoiled, so she made a few mud balls and began to pepper Clyde with them.  As she was quite a bit larger than he, Clyde retired in undignified retreat, but his spirit continued to suffer throughout the day, and when he got home he told his mother that he knew in his soul Delia Riddle had the dirtiest drawers he ever saw in his life!

 

A fore-runner of the scholastic meet, the “School Fair”, was scheduled for the spring of that year, to be held at Callisburg schoolhouse.  All the schools of the county were to compete in contests in school subjects, athletic exercises, and culinary exhibits.  As the day drew near, Mr. McGaugh got busy appointing his charges to compete in the subjects they knew best, and I was elected to uphold the dignity of Fairview by spelling and making doughnuts for the fifth grade.  I had never made a doughnut in my life, but I knew Villa and Eulalah Price had, so I appealed to Eulalah  to show me how to do it.  She went home with me, and with the aid of a thimble and biscuit cutter, we made some fair doughnuts, and I proudly bore a sample of them to school for Mr. McGaugh  to pass judgment on.  Mr. McGaugh was official taster of all the cakes, pies, bread, and candy of all his learning would-be blue ribbon winners, and no doubt he had to keep his soda box handy at night, but he remained cheerful throughout.  However, he dampened my ardor a bit by wanting me to put meringue on my doughnuts and brown them in the oven.  I tried it but it was not successful.  So when the momentous day arrived, I took plain doughnuts to the Fair, and when I saw the fancy white and chocolate covered ones entered by the other contestants, I wanted to hide mine, but they were already displayed in all their nakedness.  I know now that is what saved me, for I won the blue ribbon, much to my surprise.

 

When it came time to have our spelling match, we were called to the front of the house to do our stuff before all the people.  We had a nice, pleasant man to pronounce the words for us, and I managed to keep my head, though I was a little nervous.  I had a handkerchief in my hand, and when my time came to spell a word I would twist it nervously.  However, my cousin Clara had stationed herself in the front row, evidently to see that I didn’t disgrace the family.  Everytime she caught my eye she would stare at my hands, frown fiercely, and shake her head.  That happened probably a dozen times while I spelled down about fifteen contestants, who probably had no handkerchief to twist and no cousin Clara, and so lost their heads through sheer stage fright.

 

It was the custom in those days for people to visit the school.  We often had callers on Friday afternoons.  That was always the cue for us to beg the teacher to “turn out school” for the afternoon and devote the time to “spelling and ciphering.”  We would cipher during the period from noon to recess, and spell from recess to closing time at four o’clock.  Two pupils would be elected to “choose up”, one on each side of the house, and each side would try to spell the other down.  When one missed a word he sat down, and so it went until only a representative or representatives of one side were left standing.  In ciphering, the chosen sides would be seated, one on each side of the house.  Then the first two, the choosers would draw straws; and the one getting the long straw would be given his choice of the kind of ciphering he wanted to do.  If he wanted to add, they would go to the blackboard and add until one had beat the other twice, then the next in line of the defeated side would come up, and so on down the line.

 

The visitors were invited to join in the fun and often did, but we had many a spelling and ciphering match when no visitors were present.  Very often a spelling would be given at the school house on Friday nights.  Sometimes another school would challenge us to try to beat them, or we would challenge them.  Sometimes the school children would spell against the outsiders.  In any case, the spellings were attended by children and grown-ups alike.  It provided the grown up boys and girls a place to go and gave them a chance to “spark”, and since it was at the school house the school children had a legitimate excuse to go  too, and they also sparked.  And if the parents and oldsters wanted to go, who had a better right than they?  There was always a sprinkling of several generations at those old-fashioned spelling bees.

