Meeting Mr. Darragh

It was 1966 when I entered second grade. I was tasked with keeping up with my brother Allen on the school bus, making sure he was on it in the afternoon and that he got off the bus in the morning once we arrived at school. He and I were often mistaken for twins, but he is fourteen months younger than I am, so he was in the first grade.

Wasn’t I a dumpling?

My teacher that year was Mrs. Russell, and I fast became one of her favorites. Or at least I thought I was. Maybe every one of her students had the same thought. She chose me to help her make bulletin board pictures, placed me in reading group one (bluebirds, or something of that sort–everyone knew we were the smartest), and sometimes kept me in the room during the last recess to be her helper.

One day as I was working at my desk, a tall slender man with black-rimmed glasses came into the classroom with Principal Moore. Mr. Moore was getting up in years with plans to retire. The man who had come in with him would be our new principal the next school year.

Mr. Darragh spoke to Mrs. Russell and then knelt down by my desk. What was he doing? I’m sure my face turned red, being singled out like that.

“What’s your name, young lady?” he asked, and after I told him, he told me what a pretty little girl I was and what a beautiful name I had. From that point on, Mr. Darragh would go out of his way to talk to me and even took an interest in what I planned to do with my life later on. Once, when I was in high school and saw him in the school cafeteria, he told me he thought I would make an excellent teacher. At the time I had no intention of being a teacher, but God had different plans, and He hinted at them through Mr. Darragh’s remark.

Mr. Darragh, 1968

Second grade was a fun, innocent year of becoming a fast reader, moving to a new house, chasing and being chased by boys on the playground, and enjoying just being a kid growing up in the country. I was blissfully unaware of the Vietnam War, civil rights unrest, the shooting rampage at the University of Texas in Austin, or the marriage of Elvis Presley to Priscilla Beaulieu.

Did you have a fun second grade experience?



Walking Ten Miles in the Snow–well, not quite!

Although I didn’t have to walk to school ten miles in the snow, I grew up in a time when kids weren’t as pampered as they seem to be these days.  How so?

For one thing, I rode the bus to school every day from first grade through twelfth grade with very few exceptions. My kids didn’t have to because I was a teacher and they rode with me so they never had to experience the hot, crowded, bumpy, long ride that I suffered.  If school started at 8:00, I was picked up at 6:45.  If school got out at 3:00, I didn’t get home until almost 4:30.  There was no air conditioning and there were no safety belts. Kids of all grades mixed together and bullying wasn’t unheard of.  Thank goodness I usually had good bus drivers who kept an eye on us, and if we felt threatened we could sit close to the front near the driver.

I did get to go school clothes shopping, but I also wore hand-me-downs from cousins. The clothes my mother got me before school started had to last all year–there was no mid-year shopping. One pair of shoes served me all year unless I outgrew them.

We did get new things for Christmas, but we chose to ask for toys rather than clothing.  Imagine a kid asking for toys over clothes!

When I was in the fifth or sixth grade, patterned hosiery was popular.  I wanted some so badly. Finally my parents bought me a pair but they were thigh-high and I didn’t realize they needed garters to hold them up. I didn’t have garters, so when I wore those stockings to school I couldn’t keep them up. I remember pulling on those things the whole day long. I doubt if I ever worn them again.
I wonder if that was my mother’s intention all along? Hm . . .

We also played outside on the playground during recess unless it was raining.  No matter how cold it was, we were sent outside for twenty or thirty minutes to play. I remember standing against the building near the teachers so that the bitter north wind would be blocked. Girls were not allowed to wear pants when I was in elementary school, so our little legs froze, even with knee socks. I’m sure my coat had a hood, but it wasn’t fashionable to use it so I didn’t. 

The playground equipment consisted of huge metal swingsets with large chains holding canvas u-shaped seats. You could swing really high in those swings but you certainly did not want to walk in front of anyone on the downswing. You’d get clobbered.  We also had metal monkey bars, steel merry-go-round, steel johnny-strikes, metal horizontal ladder, and tall sheet metal slide.  All this was situated on hard dirt. No mulch or recycled rubber for us. 

I guess our survival from kid to adult was not a priority back then, but I managed, in spite of the lack of air conditioning in our schools, cars, and homes, and in spite of carrying metal lunchboxes and walking in front of school buses with big front ends.  Today’s safety measures are great: I would imagine there are far fewer emergency room visits, but then kids back in my day pretty much suffered through their injuries unless they were deemed life threatening. 

Sometimes I wish kids of today had to suffer a little more discomfort. But wait, not my grandkids. . .

