Walter Thomas Lee Autobiography

School days, school days, ……

The following family biographical note was scanned from the
Hood County Genealogical Society Newsletter No. 16; Novenber 1987
Editor: Merle McNeese

Chip. Butter and White Oak is the autobiography of Walter Thomas Lee (1876-1957) in which he tells of his boyhood in Lipan, Hood County, Texas, and young manhood in Weatherford, Parker County, Texas. Walter was the ninth child of thirteen children born to his parents, Greenwood Lee (1879-1912) and Mary (Polly) Davis (1841-1928). Mr. Lee typed these memories in 1948 after he had become blind as a legacy for his family. They were re-typed for publication in 1986 by his nephew, Jean Davis Baker. Following is one short chapter of this delightful autobiography.CHAPTER VIII

School days, school days,
Good old Golden Rule Days.
–01d Song

In previous chapters, I have had quite a little, too much perhaps, to say about my pre-school attempts to become literate. I must add, however, that in the four years that elapsed between the time I began studying and my reaching the age of eight, when I was eligible for free school, I continued my studies at home. This was less due to my industry than to a desire to imitate the older children. I had two sisters and three brothers in school and at night they would all gather around the fireplace and under a single kerosene lamp, study their lessons for the morrow. Thus we represented all grades from kindergarten to what was then considered high school. Emmie and Frank were in the latter class and were permitted by my parents to hear each other’s lessons read aloud.

I was awed by the subjects they were studying. Emmie seemed to have more trouble with Arithmetic than anything else, and Frank coached her. Thus I learned the basic rules altho I had not the slightest idea as to what they meant but I can still recite some of them just as I learned them then. In a similar manner, I could rattle off some of Frank’s lessons in Psychology, naming the functions of the mind, and tell the difference between functions and attributes. I knew then exactly as much about the subject as I do now far I never got that far in school. I am sorry I can’t remember some of those big words far they were jawbreakers.

I listened while Billie and Ike went through the first reader and it should not be surprising that by the time Ike had finished McGuffey’s First Reader, I knew it by heart. Now in the mid-twentieth century, all children at six are able to do first grade work. Before I was eight, I had one month in summer school that was being taught by an itinerate teacher. I read the first reader to his entire satisfaction and could spell most of the words in Webster’s Blue-Back Speller, almost to “b-a-k-e-r” Only the very aged will remember that famous book and will understand how far advanced I was in spelling. Old timers in my young days called that word pons asinorum, saying that any dunce could get to “baker” but one had to be a genius to spell the words from there on. Well, I never got beyond that word. The teacher evidently did not know that I could have read the first reader as well with my eyes shut for he gave me some sort of certificate that showed I could go into the second reader when I was old enough far free school.

At long last, October 711 1804 rolled around and I was now eligible to start to school in earnest. I don’t believe I had to wait more than a day or two to start for school was to begin on or about November 1. My father had recently been elected Justice of the Peace and we had moved to a house in the village of Lipan, not more than two hundred yards from the “college”, as we kids called it. It was easy, therefore, for Billie, Ike, and me to be the first of the pupils to arrive.

My first day at school was a memorable occasion, not only in my young life but to everyone in the community. The day was spent in dedicatory ceremonies for the new school house. All spring, summer, and part of fall, carpenters had labored to get the building completed and have the gleaming white paint thoroughly dry for the opening. The entire community turned out for the dedication of what they proudly proclaimed, “The finest country schoolhouse in Texas” and I still believe the boast was fully justified. It was a frame structure, two stories tall, shaped like the letter “L” It was intended eventually to have six large rooms and would easily accommodate two or three hundred pupils, several times the number of enrollments at the time.

The building was equipped with the best seats I have ever seen in any school, even into this late day. In normal use, they looked very much like the desks in use today but they could be folded up to permit easy seating and dismissing the pupils. This feature would have been very valuable if the rooms had to be evacuated in case of fire, and lest I forget to mention it later on I will say that as long as I attended school there, we had regular fire drills, something I never had in any school I attended.

That first day there was an enrollment of about fifty pupils. There were two teachers, a man who probably had the title of principal, and a young woman assistant, both of more than the education of country school teachers. The principal, whom we called Professor Pearcy, devoted his entire :life to that school. I was less impressed with his scholastic ability than his handsome, commanding appearance. I have been trying ever since to decide whether to say he was black or white haired. One side was black as coal and the other half white as snow. We soon learned he was sensitive about it and I never heard it mentioned in his presence.

I will digress here for a moment to say that I visited him not so many years ago and found that both sides of his were white and I am sure he was happy in his very old age because he was no longer a freak.

When the bell rang for “books” that morning I proudly presented the note which the summer school teacher had given me, which they called a “stificate.” The young lady teacher, whose name I have tried in vain to recall. She examined it a moment and then assigned me to a seat with half a dozen other children whom she called second graders. I had never heard that word used for any other purpose than to pronounce something as inferior to the best and I hastened to assure her I was to be in the second reader.