 

Another important event that took place nearly every year was having the photographer come out from Whitesboro, and make a picture of the school group.  Almost every family has copies of those old school pictures.  We have some that belonged to my parents that were made before I was born, and of course we have those of my time.  Showing them off is always a good way to brighten a dull evening, for who wouldn’t scream with laughter on beholding those fixed and glassy stares, and ridiculous poses, many of them deliberately made by naughty little boys.  The balls and bats and mitts are ever in evidence, even if some timid and bashful face is half hidden by them.  I have no doubt that one sample of a school group would  scare to death every crow that has ever been hatched from Noah’s time on down.

 

But they are pathetic as well as comic, and looking at them always brings a stitch of pain to my heart for the innocent little faces that were taken away so soon, and for others who grew up and found the going hard, and did not know how to battle with the tragedy and sorrow that befell them.  Some lie in Flanders Field, and some are the living dead who left more than their bodies on the field of battle.  But the majority of them are now just middle-aged men and women who are going about their ordinary lives of managing farms and stores and filling stations, and keeping house and sending their own children to school.

 

Uncle Mott’s family was a voluble, noisy tribe.  Aunt Margie was a great one for having the house look nice and clean.  She worked like a horse to keep it so, but even at its best it showed not only its past sufferings, but had the appearance of being on probation, and only waiting for a new upheaval.  They were not a dirty family, but careless, and used things so hard that they could not stand the strain…..But careless as they were, they decidedly were not lazy; they were industrious and ambitious and have done well in the world.  Being worldly and vain, they could try the patience of a saint, but they had their good qualities too.  The things that I have always admired about them is their tender-heartedness and their loyalty to their own.  They have always been ready to uphold the under-dog, and no animal of theirs ever had to suffer from neglect.  To this day their various houses provide a home for all the stray cats of the community.  I daresay there has always been one family of cats at Uncle Mott’s.  We went to their house to spend Sunday once and, as we had no cat to catch our rats, my mother asked if they would give her a little yellow tomcat named Tab.  Aunt Margie was glad of an opportunity  to get rid of one cat, but Charlie could hardly bear to see it leave.  He kept standing near Mother, and when she put Tab in the wagon, he said, “Aunt Jane, when it grows up and has some kittens for you, you will bring it back, won’t you?”  Another time we visited at their house during the Christmas holidays.  Grace’s cat sat right by her side at the table and received a share of the good things.  The whole family was talking at once with no one listening, as usual, but I heard her voice rising triumphantly over the bedlam, “I just know this is the sweetest cat I ever saw!”

 

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Another family dear to my heart was the Fraleys.  Brother Fraley as he was called, was a Nazarene preacher on the side, but he lived on his farm and he and his family worked as hard as anyone.  They attended church at Westview and were dearly beloved of all the community.  He was often invited to preach there, as were many Baptists and Presbyterian ministers.

 

Brother and Mrs. Fraley had a houseful of children of various ages.  Lake Erie was Buzz’s age, Opal was mine, and Ivory was in between.  The little boys were younger, and all were famous for their meanness, as children of preachers often are.  I suppose it is because they have so much righteousness pumped into them at home that they simply cannot absorb all of it and have to break over the traces now and then.

 

The Fraley children always wanted to try something that the rest of us didn’t have the courage for, and it never failed to shock our more sinful parents and their erring progeny.  When Lake Erie was spending a Sunday with Ruth Boaz, she horrified Ruth by wanting to skip church services that night and go to the swimming pool instead.  Ivory once came home with me from Children’s Day to spend the night, and she wanted to go to bed early so we could leap up and down on the bed, a thing my mother allowed us to do.  But since Ivory was company and had to be polite to, I allowed myself to be persuaded to jump up and down too, all the time yelling and laughing like banshees.  My mother was considerably upset and she became downright aggravated, as she called it, by Ivory’s refusal to eat a bite during the whole time she stayed, a feat I couldn’t understand, since we had a lot of good things left from Children’s Day.  The Fraley boys also gave their parents a good bit of trouble, but they got the wildness out of their systems while young, and turned out to be average citizens. 

