(Autobiography of Kittie Lanham Oakes - her temporary
Introduction by Elaine Oakes:
Kittie Lanham was born July 16, 1894.
I have combined several documents that my Grandmother Kittie left.
The originals were partly handwritten and partly typed on poor quality
paper and had deteriorated badly. Some of the material was repetitious
was fragmentary. None of it was really complete. Because
they are interesting hints about other stories, I included the fragments
but put them in brackets. I have added a very little from my memory
of her stories.
Grandmother was a great storyteller, and it is hard to say what
really happened and what was just a good story she had read somewhere and
The earlier versions had different names for several people and
she probably didn't remember most of them by the time she wrote this, sixty-some
years after the events. I believe most of the ordinary things, and
most of the stories of mischief she and her sister got into.
She claims that Sister was wild but from what she said about her own behavior
she was pretty wild for those days, too. These days they would be
considered normal to rather tame.
I was born, under a lucky star, I think, in Grayson County Texas
in a village so small I cannot find it on my map and it may not even exist
today. Both my grandfathers were Confederate Veterans and both were
early settlers in Texas because, as they told me, Reconstruction Days were
so difficult in South Carolina and Mississippi. They felt they would
be far better off in new territory and both bought cheap land in Grayson
Co. in 1870, within six months of each other. I was born there so
some of my remembrances are tales they told me as a child.
Grandfather Weems moved his family from Mississippi to a farm about
four miles west of Sherman and Grandfather Lanham, from Edgefield, South
Carolina to one about the same distance east. Both lived in log cabins
My paternal grandfather was Col. R.G. Lanham. He served with
General Lee in Virginia, and while there he met and married Caroline Elizabeth
Harrison. I never met her as she died before my father and mother
married. The old Daguerreotype picture and some bits and pieces
of jewelry are all I remember of her, but she left two sons, my father
Tom and Wiley, his younger brother. . Papa said that I looked very much
like her, and he
also told me that she was related to the two Harrison Presidents
and kin to Pocahontas but since then I do not remember, if I ever knew,
the names of either of her parents.
Grandfather must have loved her very much for he did not remarry
for a long time - until I was about 8 or 9 years old. And much later,
I found a small notebook among his things with sweet, sentimental poems
he had written to her. I have a lovely heavy taffeta dress, handmade
with tiny stitches, that she wore when she went to meet her new husband's
family in Edgefield SC. Grandfather Lanham's full name was Robert
Glover Lanham. My father's name was Thomas Walter and his brother
was Wiley Harrison. Uncle Wiley never married. Although one
of Grandpa's sisters traced the family records and had them printed in
a small booklet my actual first hand knowledge of the Lanham genealogy
is skimpy. My aunt traced the family history back to about 1800 when
Solomon Lanham settled in Maryland not far from Washington, DC. My
great-grandfather moved to Edgefield, SC and my father was born
there. My father, Thomas Walter Lanham was born in Edgefield, South
Carolina and went to Texas as a small boy in 1870 or 1871. He grew
up near Sherman and became a schoolteacher. He attended college in
Sherman but did
not graduate, though he taught school most of his life and was truly
a bookish type. He was a very good small town school superintendent.
My father had one younger brother, Wiley Harrison. He had
a strange and tragic accident, never explained. At the age of about
21, he was a law student in college at Sherman and was considered to have
a brilliant future. But one night he rode home returning from town.
When his horse came home without him, Grandfather became alarmed and went
to look for him.
He found his son lying beside the road, unconscious.Uncle Wiley
was an excellent horseman and it was most unlikely that his horse had thrown
him. The road was not rocky nor hard packed and the fracture in his
skull was high enough and jagged enough that no plausible idea was found
to account for the injury. He was unconscious for weeks and
doctors trepanned his skull to remove pressure. He was desperately
ill for weeks and the Sherman paper even printed his obituary. This
he showed me along with two buttons of bone taken from his scull.
He did regain his health but never fully recovered mentally, was
subject to occasional violent fits of temper. My mother was always
able to calm him more easily than anyone.
My mother's father, James Madison Weems, was born in Mississippi,
and I still have his old family Bible giving the names and dates of all
his brothers and sisters. Tradition gives the first Weems in this
country as living Virginia near the small town of Wakefield where George
Washington was born. My Uncle Mat had a friend also named Weems who
had traced the family line back to the Wymss Castle in Scotland but the
actual family history has breaks in it, though appearances and characteristics
indicate kinship back down the history.
Digging back into memories to see what one can recall presents problems.
I think, because many children are brought up hearing anecdotes telling
of their early behavior, it is difficult for a person to separate what
they actually do remember from what they may have heard related to them
of early happenings in their infancy. I doubt that many can draw
a line of distinction with accuracy.
The first place that I am sure I definitely remember is the house
where I was born. That home belonged to my grandparents and since
they moved from that small village before I was four years old, incidents
there are rather unrelated to any sequence of events. In my
mind's eye, I can see part of that house thought I cannot recall the number
of rooms or their arrangement. I know that it was large enough to
have an upstairs,
and that there were two porches and that it was painted an ugly,
dingy yellow. The front porch had a fancy balustrade around it, ant
there was a sort of fretwork under the eaves, much more elaborate than
modern taste suggests.
The house was set in a large yard, and there were several trees
for shade where I could play. Grandpa hung a rope swing for me from
one of the low branches. And the yard was fenced. That is about
all I can stretch my memory to cover.
Why the house is less distinct in my mind than the gin I do not
know. But for some reason, the fact that Grandpa Weems ran the cotton
gin, and certain incidents that occurred in connection with the operation
of the gin are more impressed on my memory. I do not know why, but such
is the fact. Ginning season in that part of Texas was a strenuous time
for the manager. The gin ran all night, wagons piled high with the white
fluff filled the gin yard waiting for their turn. And I remember
watching these, the horses and mules and the tired farmers. They were sometimes
so exhausted from the long days in the picking fields that they stretched
out on top of their loads to snatch the sleep they missed. They often
did their barnyard chores by lantern light in order to be in the fields
picking their cotton
at the first faint light of morning.
I loved to see the wagons with high sideboards move up in orderly
line. To see the huge pipe pulled into position so it could suck
up the white load into the tearing pulling teeth of the rollers.
Once I remember seeing a man's hat sucked from his head as he pulled the
suction pipe into position, and another time, a stone about the size of
a man's fist was drawn into the machinery to damage it and cause a shut-down.
Time was lost for repairs, then rollers began to turn again and thick,
white felted cotton was folded and pressed into bales and tied with metal
straps. Perhaps I remember so much of this because I knew that Grandpa
was working too hard. Often he could not leave even long enough to
walk across the road for his meals.