I have a vivid recollection of that first day in a real school. My complete happiness was marred to some extent by an incident that I was never able to live down so long as the family remained together. School had settled down into solemn session when I saw a wasp, somewhat numbed by the cool morning air of autumn, trying to fly out through a window pane. I grabbed my hat and, shouting “kill that wasp!” I threw the hat at the insect. There was subdued giggle in the large room, some daring guffaws from the older pupils, and I received a personalized lecture on school decorum but took considerable pride in the fact that I had killed the wasp and probably saved someone from being stung severely. Each Friday evening (Texas dialect for afternoon) we had “recitations” and I was finally coaxed one afternoon to recite a poem, probably from the first reader, for I do not know a time when I could not recite it. I am going to write it here and if I fail, it will be due to faulty typing rather than poor memory for I have just repeated it mentally. Twinkle, twinkle, little star………

There are but two things that I know positively that I learned during that first year at the college. The first was that one cannot draw a square with two diagonals without lifting the pencil or retracing a line. The other was the rudiments of baseball. John Morris gave me that problem in geometry and to be more correct, I did not learn that it could not be done until I had worked on it for ten years. John died before I ever got to tell him it was impossible.

The first six weeks of school were delightful with but one sour note. I got a whipping because I was accused of swearing. It was the most flagrant miscarriage of justice in my whole life for I was entirely innocent. I had been taught that swearing was a deadly sin and never to this day have I uttered a profane oath. The whipping, the only one I ever got at school, was administered by Prof. Pearcy and I could never wax enthusiastic about him as did my older brothers who thought he was the fount of all wisdom and justice.

One Friday afternoon, about the middle of December, a very cold norther greeted me as I ran home. That night the thermometer, if there had been one in the village, would have registered zero or close to it. ‘The next morning our duck pond was a glimmering sheet of ice and we kids were having a lot of fun “skating” on its mirror-like surface. This was the only duck pond in the village and very soon we had every kid in town sliding over the ice with us. Everything was lovely until I got on a thin place in the ice and broke through. The water was only about two feet deep but I was wet all over. I tried to continue skating but soon gave it up. My mother gave me some dry clothing and put me to bed. The cold that followed ran into pneumonia and for a few days I was a very sick little boy.

I was getting along so well that I had my mother’s permission to get up when the sun came out to melt the snow but that very afternoon there was a flare-up of the blizzard and it began snowing again. Late that afternoon two sheepherders arrived with a flock of two or three hundred sheep they were driving to market and asked permission to put them in our corral for the night. We were still cattlemen and shared in the prevailing hatred of sheep men but my parents were too broadminded to turn away even a sheep man on a night like this. I wanted to get up and see the sight but was forbidden.

It was still snowing the next morning and I asked to be allowed to get up and see the sheep as they left the corral but it was denied, not very flatly I thought, and when all the family went out to watch the exodus, I got up, went to the door, opened it about six inches and stood there shivering in the cold blast of winter air. When the last lamb had passed through the gate I ran back and jumped into bed. By noon that day I passed out with a high fever

The last view I had of the world, it was covered with snow but the next time I saw it, the trees were in full leaf. You may gather from that what a close call I had as a result of my disobedience.

I have no idea how long I was out of school but I insisted on going back to school as soon as I was able to be up. In spite of the short distance I had to walk, I was about all in when I arrived at the school house. There were three high steps leading up to the front door and I found to my dismay that I could not climb them. Several pupils passed me without paying any attention to my feeble efforts to negotiate the high steps. Finally Reecy Doss came along, put her hands under my arms, and helped me into the room. I think I must have fallen in love with Reecy although she was a year or two older than I was. I well remember that two or three years later I learned of her death from a bad case of pneumonia. If that girl had lived about forty years longer she would have had the unique pleasure of seeing her niece married to a real royal prince. If neither Hitler nor the Fascists have destroyed her adopted country, she may still be the only American girl to sit on a royal throne. she became the wife of the Prince of Lichtenstein, a little principality between Austria and Switzerland.

Frank graduated that year and at the closing ceremonies he was the star of the “exhibition” that was held in a big room on the second floor of the new building. The Metropolitan Grand Opera could not thrill me half so much as I was that night.

The years 1884 and 1885 were disastrous to small farmers and stock raisers in Hood county where we lived. The winters and springs were beautiful but by the end of each May there was no rain. Grass and most crops burned to a crisp before they were matured. Streams dried up and cattle died from want of water. My father saw his dream of being a cattle baron vanishing into the air. His little bunch of breeding stock had already been depleted by thieves and the rest died. The only thing he was able to salvage was the hides which he-sold for a dollar each. If it had not been for the small income from the fees my father collected as Justice of the Peace, plus some help from my two oldest brothers, we would have been in a bad plight. My eldest brother, John, was punching cattle in the far western part of the state and sent money home. Frank, because of the beautiful documents he had written in my father’s reports, had pleased the county clerk so well that the seventeen year old boy was made assistant county clerk and he too was able to contribute helpfully. The heartaches of my father and mother would have been unbearable if they had not been inured to hardships all their lives and become experts in making ends meet, no matter how frayed were those ends. Even so, that crisis was responsible for the only skeleton we ever had in our closet, about which I shall have more to say in the next chapter.”

Mr. Dean D. Baker gave his permission to copy this material.