 

The Fraley children did not go to school at Fairview.  They lived in Grayson county and went to school at Whitesboro.  The Grayson-Cooke county line ran through my father’s farm and also the Ritchey land, and the Fraley and Ritchey places adjoined each other.  Dad rented a lot of the Ritchey land every year and it was as familiar to us as our own farm.  The Fraleys worked on one side of the fence and us on the other, and Buzz and Lake would lean on their hoe handles and wave madly at each other.  Brother Fraley and Dad often swapped work with each other during peanut and hay harvesting, and especially at baling hay.

 

Brother Fraley had a great fondness for sorghum molasses and Dad often made syrup for him.  When he was at our house for meals it became apparent that he had a passion for sweet potatoes.  Mother used to bake potatoes and take them to the hay-baler for the men to eat, and Bro. Fraley would eat until he was ashamed, he said, but he couldn’t stop.

 

He and Mrs. Fraley were great ones to pray, and in the Nazarene way often prayed for the sinful and erring, especially during revival meetings.  Mrs. Fraley especially, could make my blood run cold.  Not only did she bring Hell uncomfortably near and vivid to me, but she made God and Heaven absolutely unattainable.  I know now that those thoughts and fears were magnified in my own childish mind.  They instituted a series of prayer meeting services and held them at different homes on Wednesday nights.  It is pleasant to remember walking through the fields with the neighbor’s children and grown-ups, to these farm house prayer-meetings.  In addition to prayer, we always played on the organ and sang, not to mention the fun we had on the way there and back.  There was always someone running on ahead and jumping out in the road to scare the others.  And the good mimics in the group would ape the good old sisters and brothers who had testified at the meeting, while the others of which I was chief, turned pale with envy because we couldn’t talk “just like” Grandma Spencer.

 

Grandma Spencer was a good old saint with a heart of gold.  God had not blessed her with a brilliant mind, and her life was spent in hard work with little or no chance to improve what she had.  She was deeply concerned about the spiritual welfare of her grandchildren, who were as rough a lot as lived in the whole community.  When the preachers invited sinners to come to the mourners bench, Grandma also pled with Clyde and Al Spencer to go.  “All you have to do,” she would say, “is to press the button, and God will do the rest.”

 

Mr. Perkins prayed loud and fervently also, but I fear he was an old reprobate at heart.  We were filled with awe-ful glee once when he prayed loudly for God to convict the sinners, “and bring the old Devil

right before them, by gravy, so they will turn away from him and do like they ought to do!”

 

Brother Fraley and his family moved away from our community before I was quite grown, and after living in East Texas a few years, they moved back to Sadler, which is about ten miles slightly northeast of our old home.  While they were living there, Brother Fraley died.  We went to the funeral and for a long time afterward it seemed to me that heaven was in the northeast.

 

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It was about the early part of 1913 I think, that the people in our community began talking about putting in a telephone line.  The more they talked, the more they wanted phones, and so by the end of spring the line was completed and the phones installed.  It was a party line and there were eight telephones on the line.  One rang one ring for of course, to get Central; our ring was two, Mr. Byrne’s was three, Mr. Ritchey’s four, Henry Sewell’s five, Will Boaz’s one long and one short, Dave Boaz’s two longs and one short, Mr. Farr’s three long and one short, and Clay Russom’s one short and one long.  It was agreed that six long rings would be the signal ring, and when it rang everyone was to rush to the phone to see what had happened.

 

On the very day the phone line was opened up for business we had guests to arrive.  Two young men from Arkansas, my third cousins, came to pay us a visit.  Of course their arrival gave my mother an excuse to use the new telephone.  She must call up Clay’s folks and tell them that Luther and Leonard had come.  That done, she called John’s folks on another party line; that way she had to go “through Central.”  And of course some one was listening on every box on both lines.  They always did.  It wasn’t fifteen minutes from the time Luther and Leonard alighted at our door until everyone in the community knew it.

