by B. H. Cruce

Hood County News – September 20, 1979

We were the last barefoot generation of Neri.  Shoes were seldom worn except in the coldest weather.  A snapshot of the lower grades taken in 1923 shows all pupils barefoot except my middle sister, Vivian, who was wearing sandals.  Sandals were for protection against grassburrs and hot sand, not for foot comfort or culture.

Neri was never known for its living standards.  It was just a convenient place for living and three generations of cruces found it convenient.

Several families of Cruces, and related families, moved into the community south of Comanche Peak in the 1880’s.  Servilla Cruce was born there in 1884 and John A. Cruce, my father, was born one-half mile east of the Neri school in 1886.  I was a born a short distance north of the school in 1910.

In the decade between 1910 and 1920, forty to fifty families lived within the school district.  Half or more were kinfolk.  We always said we had aunts by nines and cousins by the dozens.

In a conversation, Papa told me he attended the same school, same building, as we, his children, attended.  The building he estimated, was built in the early 1880’s.  He attended between 1893 and 1903.  We were there for twenty more years.

The building was always a two-room school house.  I remember it being remodeled about 1920 or 1921.  The shed type rooms for coats, shoes and dinner pails were added.  The old doors in each end were boxed up.  This gave the building the appearance as it is in my 1950 photo of it.

The school building was abandoned in the 1940’s.  For another twenty years it stood empty, rejected and without repairs.  Then one night someone with matches burned it.

Once the people of Neri had deep roots.  But customs, conditions and climate changes.  For our family, changes came in 1924 when Papa took the job of managing a store in Lipan.

We only stayed there one year, but the life as we knew it at Neri was never to return.

Papa’s last teachers were his second cousin Lee Cruce and his wife, Jennie Bell Cruce.  In the late 1930’s, my eldest sister, Ruby, taught school at Neri.  A number of former pupils also returned to Neri to begin their teaching profession.  The teachers in 1923 were Miss Bertha Kincannon, a former pupil, and Miss Bessie Nash.

Hundreds of students passed through the Neri School, and I doubt that any are truly clearheaded about what they learned, dreamed or did.  I remember the oak grove around the school, the willows on the creek and squirrels in the trees.  I remember the old well, its water, the playgrounds and the outhouses.

East of the school was the Cruce farm where there were plum thickets, black haws and mustang grapes.  To the west was the Bills farm with an aging pear and apple orchard.  When our lunches were not sufficient, we boys sometimes would find a supplement nearby.

In the fields, I remember the stunted corn stalks, bumblebee cotton and blackeye peas.  Crows and coons took ten feet of the corn near the creek and the boll weevil took his toll of the cotton.

After the Lipan experience we settled in Granbury where I was graduated in may 1927.  Being only 16 years old, Papa thought I was much too young to be sent to college.  For that reason I was often at Neri and on Comanche Peak until I left Granbury in 1941.

A person takes on certain attitudes and dialects from the people, from the landscapes, smells, sounds, winds and water of his youth.  Even though I have been away from Contrary Creek, Comanche Peak and the Cruce clan many years, my judgement of today’s world is shaped by them.

Once, when I was entering Canada, I was asked, “Are you an American?”

I quickly answered, “no, I’m a Texan.”

It must have been the red clay beneath the Neri soil that tied me to Texas.  When wet it came up between the toes of our bare feet and left its stain.