Tiny though I was, I could carry a small pail of cold buttermilk
when Grandmother or Mama took his plate of food to him. And there
was dusty lint hanging from every weed or tree in the whole gin yard. Big
black-and-white Dan was the dog member of the family and I think he was
a mutt but mostly of the Newfoundland breed. Grandpa often said Dan
was such a good brave watchdog, that he saved the wages of a night watchman
at the gin. He was devoted to me and when any man came to the house,
Dan always placed himself between that man and Sister and me. Once
when Mama had been away for sometime, and came up the front walk in her
an elaborate white organdy with loads of frilly ruffles, Dan met
her halfway down the walk and she did not see him in time. He stood
erect on his hind legs, and was taller than she, then he gently put his
her neck and kissed her. Unfortunately, he did not realize
that the rain the night before had left the feathers along his legs wet
Ironing that white dress took hours but Mama just laughed and seemed
pleased that Dan was so glad to see her.
Mama had two brothers only a little older than she and for this
weekend, the whole family was together. I don't remember what this
celebration was for, but it was something special. Uncle Mat made
the ice cream. He set
the big freezer on a table on the back porch and turned the crank.
I adored both my uncles, and no small girl was ever petted more.
But both uncles loved to tease me, Uncle Mat in particular. That
was how I got the
shock of my young life. It was a warm, no! HOT!
Summer day in Texas and the ice in the freezer melted fast. When
the salty water began to overflow from the wooden bucket of the freezer,
Uncle Mat set the freezer in a big
dishpan. After several minutes of vigorous turning the crank,
the cream was frozen. Then Uncle Mat set it out of the pan and wrapped
it in feed sacks and left it on the table to ripen. He pushed the
pan full of icy saltwater back a little way under the table. His
job was done and he turned his attention to me. He was playfully
reciting to me the old rhyme about "The old bumble bee came out of the
barn, and he had his bagpipe under his arm, and he went z-z-z-z!"
He had a sort of tune to the jingle and when he reached the z-z-z-z, he
tickled my ribs. I backed away,
dodging, and sat down in that icy pan of water. A violent
shock and the first in my young life, I guess! I howled! The
rest of the family saw only the finny side.
Later, that same afternoon, some young friends dropped in for the
ice cream and cake. That was when I gave Uncle Mat his shock in return.
He took his special girl out to the settee on the front porch so they could
cream together in privacy but I followed them. Of course,
after the icy wetting I had that morning, I had to have fresh clothing
from the skin out, and as it happened Mama had made me new underwear of
which I was very
I hunted Uncle Mat up to tell him about that, "I got new drawers
on, Uncle Mat! Have you got new drawers? Mine have lace on
them, too. Uncle Mat, do your drawers have lace on them?"
Both Uncle Mat and his young lady were terribly embarrassed.
So was Mama! I was hustled back inside and given a lecture on the subject
of what not to talk about.
Operating that gin was hard work, long hours, and a great deal of
responsibility for Grandpa but he made many friends among the farmers and
having been a farmer previously he knew their problems and could talk to
them. Some of his friends put his name up and he was popular enough
to be elected County Commissioner. Then he moved his home to the
county seat town.
His next home was a neat little gray cottage and I could almost
draw a blueprint of that place, it is so firmly fixed in my memory.
The whole family gathered there for the first Christmas that I can remember.
It was a traditional Christmas, only we did not have a tree at home.
I was told that Santa Claus would come down the chimney if I hung up my
stocking, however, since there was no fireplace, only a big black heating
stove with a six or seven inch pipe, I could not quite take in the idea
without a few questions.
As for the Christmas tree, Uncle Buddy came to take me to that.
Since our family was only visiting from out of town, Mama explained that
I need not expect Santa Claus to have anything for me on that tree, but
presents would surely appear the next morning in my stocking.
After assuring Mama that I just wanted to see the gorgeous, big tree with
its bright decorations, and that I would not be disappointed, she let me
go with him. Imagine my surprise when my name was called the same
as the other children! Santa, himself, brought me a little packet
tied up in bright ribbon. I was proud as could be, with a lovely
box of four tiny perfumes all different "flavors".
That Christmas Eve night I was so excited, and my small black cotton
stocking did not seem nearly big enough to hold the doll I wanted so I
borrowed one from Grandmother. Then I worried for fear Santa would
not know it was mine so I wrote a letter to him telling him about the exchange
in hose. I was not more than five but I had been reading writing
more than a year. I carefully pinned the letter to the long stocking
and hung it on a chair beside the stove just before kissing everybody "goodnight"
and saying my "Now, I lay me."
At Grandpa's home, I do not remember ever having a tree. There
were always a few decorations, a mistletoe wreath with red ribbon bow on
the front door, and some other bunches hung around the parlor (never called
room then") and in the dining room. One of Grandmother's sons
or Papa saw that she had flowers, usually a vase of red and white carnations.
But the only tree we saw was at the church. A tall cedar with many
candles carefully placed and strings of popcorn and cranberries; sometimes
tinsel strings sparkled among little brown paper bags of candy for the
children, and striped peppermint candy canes, and a few of the lighter
weight unbreakable toys.
Next morning early, I found a small China doll in the top of my
stocking.She was so beautifully dressed in soft red wool that I now know
Grandmother must have spent many hours making that lace trimmed petticoat
ruffled drawers with baby-sized buttons and buttonholes. Beside
my stocking, there was a tiny iron cook stove almost an exact replica of
the one in our kitchen, and the miniature pots and pans to go with it.
I was so proud! I still have that doll.
The memories of that Christmas are still vivid. It was wonderful,
the family happiness, the laughter, the jokes and gentle teasing.
Before the hearty breakfast, with every one of us around the long table,
Grandpa conducted family worship. He read the story of the Baby Jesus
from the family Bible, said a short, earnest prayer, then served our plates.
Grandpa was a very devout man, a steward in the church, and he held
family prayers every night just before retiring.
After breakfast, Grandmother and Mama began preparing the elaborate
Christmas dinner, stuffing and baking the turkey, getting vegetables ready,
and all the things that could not have been prepared earlier. Coconut
white cake, spice cake, and a big platter full of fancy cookies had been
prepared during the week but several fruit cakes had been ripening, occasionally
sprinkled with whiskey, for more than two months. Uncle Mat and Grandpa
beat up eggnog and set it to ripen on the back porch. Each of the
three of us had a sip, and my opinion as to its quality was gravely
considered, even though they both were perfectly aware that was
my very first taste of the delectable stuff. It was later served
with some of the fruitcake to any guests who might drop in.