 

That was a great day.  We sat up a little later than usual that night, talking to the boys and talking on the phone, and eavesdropping on others who talked.  But finally, all turned in and slept the sleep of the just I hope, until perhaps midnight, when the phone cut loose with six long rings.  Dad hopped up to hear what it was all about but he did not have to hear, he could see.  Harry Shaw’s house was afire.  It was about a mile from our house, and there was no intervening timber.  We had a good view.  Dad and all the boys jumped into their clothes and left as fast as they could go.  Mother and I stood on the porch and watched it burn.  When all was over, the men came home and we slept the remainder of the night undisturbed by the telephone.

 

The Shaws immediately began building another house, the farmers went on putting in their crops, and the daily news went on over the telephone.  There is really no more convenient instrument than the telephone.  If the women wanted a spool of thread and no one was going to town until Saturday, all they had to do was phone to the dry goods store in Whitesboro, and it would be sent out by mail.  The farmer could order a part for his plow, or call the veterinary.  It saved a lot of time.

 

Some of the old-timers however, were as skittish of the telephone as a horse was of an auto in those days.  Aunt Eve and Mrs. Farr would have absolutely nothing to do with the new-fangled contraption, though there were those who accused them of eavesdropping, when there was no one in the house to check up on them.  Caldwell would never call anyone when he had to “go through Center”, but confined his telephone conversations to those on his party line.  And when some one once rang Leon Howser’s number while he and his wife were out doing chores, Grandpa Howser, who was sitting by the fire in the living room, turned his face toward the telephone in the hall and bellowed, “They’re not here; they’re out milking the cows.”

 

About a month after the fire, Harry got his new house about ready to move into.  He and his wife went off one day to visit her family at Valley View.  And that night the phone rang six again, and Harry’s house was afire.  The men tore out to watch it burn, and again Mother and I watched from the porch.  I was afraid, when I saw the first house burn, but this time I was terrified.  And I just kept on being terrified.  I was afraid to go to bed at night, for fear our house would catch fire.  And if I woke in the night and saw the big old red moon coming up, I would think, “Is that the moon, or is it fire?”  I worried about it so much that I began to cry at bedtime, not wanting to sleep by myself, and one of my parents would have to sleep with me.  It was a long time before I quit worrying about fire, and I have not overcome the fear of it to this day.

 

Luther and Leonard liked Texas so well that they have never gone back to Arkansas, except to visit.  Leonard stayed at our house a lot that year and Luther stayed with Clay and his family.  Rod was about 19 years old and Leonard a few years older.  Of course they thought they were “some punkins”.  They went to all the parties.  Rod was the accepted squire of Ada Farr and went everywhere she and her crowd did, and Leonard went along as a free lance.  Rod saw Ada every few days and talked to her on the phone in between times, but that wasn’t enough; they must write occasionally.  One day I was prowling around upstairs when I noticed Rod’s old work jumper hanging on a nail.  Sticking out of a breast pocket was a letter.  Of course I pounced on it at once, and was delighted with its contents.  When dinner time came, and all were assembled at the table, I said, “Darling, I would tell you about my dream last night, but it is too long.”  Immediately Leonard said, “Rod, she’s been reading your letter.”  By that I took it to mean that Leonard had also read Rod’s letter.  Oh, those boyish confidences!  I wonder if they giggle when they tell one another about what “she” said.

 

It was in the fall of that year that Rod’s romance got us all quarantined.  He was at the Farr’s one Sunday when Ada’s mother was sick.  On Monday, they called in Dr. King and he declared that she had small-pox.  When he got back to his office he called the county health officer at Gainesville, who came out and quarantined the Farrs, then they began to round up those who had been there and got exposed.  Dr. King called Dad on the phone and wanted him to send Rod to the barn to live until things blew over.  Dad said no, that we were busy picking cotton, and Rod couldn’t live decently in the barn anyway.  So the doctor said that in that case he’d just have to quarantine all of us; and Dad said that if he had to, he had to, and to turn his wolf loose, or words to that effect.  He did make the doctor promise him however, that some of us could go to the mailbox every day.  Our mail box was down the public road at the church house, and about a half-mile from home.  Dad didn’t mind being quarantined so much, but he couldn’t suffer the indignity of being deprived of his Semi-weekly Farm News every Tuesday and Friday.