The China doll I received that Christmas was not my first love for
I remember Nora. She was a rag doll and I do not remember just when
she was acquired, but I must have been very young, probably about three.
this doll but it was all hand made and hand-painted with some of
Mama's artist oils. I think she even made the pattern, the doll was
cut from for I have never seen another so well shaped. It had a nicely
rounded head, well-shaped nose, and seams were well hidden under the beautifully
painted baby face, which looked so much more like a real baby than the
China doll. Nora even wore some of Sister's outgrown baby clothes.
She was the only doll, of the many later ones I had, that I ever wanted
to take to sleep with me, I loved her so.
Papa was a country schoolteacher and moved about from one place
to another quite often. The first school that I remember about was
probably about twenty miles from where Grandpa and Grandmother lived.
It was in a farm
community and our little family could find no house available for
the teacher's family. We were fortunate that one of the members of
the school board took us in to board in his home.
We became members of the Kane family which was already rather large
consisting for three grown sons, one of them away at college, two grown
daughters, another almost grown, and the baby of the family only a year
older that I. She and I were great playmates.
The Kane home was large with a big attic where Lorena and I could
find the most amazing costumes for dressing up like ladies. There
were several storage trunks of garments that had long gone out of style,
with enormous plumes, veils and wraps. That was a wonderful
place to play,especially on rainy days. We could spend hours there
without interfering with any of the grown-up projects.
Mr. Grayson Kane was a very devout man, a well-to-do farmer and
popular in that section of the county. It was the custom some time
during the summer for an itinerant preacher to come into the community
with a tent and hold
about 10 days camp meeting. Once or twice the meeting was
held in Mr. Kane's big pasture, but after a few years, the church managed
to scrape up enough cash to buy a small tract of land on which they expected
to build a
church. Until this church was erected, a brush arbor was put
up. Supports of four or five inch logs were set in the ground and a framework
of lighter poles nailed across their tops. Then brush was piled on
top enough to provide shade and even some protection from a light shower.
At one end of the arbor, a platform was set up, and borrowed chairs provided
seats for the choir. A crude shelf was set up at the front of the
platform to hold the preacher's bible, though after reading a few verses,
it was rarely referred to. Some one in the community loaned an organ;
provided flare torches, and the camp meeting was off to a good start.
If the preacher was well known, sometimes families came for several miles
in their big farm wagons. Mattresses and quilts were brought, as
well as food for several days. Such gatherings of relatives and friends
might provide their annual get-together, unless a funeral might intervene
when the clans would always gather.
Ordinarily, the Kane family attended the camp meetings with reasonable
regularity since they lived only about three miles from the meeting grounds.
But one summer, Mrs. Kane decided she was going to camp. Mr. Kane
put up the objection that he could not stay at night because of his live
stock. They had to be attended to night and morning, but in the end,
he agreed to fit up one of his wagons for camping. One of the older
boys could stay with the family and Mr. Kane and the hired hand Rufus would
go to meetings during the days, always returning to the farm to do the
chores and sleep there.
Rufus was a drifter who had never been exposed to the hellfire and
brimstone some of those country preachers could dispense. Neither
was he overly gifted with gumption, though he could and did fulfill his
farm duties fairly well under the close supervision Mr. Kane gave him.
Mr. Kane was a little surprised when Rufus indicated that he wanted to
attend some of the services but readily gave his permission, with the proviso
that Rufus was to return at night with Mr. Kane to help with the chores.
After seeing the preacher get himself well warmed up to his sermon, and
seeing several shouting women, and mourners converted, the combined
effect of these things made considerable impression on Rufus and he went
down to the mourner's bench. But though many of the believers prayed
and he returned to the bench for prayers several times, Rufus was
still unconvicted. He was still struggling trying to think things
out one night when he and Mr. Kane started for home.
The meeting was expected to close the next day so Mr. Kane had left
his gentle farm team of horses with his family, just in case they wanted
to come home before he returned. On this night, he was driving a
team of young mules to his wagon. They were not yet thoroughly trained
for their duties, but were excellent plow animals. No noise followed
the plow, but the wagon made sounds to them, running over some of the rocks
in the road, empty and rattling along.
Rufus, still under the spell of the preacher, was struggling in
his soul, trying to pray salvation through, and asked Mr. Kane for help.
Mr. Kane quoted scriptural verses in answer to all the questions and was
sincerely concerned about his hand's welfare. The mules were trotting
along under perfect control, the summer moon overhead, the peaceful night,
and Rufus praying softly.
About half way between the Kane home and the arbor, there was a
long sloping hill leading down toward the Kane gate. Just as the
wagon reached the top of this hill, Rufus stood up shouting.
"I've got it! Hallelujah! Glory be, I've got religion,
Mr. Kane! I'm goin' to Heaven, now!" The startled mules' first leap
threw Rufus over the back of the wagon seat where he fell into the bed
of the wagon, still shouting. Mr. Kane braced himself, trying to
control those frightened mules in their headlong race down the hill, expecting
every second for one of the wheels to strike a rock large enough to overturn
the careening wagon.
Rufus pulled himself up on his knees, yelling at the top of his
voice. Mr.Kane was sawing on the heavy reins, trying desperately
to bring his team under control.
"Shut up, Rufus!: he ordered. "For pity sake quiet down!"But
Rufus paid no heed. "Hallelujah, I'm a-gonna see Glory!"The mules
ran the harder. In desperation, Mr. Kane gathered both reins into
his left hand, swung himself around on the seat and clouted Rufus right
in the mouth.
"Dammit, you fool! Shut your mouth, or we'll both be in Heaven,
next minute!"Such an outburst was entirely out of character, Mr. Kane normally
being a quiet, mild-mannered man, that Rufus was shocked into silence.
were quickly brought under control, and the two men reached home
safely and in silence. Neither of them ever mentioned the incident.
One of the neighbors, however, had just turned his team off the
main road into his lane. He heard and saw the frantic run-away and
he repeated the story to the preacher.
The preacher stared at the man thoughtfully, then, "I take it, Mr.
Brown,you don't drive mules," he said mildly.
When school was over, we went back to Grandpa's for a visit.
I cried myself sick when Mama gave my rag doll, Nora, to Lorena as a parting
Lorena and I, both, had other dolls but Nora was my favorite.
Mama promised me she would make me another just like it but she never did.
Strange how a single childish incident sets the pattern or furnishes a
clue to other more important sequences. But from that time on, I
knew in the depths of my heart that my wishes, my desires, and my longings
were of minor importance to Mama. I realized then, though I was very
young, that I could never count on complete fairness from her. And
I have never understood why my doll should be taken away from me and given
to some one else over my unwilling protests.
Even after we moved away from that community, we often went back
on visits as long as we lived in Texas. Lorena and I were flower
girls when her grandparents celebrated their golden wedding. In those
days it was a rare couple who lived long enough for that fiftieth year
celebration, since then Texas was not far past pioneering days. It
had been a hard life for many of them.
Little old, Mrs. Callahan looked very sweet in her embroidered white
dress, and their sons and daughters bought a lovely gold brooch for her
gift and an elaborately engraved gold-headed cane for Mr. Callahan.
I even remember
the identical ruffled white dresses Lorena and I wore, with wide
gold-colored satin sashes. The reception was held in the Kane's big
living room and banks of goldenrod were everywhere.
While we were with Grandpa and Grandmother, that summer, Uncle Mat
hung up his shingle as a dentist. First, he had studied for more
than a year under an old dentist who wanted a young partner. When
he was sure that he wanted
to continue in this profession, he went away to school in Baltimore
and studied in the dental college there. Later, he became one of
the best in Texas and with his own practice.
After a couple of years in the East at school, he came back and
was quite the gay young blade, with his very fashionable tight fitting
trousers, derby hat, and bicycle. He also acquired a beautiful trotting
horse, a buggy, and various other accessories.
Once, he took me to Dennison on his bicycle, a distance of about
six or even miles. He had planned to meet some of his young friends
there. Some of the young women had come in buggies. But for
that one night, I was thrilled at being his best girl. He told me
so. He took me for a boat ride on the lake, got a water lily for
me, and fed me all the popcorn and pink lemonade I could handle.
I had a wonderful time.
As we were riding home, with me on the handlebars, much later than
my usual bedtime, his rear tire went flat and that meant we had to walk
for miles. Part of the way was along dark road, and through deserted streets.
finally did arrive at home, the whole family was up waiting.
They were astonished that I had walked all that distance, without a single
whine or whimper. And though it was very late and I was only about
five, I had not complained of being to sleepy to walk and had never asked
to be carried. .
The next school my father taught was endowed. Part of the
funds for it came from the state, but the building, grounds and house for
the teacher's home were provided by a very wealthy old doctor as a memorial
to his only daughter. He had selected about five acres from the middle
of a huge pasture for the site.
He kept herds of cattle in that pasture and when some of them were
near our yard fence, Mama was deathly afraid and she would not go into
the yard, herself, nor let me go even though we had a good fence, of three
our four strands of barbed wire. She was especially fearful if some
of those big red bulls began pawing the dust nearby.
The schoolyard was also fenced and there was plenty of play ground.
Since the doctor was quite an advanced thinker for his day and time, he
had provided space for the children to learn how to plant a garden, set
out a few fruit trees, and make flower beds and hot beds.
The main building was a large, white, frame structure, with two
long rooms separated by a sliding partition so that they could be thrown
together to provide for a community center. A narrow stage to provide
for school programs ran along one end, and there was a smaller single room
for primer classes and the first and second grades. This building
was about the size of the many one-room schools that dotted the rest of
Our house was just across the road from the school and it was constructed
on the same pattern of all the better farm homes in that section. It had
a hall straight back from the front porch to the kitchen, with a large
room on each side and a stair going up from near the single center door.
The upstairs plan was identical. There were no closets, no built-ins,
not even a back porch. The dug well was about thirty feet from the
kitchen door and that in itself was considered a great convenience, as
the wife on many of the farmsteads in that area sometimes had to carry
water several hundred feet. Our well was about thirty feet deep and
all the water used we pulled up with rope and pulley. Every home
had a brassbound cedar bucket set on a wash shelf near the kitchen door
with a big tin basin and roller towel handy.
We lived at this place several years and everything I learned about
the people in the community interested me. Some were rugged individuals.
There was old Doctor Sheperd, who had provided this school for children
from his tenant families, and many more besides. The greater number
of pupils walked to school, sometimes several miles. Others rode
horseback, and one family sent their kids in an old buggy.
When I was about six, Dr. Sheperd vaccinated me for small pox and
I remember that he asked Mama to be sure to save the scab when it fell
from my arm. He provided a small box filled with sterile cotton for
her to put it in and he used that scab for many of his patients who needed
the vaccination but could not afford to pay for serum. He said I
was such a healthy little animal that my scab would do for several hundred
inoculations. Nowadays, medical procedure like that is beyond the
imagination of modern practitioners. I suppose many of the younger
have never come in contact with a case of smallpox, and they certainly
can have little idea of how terrible that dreadful pestilence used to be.
I have since seen several cases and I know.
Dr. Sheperd was a fine man and I admired him greatly but I doubt
if he knew much about medicine. He had a fairly good library and
did considerable reading but I never knew that he attended any medical
seminars or such.
But his team and buggy were familiar over all the roads round about.
He carried a small black pillbox and from it dispensed calomel and quinine
as needed. And that was about all, except for a pair of forceps,
a needle and
gut strings, and his thermometer. Undoubtedly, his greatest
value to the community was the comfort and sympathy he gave his patients
along with his pills. They trusted his wisdom, his knowledge of human
nature and went to
him for advice on many family problems other than health.
After we had been living on Dr. Sheperd's place for about a year,
Mama and Papa received an invitation to a wedding. Mr. and Mrs. Kane
were giving their daughter a church wedding, and Mama was asked to take
charge of the affair. Lorena and I were to be flower girls again.
This was to be the first church wedding I ever attended. Since we
were about twenty miles from the nearest florist, Mama and some of the
neighbors gathered bushels of honey -suckle vines to decorate the little
chapel. I have no idea how many white tissue paper flowers they made.
Over the altar, they made and hung a white bell and the church looked lovely.
After all that elaborate preparation, the poor groom was so flustered
that he forgot to pick up the bride's bouquet at the railroad station.
Mama sacrificed all the cosmos in her flowerbed, tied them with a satin
bow, and that made a pretty, ferny armful for the bride to carry. That
summer, Papa went to Wyoming to work but I don't know whether it was harvesting
or ranching, or what. He thought it would be good for his health
for him to change climate and work in the open for a few months.
That left Mama alone with two very small daughters and the nearest
neighbor about half a mile away. Uncle Buddy thought she would be
much safer if she had a gun for protection so he brought her a nice .32
Smith and Wesson
pistol. It was a good one and Mama was so proud of it.
She took it out in the back yard, set up a mark and began a bit of practice.
She was already an excellent shot with a rifle or a shotgun but had never
tried her hand with a pistol.