 

The two weeks that we were in isolation were no hardship to me.  It just tickled me to death when Rod did not get to go to the Farrs on Sunday.  Leonard happened not to be at our house at the time, and Buzz was cut off from Arthur Newsom and his other side-kick, Homer Hardin.  So he and Rod spent the day together, on the creek and in the woods, hunting and picking up pecans.

 

All of us excepting Mother, spent the week days in the cotton patch, where we always had company.  Massa John had no fear of the quarantine, and of course he wanted to have his three cents worth of fun laughing at us about it.  I am afraid his tobacco supply dwindled rapidly during those first few days of our quarantine, as Dad would always ask him for a chew.  But his “Brown Mule” soon palled on Dad’s taste, he being addicted to “Cotton Boll”, so I think it wound up by Massa John’s buying “Cotton Boll” for Dad at the store and bringing it to him in the field.  Besides him, we had the telephone to keep us informed of all the neighborhood gossip, so we did not suffer from loneliness and boredom.  We kept up to date on Mrs. Farr’s illness; She got along fine and recovered rapidly, and we have always doubted that she had smallpox at all, as no one else ever came down with it.  But whether she had it or not, we went through our isolation for nothing.

 

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After Mrs. Stansbury taught me to play the organ, I was called on to play at the church when the regular organists were not present.  Not only did it embarrass me to play before the congregation, but it prevented my sitting with my cronies and looking for things to giggle about, behind our books.  But to play before our home folks was as nothing to the time a bunch of young folks came out from the Whitesboro Methodist church to present an Epworth League program, with the idea of organizing a League at Westview. 

 

They used a piano in their church and none of them could play an organ.  Seems they had trouble pedaling it with their feet, or something.  At any rate, I had to play for them; and though I was red with confusion at having to play an old-fashioned organ for a bunch of citified people who had an up to date piano, my schoolmates were bursting with pride at my being able to do something the stuck-up town folks could not do!  What a lot is in the viewpoint.

 

Young folks have ever found a way to have something to go to, and on Sunday nights when there was nothing to do at the church house, they often had singings in private homes, and many of them were really good singings too.  Whole families went to them, which meant that the girls and women who played the organ were present, and I never had to play.  Nor did I have to play for the revival meetings excepting one time, and the memory of it always gives me a sort of wicked joy.

 

It was in the summer time of course, and the minister had asked the members to bring all the flowers they could gather, so that he could hold a “flower service”.  That meant that after the sermon had been preached , he wanted each one to pin a flower on every other person who had helped him or her to live a better life, or been a good influence to him.  Of course that brought forth a good many tears, and Bro. Crump and Bro. Teeter, who always cried at everything, had a lot of company on that day.

 

After the flower service, the preacher had the Sheep and the Goats to line up, one long line on either side of the house.  Then he pled with the sinners to come out from among the Goats and join the Sheep who had been a good influence to them, and thus insure that they would never be separated from them, here or hereafter.  While waiting for them to come, he asked my brother, Rod, (Sheep) who was leading the singing, to lead an invitation song.  Here Rod discovered that Eva Hart, the regular organist, had left early, and he had to call me out from among the Goats to play the invitation song.

 

Mary Baird ( Shook ) McDonald, who later became one of my closest friends, was a child of 11 then, and she once laughed at me for being a Goat while she was a sheep.  I had to admit my sinful state, but of course I reminded her that they had to get a Goat to play the organ for them.  Not only that, but the Goats joined in as loud as the Sheep on the singing.  The Goats may help, but the Sheep of this world are the ones who love the Shepherds, and may their tribes increase.