Our nearest neighbor was a rather odd person who went by the name
of "Whispering Jack!" When he plowed his fields, he did it by the
sound of his voice and if the wind was right neighbors in the next county
We could almost set our clock by the time when he called his daughter
Jane to fetch in the milk cows for the evening milking. He had been
a cowboy before he settled down to raise his family, and he had been on
many of the
early cattle drives. He took great pride in his ability as
a rifle and pistol shot. So when he heard Mama shooting, he came
up to see.
He challenged her and they agreed to a match, using a small knothole
in the end of a barrel for a mark. Jack was amazed when Mama out-shot
him badly. He liked Mama and told everybody around how good she was.
I had seen her shoot the head off a fryer when unexpected company might
drop in for dinner but that was with a twenty-two rifle. This was
her first try with her new pistol.
I begged to try the pistol, too, after Mama and Mr. Lynch finished
their match. I was so small that I had to hold the pistol in both
hands to aim it and it took all the strength of both index fingers to pull
But even so, I almost hit that knothole they had used for
their mark. Mama was pleased and promised that when I was older she would
teach me to shoot, too, but she also gave me a little instruction on how
dangerous guns were and told me never to touch her gun unless she gave
me permission. During Papa's absence, that gun was laid on a chair at the
head of her bed every night in easy reach if she should ever need it.
By day, it was equally available in the top bureau drawer. Yet, I
knew I must not touch it. And as Sister grew older she was taught
in the same way. There it
was, in easy reach any time but so far as I know neither of us ever
disobeyed in that respect. I do not know if such instruction would
be as effective today with all the 'bang-bang' shows on TV but I've always
thought that the great danger in such weapons is not in the gun, but in
the lack of proper training.
Summer that year was unusually hot and dry. Many wells failed
and ours was so low we wondered if it would hold out. Mama's garden
parched, and her flowers all dried up. Sister became listless and
hardly ate. Mama worried
for fear she would get seriously sick. At last, Mama decided
she had had enough of the loneliness and heat. She would go to visit
her parents. It was a long hard trip for a woman traveling alone
with two small children. It meant about ten or twelve hours by horse and
buggy. But she made plans to set out.
Jane Lynch agreed to feed and water the chickens, the cow was put
in their pasture with their milk stock. Mama washed and ironed all
our clothes and packed them in her valise. She prepared a box of
lunch, stowed a quilt and
pillow in the back of the buggy, hitched Sam up to the buggy, and
we were ready to travel as soon as the searing afternoon heat began to
During the heat wave, the blazing sun had been so hot Mama feared
it would make us all sick if we drove in the heat of the day. She
was also afraid of the dark when out alone on the road. But, she
chose darkness as the lesser of the two evils. She knew just about
how long it would take to travel that distance with any luck at all.
But the last thing she put into that buggy was her pistol - just in case.
What made her most uneasy was the new Frisco railway line in process
of construction south from the Indian Territory. Mama had no exact
knowledge of the distance between the road that she must take and the construction
camps along the railway. She had been hearing some tall tales
about the behavior of some of those rough men working as laborers in some
of the crews. If she should happen to meet up with stragglers from
she meant to protect herself if she had to.
Just before dark, Mama stopped at a farmhouse to ask for water.
She drew a bucket of water for Sam and filled a jar with water for us in
case we asked for a drink during the night. We ate our fried chicken,
potato salad, buttered bread and cookies with the fresh cool water.
Before we drove on, Mama spread the quilt and pillow to make as comfortable
a bed for Sister in the bottom of the buggy as she could. She knew
Sister would soon be sleepy but she hoped I would stay awake to keep her
company. She told me she needed me to keep her awake. During
the long night, she told me wonderful stories, and we both sang all the
songs we knew.
Fortunately, there were no other travelers on the road that night
after dark. Though it was not really very dark after the moon came
up. Once, as we were trotting along, Sam suddenly shied. He
jumped nearly across the road. Some large animal, what it was we
could not tell, bounded out of some bushes along the fencerow. We
did not know if it was a dog or wolf. It made no sound. It leaped
easily over a high fence and disappeared.
Mama had been over this stretch of road and knew there was no farmhouse
nearby. She believed it must have been a wolf. Some coyotes
were known to be in that section, but this beast was much too large and
coyotes are not
so bold. Occasionally lobos drifted into that area and Mama
thought we had seen one and surprised him as much as he surprised us.
She was more startled that frightened for she had her pistol at her side,
and I was confident she would have shot it if it had turned towards us.
Day was just breaking when we reached Grandpa's house. After
fixing us a bite to eat, Grandmother put both Mama and me to bed.
We were both worn out. Sister had slept so well she was fresh and
Sister and I found it very pleasant to visit here. There was
lots of room for us to play, and shady oaks for coolness. Grandpa
had a good rope swing in one of them. Back home, in the middle of
that pasture, there were no shade trees in sight. In our yard, there
was one small scrubby cedar set near the front porch.
Best of all, there were other children near that we could play with.
And across the street an old lady had a bright green parrot, which we enjoyed.
Her cage was usually hung on the wide verandah. Polly amused
us when she whistled up a pack of dogs. She called and whistled until
there might be about a dozen dogs on the lawn. She knew each boy's
special whistle and
could imitate it perfectly. The dogs ran around bewildered,
each trying to find his master. Then she would scream "Git out!
Go home, you curs!" And the poor deluded pups would slink off, knowing
they had been fooled again.
We never could understand how Polly could repeat that performance
so often without those dogs catching on to the trick, but it never failed
to amuse us.
While at Grandpa's we learned to watch for the tamale man.
A Mexican with a small pushcart came by each afternoon selling "Hot tamales!"
He was regular as ice cream vendors are now.
But Mama and Grandmother thought the highly spiced tamales
were not good for children and rarely let us buy.
The Mexican had used considerable ingenuity in making his little
pushcart. He set a big lard can in the box rigged up on two discarded bicycle
wheels. The big lard can was packed all around with newspapers and partly
filled with hot water. A smaller can filled with the tamales was
set in the hot water and had a tightly fitting lid placed over that.
The tamales came out steaming when he forked them out on the plate we brought
when we were allowed to buy them.
Though she could not have known, Grandmother's colored girl told
us that those tamales were made from dog meat and that all Mexicans were
dirty. I knew it wasn't true for Uncle Mat had taken me for a ride
once and we had
passed this Mexican's house. There was no other Mexican family
in the vicinity and while the place was shabby and run-down, it was clean.
Ella May just did not like Gonzales but if we bought his tamales, I noticed
she did not refuse to eat some of our purchases.
Ella May did not like the quaint old Chinaman who passed almost
every afternoon, either. He was strange, she said, and ate rats.
He was always dressed the same, long black shirt and no other man wore
the tail out at that time. His black cotton pants were short enough
that his white socks showed. The only change in his appearance was
in his headgear. Sometimes, he wore a tiny black pillbox cap with
his long gray queue dangling down behind, but if he wore his odd straw
hat, he coiled his queue out of sight.
A few small boys sometimes followed him chanting in a nasal
singsong, "Ching-ching-Chinaman, eats dead rats!" But he always ignored
them, walking along in quiet dignity. These two were the only foreigners
I knew as a child. That they were different I understood. But
both Grandmother and Mama always pointed out that a lady worthy of the
name should treat every person with courtesy. Nice manners were the mark
of a lady, and that theme was drilled into me most thoroughly from infancy.
Courtesy and consideration! The two most important words of all.
Grandpa Weems served in the Confederate Army and was captured at
the fall of Vicksburg. As I remember his comment on that, the soldiers
he was with were heavily outnumbered and when they started to retreat,
found a regiment of blacks behind them so they turned and ran back to surrender
to the whites.
He was imprisoned on an island, Number 10, and many of the guard
were black and the prisoners were so starved that some caught and ate rats.
The Yanks stripped most of the state of food and even before capture he
said much of
the time all he had to eat was ears of corn right from fields as
After he was freed, Grandpa went back home, but Reconstruction times
in Mississippi were bad. The whole section where he had lived was in ruins,
no money, no supplies, no horses or mules to work the land or even seeds
plant it, impossible taxes, debts, etc. Indescribable.
On some of the land the freed slaves stayed and they and both my grandfathers
tried to get along. Since all white men were disenfranchised, only
carpetbaggers and ignorant blacks were running the government, and much
of the land had been confiscated, it was time to move to Texas.
I remember one of them said that if war could have been postponed
for as few as ten years it never would have happened, both because of the
economic conditions and because of the invention of the cotton gin.
grandfather said he had to work so hard to make his farm pay even
before the war that he was not sure if he owned the place and the slaves
or if they owned him.
Then they heard of cheap virgin land in Texas. So they went
in 1870. It was raw virgin land and it meant long hard labor so as
soon as a log house was livable they sent for their families. I do
not how Grandmother Lanham went to Texas but I assume she went by boat
with her two small sons and essential household goods to Galveston, then
by freight wagons to Sherman.
I know that Grandmother Weems made the trip by boat down the Mississippi
River and across the gulf where Grandpa met her and his family.
Grandmother Weems' maiden name was Martha Catherine Red. A
cousin of mine, Inez Bosewell Biggerstaff traced her line to Josiah McGaw,
a soldier in the Revolutionary War who fought with the Swamp Fox, Francis
Marion's men in the army near Charleston, South Carolina. At one
time, her people were quite well to do and lived on a large plantation,
but both her parents died of malaria when she was about seven. He
uncle, Dr. Red, raised her along
with his own three daughters. They had a French governess
and she was given the customary education for gentle -women of that period.
She was taught some French, a little music, polite social manners and beautiful
convent type sewing, nothing very practical for a pioneer's wife.
Grandmother's handwork was exquisite and she always that the ability
to "sew a fine seam" was the mark of true gentility.But the war had wiped
out her family fortune, and it was a long-standing joke that Grandpa had
teach her how to cook when they went to Texas. To her credit, she
did adapt to the rigors of pioneering, but without losing
her polite social ideas of being a LADY. And one of her common
admonitions when I was a child was "Remember, my dear, you should always
behave like a lady" - or "A little lady would never do that!"
When she spoke of the times she remembered back in Mississippi,
she often mentioned incidents when she was teaching the young slaves.
Uncle Red had built a small church on his plantation and Grandmother called
children in to learn to read, write and figure each morning.
The house servants were well trained. In fact, if Mammy Lou
had not been devoted, my premature mother, who weighed in at three pounds
fully dressed in those two long flannel petticoats, wool undershirt, etc.
would not have lived. She was put to bed in a large roasting pan on the
let-down door of the first big iron cook stove in the county. And
Mammy Lou faithfully kept the wood fire at the proper temperature for days
- so Mama was incubated before incubators were invented. Grandmother
had five children but Mama was the last, and the only girl. Grandmama,
Kittie Weems, wrote the following letter to her sister-in-law after her
brother George Red died.
Sherman, Texas Dec. 6th, 1880
My Dear Mattie
I expect you are looking for a reply to your last letter so I will
write a few lines tonight if my eyes do not fail me. I have
been so busy
and it has been so cold and wet that I thought I would wait until
through with my work before writing. I have quilted five comforts
winter and am almost through with my winter sewing. We are
all very well
at present. My health has been better for the last few months.
Mattie I know that you will be very much surprised when I tell you
will move next Monday to the Poor Farm. Jimmie is appointed
of the farm. They pay him four hundred and sixty ($460)
dollars and feed
the family. We will have a very nice and comfortable home
to live in.
Jimmie will not have to work. The boys can go to school all
year. This is
why I consented to go. I do not like the idea of going at
Jimmie thinks it best-I will try it this year. I will not
have any thing
to do in the affairs there.
Jimmie is trying to get through with his corn this week will make
thirteen hundred (1300) bushels, he has not finished his cotton
have had a month of bad weather. This is why Jimmie is not
his crop. We had rented this place for another year.
Are you through with
your crop, how many bales of cotton did you make. I hope you
good price. I am glad that you have nice hogs to kill.
Will you keep the
young man that you now have another year. Tell Herman Aunty
thinks he is a
very smart boy to pick so much cotton. He must be a good boy
and take the
place of his Papa as near as he can, Mattie. You must-try
and cheer up.
Think of your dear little ones, it is hard to become reconciled
to the loss
of our dear ones. When I think of my dear brother as he was
when here and
then think that I can never see or hear him again oh my heart almost
breaks. But Mattie we all have to die soon or late let us
try and meet him
beyond the skies where there is no parting. I wish that I
Christmas with you and the children. I know it will be a sad
time for you
ALL ALONE. Poor children Papa will not be there to enjoy it
You wished to know all our ages. Pa was born Apr 27th 1817
died July 23rd
1849. Ma was born May 25th 1821 and died 1855 Nov 26 -- I
think. Bud was
born June 10th 1844. I was born May 26th 1846. Sue was
born Aug 1st 1849
and died Nov 6th 1860 -- Bud lived to be four years older than Pa.
has been a short - lived family. All gone but me, Oh Mattie
lonely I must feel. I do not expect to live much longer.
My eyes have
become exhausted and I will have to close. Kiss the children
all for Aunty
and tell them to be good children. Write soon, I am always
so glad to get
a letter from you.