 

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The Stork worked overtime the year I was born, bringing girl babies to people who lived in the Fairview community.  There were seven of us, and all but one are living in Texas today.  Of course there were other girls, some older and some younger, that went through school with us, and as children will, we fussed and fought and forgave and made up.  We loved to go home with one another to spend the night, and those of us whose sizes would stand the strain, often exchanged dresses for a day, or to wear to a party.  We began to think we were “grown” about the time we reached our teens, and our amateurish and lavish use of cosmetics produced some astonishing results indeed.  In fact there were those of us who were often rudely astonished ourselves, by being made to scrub our faces when we were careless enough to let our outraged parents catch sight of our war paint.  We were unfamiliar with the powder puff; every one must have a chamois (“shammy”) skin.  We did not see many picture shows, but attended many parties at Bud’s and elsewhere, and were always on the sidelines yelling, when our boys pitted themselves against the basket-ball teams from other schools.

 

We persuaded our teachers to challenge other schools to spelling matches, and I once had the honor to defeat Spring Grove, a school I disliked for no good reason at all, in a spelling contest.  Ironically enough, I taught two terms of school at Spring Grove myself, not many years later.  When neighboring schools presented a play or program, we always tried to see it.  Sometimes one of the boys would get his dad’s wagon and team, and take as many of us as could pile in.  We had plays and programs at Fairview too, and during Mr. McGaugh’s tenure we had a debating team among ourselves.

 

On Valentine’s Day a large box, the “Valentine Box” was put on the table for the students to put their Valentines in, through a slit in the top.  At the proper time the teacher opened the box and appointed a couple of children to hand out the Valentines as he called out the names.  They ranged all the way from the lacy ten centers, to the home-made varieties, and usually carried the names of both donor and recipient, but there were many from “Guess Who”, and “I Love You”.  Not only were these mystery Valentines from romantically inclined but timid and unsure admirers, but oftentimes from someone who wanted to watch the effect of his own effort on his puzzled victim.  Then of course, many were sent by some mischievous third person who wanted to make Bessie think that Robert had sent it, or to show Bill that May was pursuing him!

 

I am sure that Mr. Hayes, the peddler, did not get to buy too many eggs during the week preceding Easter.  There was always an orgy of egg dying, not only for the Good Friday hunt at the schoolhouse, but also for the Sunday School hunt at the church.  At the schoolhouse the teachers kept their charges in “in time books” as usual, to be sure there was no peeking, and sent two or three of the larger pupils to hide the eggs.  There was always a prize egg - whoever found it got a prize, and there was a prize also to the one who found the largest number of eggs.  To be sure that each child got at least one egg, the teacher or some of the older pupils would show the smaller children where to look for them.  We seldom had classes on the afternoon of Good Friday.  We entertained the visitors who came, and had “spelling and ciphering” or put on a short program.

 

The last day of school was always a gala affair too, and usually something special was prepared in honor of it.  If we had a play, that took up all the time we had, getting everything ready to put it on at night.  And then there was always that last minute feverish rush, when it was discovered that Henry had forgotten to bring his beard to be Grandpa in the second act, or Flora had developed a sore throat and couldn’t sing “Seeing Dinah Home” after carefully rehearsing it for three long weeks.  And the Wilson family was always late to every public gathering they ever went to, and anything their children were in could never start on time.

 

However, on those years when we did not have a play, we took down our hair and enjoyed ourselves on the last day of school.  Most of the women and young folk came to visit, and as many of the men came as were willing to leave their field work but that always depended upon how rushed they were at the time.  The report cards would be given to the pupils by the nervous teachers, who never failed to read aright the gleam in the eye of Johnny’s mother, when she discovered he had been retained in the third grade.

 

I have taught school myself, and it is a mystery to me why those mothers whose children have failed in their grades, are never prevented from attending the last day of school.  Little Marie might make a straight A on every subject during the entire term, and her mother never have time to set foot in the schoolyard.  There might be sandstorms or high water or an epidemic of measles to keep the rest of the world away from the teacher’s domain.  But just let the last day of school come and nothing, no - nothing, ever keeps away from the school house, the mothers of the little Johnnies of this world, who have failed to make the grade.

 

Anyway, the teachers handed out the report cards, and maybe put on a little program.  Sometimes we’d do nothing at all but mill around and gossip, and watch the boys practice on the ball ground.  At noon we had the inevitable dinner on the ground.  Afterward, we would have a matched basketball or baseball game between our team and that of some other school.  When that was over, we had nothing to do but to tell the teachers and our schoolmates goodbye and go home.  And what on earth is lonelier or sadder than to say goodbye and go home, on the last day of school?

 

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PLAY PARTIES AND DANCES

 

As far back as I can remember the young folks in our community have had parties at night, though the custom seems to be dying out in these days of automobiles, movies and ball games.  They had candy-pullings, tacky parties, ice cream suppers, and just plain play parties.  Many games were played at all of them, such as “Fruit Basket’s Turned Over”, and Cross Questions and Crooked Answers”.  “Snap” was a popular game from away back;  sometimes the players would really get into the spirit of the thing and make a double eight out of it.

 

The Price family were great ones for giving parties and going to them, and after they moved to our community they introduced “ring plays”.  These plays were exactly like square dancing, the only difference was that instead of having guitar and fiddle music, the players themselves furnished it by singing and inveigling all the bystanders to join in.  They needed this extra support, as anyone can understand who has ever tried swinging and promenading all over the floor while singing at the top of his or her lungs.  One of the most popular of these games was called “Jew-Tang” with the result that the parties soon began to be called Jew-Tang parties.  ( I do not know how to spell “ Jew-Tang”…Have often wondered )  The song went something like this: ( Began with four couples )

 

      “Hook up four, Jew-tang-le, Jew-tang-le, Jew-tang-le, Jew.

       Swing your pardner around the floor, Jew-tang-le, Jew-tang-le, Jew.

       Promenade four, Jew-tang-le, Jew-tang-le, Jew,

       Promenade four, around the floor, Jew-tang-le, Jew-tang-le, Jew.”

 

(The another couple entered the game, making six on the floor)

      “Hook up six, Jew-tang-le, Jew-tang-le, Jew-tang-le, Jew,

       Hook up six and all get fixed, Jew-tang-le, Jew-tang-le, Jew.

       Promenade six, Jew-tang-le, Jew-tang-le, Jew,

       Promenade six before you mix, Jew-tang-le, Jew-tang-le, Jew.”

(Eight couples)

      “Hook up eight, Jew-tang-le, Jew-tang-le, Jew,

        Hook up eight and all get straight, Jew-tang-le, Jew-tang-le,  Jew,

       Promenade eight, Jew-tang-le, Jew-tang-le, Jew-tang-le, Jew,

       Promenade eight and swing your fate, Jew-tang-le, Jew-tang-le, Jew.”

 

I wonder if there is an old tome rural Texan anywhere who has not heard many of those old play tunes, “Old Joe Clark”, for instance.  It was played much like Jew-Tang, but with a different tune and words:

 

      “Old Joe Clark was a preacher

       He preached all o’er the plain,

       The highest text he ever took was

       High, Low, Jack and the game.

 

       Flying ‘round, old Joe Clark, flying ‘round I say,

       Flying ‘round, old Joe Clark, You ain’t got long to stay.”

 

There are many stanzas to “Old Joe Clark”.

 

“Shoot The Buffalo

 

      “All you ladies do-ci-do, and you gents, you ought to know,

       And we’ll rally round the cane-brakes, and shoot the buffalo,

       We will shoot the buffalo, yes we’ll shoot the buffalo,

       We will rally round the cane-brakes and shoot the buffalo.