Your Affectionate Sister
Mama stayed with her parents until almost time for Papa to come
back home. She wanted to be there when he arrived and she decided that
since the weather had moderated and the heat was not so severe, it would
now be best to drive back by daylight. The trip was uneventful and
while we liked to go, we found we also liked to come back to our home.
Papa came in looking so healthy and brown. He enjoyed his
outdoor work, but he was glad to be back, too. It was always a busy
time just before the opening of school. So many details, so much
correspondence, planning and
organizing various projects, he worked harder in those last two
weeks before the start of a term than any other period except the one opening
day and the closing day.
This year arrangements had been made to have a music teacher connected
with the school. Miss Grace Kane came to live with us, and one of
the front rooms was set aside for her piano pupils. Mama did not
mind cooking for
one more and she liked Miss Grace so much that she was glad to have
her in our home. Since she was a very attractive girl, naturally,
she had young men coming to see her. One in particular, I admired
so greatly that I
thought could not grow up fast enough to marry him - and of course,
I didn't but Miss Grace didn't marry him either. A frustrated romance!
My first experience with horses came about this time. Papa
liked to ride Sam and he was a very good saddle horse, though Mama always
used him in the buggy. Papa had a Mexican saddle with a horn as large
and round as a
saucer. I can remember he would swing me up behind the saddle,
put Sister in front on that wide saddlehorn, and away he would gallop across
the prairie. It was wonderful.
Once, Papa left home early in the morning to attend to some business
and he came back about the middle of the afternoon, tired and hungry.
He filled Sam's watering trough, then asked me if I wanted to ride around
while he went in to eat his dinner. Of course, I did but it
was something I had never tried before. Sam had other ideas about
that. He wanted to be fed too and started for the barn. I tugged
at his reins to turn him but he paid me no heed. I barely managed
to stop him in time to slide off before he dragged me off as he went into
his stable. But from then on, I wanted to learn to ride and I loved
Mother had been an excellent rider and she used to relate how when
I was only a few months old. She had taken me up in her lap to ride, sidesaddle,
whenever she visited any of her friends. Grandpa and Papa used to
boast that she could handle any horse they ever had. She even drove
Uncle Mat's fine racer hitched to his light training cart and this was
considered quite a feat for a woman. Crockett, a beautiful blood-bay
animal, was so high spirited as to be a bit fractious. Even so, Mama
frequently drove him down town on errands. Whenever she did, some
of Uncle Mat's sporty friends who
knew the horse would jokingly challenge her to a race but they always
found some excuse to back out of it if she accepted the bid. Sometimes,
they gave as their excuse that it would not be a fair race since Mama was
much lighter than they, which fact was true. Though their
real reason for not wanting to match a race with her was that they knew
her ability with the reins, and her skill in controlling the animal.
Besides Crockett had a reputation for speed. No young Texan would
enjoy or willing accept defeat at the hands of a woman in a trial of this
So far, I have had only a little to say about Papa. At a very
early age it was brought home to me that he was terribly disappointed that
I was a girl instead of the son he had hoped for. Most of the time,
he ignored me completely. I do remember that on rare occasions, I
have overheard him boast that I learned to read before I was four
years old. However, that feat was started on my own initiative.
Both Papa and Mama loved reading and they frequently read aloud
by turns to each other. If they buried themselves in separate books,
I was left to my own resources. Then I would get my Mother Goose
Rhymes, or a primer and
pull my little rocking chair between them, as close as possible.
If any one would listen, I could repeat any of these books from memory
but if I tried to read them, I sometimes faltered over a single word.
insisted on being told what that word was. If either parent
ignored my question, "What's this word?" I simply sat and repeated over
and over "B, d, b, d," until it become so monotonous that one of them would
finally stop reading long enough to tell me the word I wanted to know.
I cannot remember learning at all. According to school standards,
my self-education was not exactly balanced. I read well and understood
what I read. I knew many words and their meanings, but I was not
a good speller. I had little interest in numbers and had never been
taught any arithmetic, but I could count and make change.
I loved reading and by the time I was seven, when other Texas children
were just starting to school in the primer, I was reading and enjoying
the old "Youth's Companion." I read every text in reading that Papa
had in his
library and since he was frequently given complimentary copies of
sets for all the grade in school, that was quite a lot of reading for a
child who had not gone to school at all. I could and read some newspapers
but since that was before comics reached their present popularity, I found
little to interest me.
Papa did not want me to be too far advanced in school and held me
back by putting me in the second grade at the start of my schooling.
And he never would allow me to be promoted or advanced except at the end
of the year. I never understood why he deliberately held me back.
I really do not believe it is best for children to be pushed too fast,
either, but it is hardly fair to force them to work below their capacity.
The first year I started to school was the year Papa got a larger
and we moved to the county seat where he was superintendent of three
schools. This town was about twenty or more miles from where we had
previously lived and in another county. Papa rented a house just
across the street from the high school where he would have his classes,
which made it very convenient for him. There was a smaller grade
school in one corner of the big campus ant that is where I started to school.
Only the three first grades were in that building.
Our house was not large but it was very comfortable and it was set
in a fenced yard heavily sodded with Bermuda grass. Papa had a colored
man who came to keep it nicely cut and it made a wonderful place for romping
with some of the neighbors' children, and there were usually several
of them around.
The house had four huge rooms, but the room we used most was the
cozy dining room, for we loved the big, old stone fireplace, and the round
dining table served for games as well as for meals. By that time,
Sister and I could play Flinch, Old Maid and other similar games, but actual
playing cards were not permitted. Sometimes Mama and Papa had their
friends, most often other teachers, in for Flinch.
That fireplace was where we gathered on cold winter evenings.
Sometimes, we shook a wire popper over glowing coals and listened for the
snappy pops of the corn. Sometimes, we roasted apples and sweet potatoes
in the hot
ashes, and once in a while, when it was very cold, Mama hung an
iron pot of beans or stew over the fire to simmer for our supper.
On rare occasions, she even made corn pones in a heavy iron spider.
Oh, we loved that fireplace!
We lived in this place two years, and it was there that I had my
first regular schooling and I admit I was much more interested in the other
children than in my books, which were far too easy to demand my undivided
attention. Many times, I begged to carry my lunch to school because
most of the other children did and I wanted to be like the other small
girls I knew. I was sure having my lunch on the school grounds would
be a picnic and I wanted the whole noon hour for play. But Mama insisted
that I come home for my lunch and I can remember only once that she relented.
Our playground had none of the modern equipment that small folks
find as a matter of course on their playgrounds now. Never having
acrobatic bars, and such we did not miss them but improvised our
own amusements by laying heavy boards across fire-wood logs hauled into
the ard for fuel. Those were our teeter-totters. And when those
same logs had been sawed into stove lengths, we dragged and piled them
in place to build walls for our play-houses.. Maybe we appreciated
more what we had to make ourselves than little ones who are given everything
ready-made. I don't know but I think we got double the fun.