 

       All the girls will sew and patch and the boys will fight and scratch,

       And we’ll have a happy time in the sweet potato patch,

       In the sweet potato patch, in the sweet potato patch,

       Yes, we’ll have a happy time, in the sweet potato patch.”

 

Rocksy Ann”:

 

      “You’ve been a long time foolinfoolin

       You’ve been a long time foolin’ me

       Rocksy Ann’s the biggest fool,

           She fools me all the time!

       She’s been a long time foolinfoolin

       She’s been a long time foolin’ me,

       Rocksy Ann’s the biggest fool,

           She fools me all the while.”

 

After a year or two of lung power, and when the Boaz boys and Fred Estes had learned to play the “fiddle”, guitar and banjo, these plays turned into square dancing, and began to be called the “Figure Eight”, “Three Little Sisters”, etc., with someone, usually Mr. Price, to call the turns.  This involved some question of right and wrong between the Christians and sinners in the community, but it did not really amount to anything.  Those who liked to dance went to the dances and danced, and those who disapproved stayed at home.  They were really good, honest fun, and no evil came because of them.  But looking back now, I am unable to understand how those boys and girls could have picked or hoed or plowed cotton, or washed or ironed, or cut wood, as the case might have been, and then walk to the party and dance until two o’clock in the morning; then walk back home and work again the next day.  They must have been made of iron.  Youth, thou art a beautiful thing…….

 

Many people gave dances at their houses, but I suppose about half the dances of the whole community were held at the home of Bud and Virgie Sewell.  If the boys and girls got turned down at any other home, they would always try Bud and Virgie and were seldom refused.  So it became customary to ask Bud first.  The Sewell children were all boys and Mrs. Sewell did not have much help with the housework.  It must have thrown quite a bit of extra work on her, preparing for those ever-recurring dances, and cleaning up afterward;  it always meant taking down one or two bedsteads, so there would be an empty room to dance in.  The girls realized the trouble it put her to, and often those who were begging for the dance, would pitch in and help her clean house in preparation for it.  And sometimes the dancers would help put the beds back up before they went home.

 

Mr. Sewell was an uneducated man from a crude and uncouth family.  The only culture he had was the natural refinement of his character, which is after all, the first requisite of a gentleman.  He had a peculiar mannerism in speaking, and referred to objects as “that war’ horse”, “going to see that war “man”, etc.  So people began to speak of him as “that war Bud”.  One of the funniest things I ever heard is my cousin Grace’s rendition of Bud’s tale of going to sit up with a sick neighbor on a wild and stormy night.  “I grannies”, she would say, mimicking him, “the war rain war jest a pourin and I war wet as war dog, and couldn’t see my war hand before my face.  I thought I war in the corn patch, till it come a big flash of lightening, and there I war right in the middle of Mott’s war tank.”

 

Mrs. Sewell was a tall, thin woman and she had a long drawn out manner of speaking and of course we “talked like Virgie” too, but it was good-natured talk.  I do not suppose Mr. and Mrs. Sewell ever had an enemy.  They had few pleasures in life, and perhaps that is why they enjoyed giving dances.  They liked meeting people, and it made the people love them.

 

It was customary to hold a community working at Akers Cemetery one day out of every summer.  Whole families went and stayed all day, and had dinner on the ground at noon.  Of course every one gossiped and joked and played pranks and had a good time, while they were hoeing and raking and burning the grass and weeds and brush.  The young folks always began early to beg Bud and Virgie to give a party or dance that night.  It got so that when Cemetery Working Day rolled around, they began to get ready for the shindig at Bud’s.

 

Bud and Virgie are both sleeping in the old cemetery now, as are many others who helped to keep it clean then.  We miss them and call them “dead”, but our imagination cannot glorify them.  To us they are still warm and human, still friendly, still kindly, still keeping the house swept and open for their friends who are coming…….

 

The End