When I was promoted to the third grade, I had my first love affair.
Not an unmixed blessing! The little boy who sat behind me, dipped
my pigtails into his inkwell and whenever he wanted my attention, he yanked
But he, also, gave me presents. He shared his gingerbread
with me at recess sometimes, he gave me some of his favorite marbles to
play jacks with, and he brought me my first gift of flowers. That
was a huge arm full of lilac blossoms, and some way that happens to be
my favorite perfume, to this day.
Another gift that I received while we lived here was the first and
only gift my father ever gave me personally. It was a small child's
book of Eskimo stories. I have never understood why he happened to
bring it back to me after one of his trips, nor why he never gave me any
other present. I have always believed he rather ignored my presence because
he never overcame his disappointment that I was not the son he wanted.
Sister was his favorite and he frequently gave her little things.
Possibly, this was because she looked so much like him, partly, I think,
because she was
named for his mother, and partly, also, because she was gayer than
I and she did not draw back into a shell as I did whenever I sensed his
snubs. Shortly before we moved from this town, the whole family received
a shock that I shall never forget. Sometime very late at night we
were awakened by pounding steps on our front walk. A man's voice
was calling Papa urgently. He said he had a wired message from Papa's
father asking Papa to come immediately, that Grandpapa had shot Papa's
brother. We were horrified and could not believe what we heard.
While Papa dressed, Mama phoned to find out when the next train left.
Then Papa thought to phone the telegraph office and have the message read
to him. It was not true, of course, but what had happened was bad
enough. The message actually said that Grandpapa had killed a man,
and that Papa was to let Uncle Wiley know, and both sons were asked to
come at once.
Grandpapa owned and operated a small grocery store with a large
wagon yard in connection at the edge of town. Country people coming
in to trade frequently drove long distances, too far for their wagons to
make the round
trip in one day. They would park their rigs in Grandpapa's
enclosure, stable their teams in his sheds, and buy supplies for several
months ahead. A few men brought their wives and when they did a bed usually
was made up
in the back of their wagons for the family to sleep over night unless
they had relatives to visit. Other men came alone and these had their
choice of sleeping in their wagons or taking a bunk for 25 cents in the
If purchases in Grandpapa's store amounted to a considerable outlay,
there was no charge for these facilities.
Usually everything about the yard was quite orderly, but occasionally
some rough men would come in on a Saturday night and cause a disturbance.
On this particular Saturday night, Grandpapa was alone in the place when
a big, drunken bully came in and began cursing Grandpapa for some fancied
wrong. The abuse started at the front end of the long store.
Grandpapa tried to pacify the man but as he talked quietly to him, he was
backing away from him. A few plain chairs were set out down the center
aisle for the convenience of customers, and this man picked up one and
was menacing Grandpapa with it. He carried the chair raised high
over his head,
threatening to strike Grandpapa down. Grandpapa continued
to walk slowly backward, still trying to reason with the man. He
even appealed to the two other men who had entered the store behind this
dangerous ruffian. They
refused to have any part of it, knowing how quarrelsome drinking
made this man.
Grandpapa had backed almost the full length of the store until he
was in reach of a desk where he kept his books and accounts, with
the man still
following and becoming more abusive. When he reached the desk,
Grandpapa pulled open a drawer where he kept his pistol. By this
time the man was so close, he could reach Grandpapa with a heavy blow from
"Put that chair down!" Grandpapa ordered crisply, as he brought
the pistol into plain view at his side.
The man swore foully as he lunged forward to bring the chair down
with all his strength. Grandpapa sidestepped and shot from the hip.
Grandpapa was a quiet, mild-mannered, little man with wavy gray
hair and a neatly trimmed beard and he looked very much as many another
Confederate veteran of those times did. He must have been in his
middle sixties at the time. It still seemed strange to any one who knew
him that even a drunken man could be so foolish, to try to intimidate one
of General Lee's officers, especially one who had served four years with
his staff and was still with Lee at Appomattox.
There was no formal trial after this killing. Grandpapa, with
his two sons, reported to the sheriff the next morning, and answered a
few questions. The man who was killed was notoriously quarrelsome
and dangerous especially when drinking and even his companions under oath
stated that Grandpapa had ample justification. Though the
wild Saturday nights in some Texas towns were less frequent than they had
been previously and the custom of shooting a town up never had the prevalence
and TV programs would have you believe, there were plenty of times
when such violent incidents did occur. All the wildness was not yet
Shortly after that, Papa moved us to Prosper, another Texas town.
I was then in the fourth grade and far more advanced than some of the adolescent
boys in my classes, several of whom were grown in size. A few of
so unruly the school board thought it wise to employ a man teacher.
The grade school teacher was a character I associated in my mind with Ichabod
Crane and there certainly were strong physical similarities. Mr.
almost bald, tall and angular and he was fired with a great determination
to drill mental arithmetic into our heads. An excellent idea, perhaps,
but then, some heads are virtually impenetrable, meaning some of those
boys. They were slow in books but not necessarily dumb for
many of them were already qualified to take a man's place at round-up time
Math was not my strongest subject, but I could figure much more
rapidly than these over-grown boys. In return for a whispered answer,
I was kept well supplied with apples, candy and chewing gum, sometimes
Gum and Sen-Sen were contraband but my Geography was large enough
to provide me with an adequate screen. And if the strong scent of
the Sen-Sen gave me away, I could always say in all innocence that I had
been given some at recess.
Come Spring, and these older boys and girls began to moon around
and to make lovesick calf eyes at one another. It was so obvious
that love-love-love had struck his older pupils that even Mr. Dean recognized
and decided his best course of action would be to shuffle the seats.
These young Romeos were much too shy to stand around corners and waylay
the girls of their fancies so they resorted to note writing, an activity
that was strictly against Mr. Dean's rules of conduct.
Mr. Dean's schoolroom was long and the double desks were arranged
facing the front with a long aisle between them and since they were expected
to need more help with their lessons, the smaller children sat in smaller
desks closer to the front where teacher's desk was placed. At the
back of the room the desks were large enough to accommodate grown-ups and
that is where these older pupils were seated with the girls on one side
ant the boys on the other. The aisle was too wide between the two
rows of desks to make it safe to pass notes between them for Mr. Dean's
desk was placed exactly in the middle where he would have the best opportunity
to see and intercept anything passed between. The water bucket was
near the door just back of Mr. Dean's desk and we were permitted to get
a drink at any time during the day provided there was no other pupil getting
a drink at the same time.