Hope you’re staying safe, well, and sane. . .




Everybody in Texas seems to have a tornado story. They’ve either been in one, seen one, or know someone who has. I haven’t had the terrifying experience of actually being in a tornado, but as a kid I came close enough.

Grandpa and Grandma Irwin were visiting from central Texas, and when the weather turned bad and the wind got up, Grandpa insisted on piling everyone in the car and getting out, not realizing that being in a car is the worst place you can be in a tornado. He had been in a tornado once and he didn’t intend to repeat the experience.

Our little house in the country didn’t have a garage, so we had to brave the wind and rain to get to the car. It’s a pretty frightening thing to be six years old and barely able to walk in the wind. Fortunately I hadn’t read The Wizard of Oz yet.

Daddy drove all of us–mama, us four kids, one an infant, and Grandma and Grandpa to Tyler where we parked on the downtown square and waited for the storm to pass, two adults and two children in the front, and two adults and two children in the back. No carseats or seatbelt laws back then! When Daddy and Grandpa agreed it was safe to return, we drove home, no doubt happy to see everything still in its place.

Grandpa and Grandma Irwin

I grew up convinced that a tornado had been nearby as we ran to the car that night. My parents believed there was. This was back in the day when there was no such thing as Doppler radar or today’s sophisticated weather technology.

I’ve never been one to take tornado watches and warnings with a shrug. I have a “windowless interior room” that I retreat to with the dog, (hubby wouldn’t go in there unless he heard it coming!) and if I’m out and about I find shelter. No close personal encounters for me, no thank you.

What about you? Have you had an experience with a tornado?  Check out Keeper II: The Storm for Jolie’s terrifying encounter!



Little House by the Football Stadium

When I was about four we moved into town, which was the tiny city of Van about five miles away from where we had been out in the country.  The little old house my parents rented sat on a corner across from the local high school football stadium.  Across the street lived the Perrys and the vacant lot next door soon had a brand new brick home (with a garage!) occupied by the Monds family, whose daughter Lisa was my age.

Behind us lived a nice middle-aged lady in a mobile home which fascinated my brother and me, and once when we visited her with our mother, we got to see her fish aquarium, which was even more intriguing.  We had never seen such a thing in someone’s home before.  In fact, we had never seen a home made of metal with a tongue for pulling, either.

My brother Allen in 1963 with his metal farm truck.  The field house and high school football stadium are behind him.
Across the other street (we were on a corner), a pump jack seesawed up and down day and night pumping oil.  Van experienced an oil boom back in 1929, attracting thousands of people.   Only a couple of thousand people live in the city now, but pump jacks can still be seen doing their jobs.  With the active imaginations of young children, my brother and I pretended the pump jack near us was an angry monster.  I didn’t want to go anywhere near it.  Allen, on the other hand, always showing off for his sisters, declared he could ride it if he could get on it somehow.  I never knew if he was serious or just trying to get a rise out of his protective older sister.

We kids were fortunate that there was a sandbox, not just a sand pile, in our yard under some trees.  We spent many an hour out there, playing in the gritty sand, never telling our mother about the moist little clumps of dirt we would find, which were probably cat feces (Ew!), because the sandbox was never covered.  It’s a wonder we ever made it to adulthood.
Did you ever do anything you’d never let your kids or grandkids do now?

Stay tuned. . .next time:  JFK.





More from the big house on Willow Branch

One night my brother Allen and I woke up to a commotion in the hallway outside our bedroom door in the big house.  The light in the kitchen across the hall was on, and we could see Mama in her nightgown and Daddy in his boxer shorts and work boots. 
We must have asked Mama what was going on because she told us to stay in the bed we shared.  There was a snake in the kitchen and Daddy had to kill it.  The last thing I remember about that incident is Daddy carrying a three-foot long (or so it seems in my memory) snake out of the house.  What a hero!  He surely saved us from certain death (we didn’t know that chicken snakes are not venomous.  We didn’t even know it was a chicken snake.)!
During the day we liked to play outside on a swing set that Daddy had set up in the front yard.  The house was set off the black topped country road by a long dirt driveway probably a quarter of a mile, so they didn’t worry about us playing outside unsupervised.  It was the early 60’s and no one had even heard of child molesters or kidnappers.  Our biggest worry was avoiding wasps, snakes, and poison oak, or being caught outside without Mama during a sonic boom.
One day I must have forgotten that I didn’t need to hang upside down by my knees on the crossbar unless there was an adult present to get me down.  I hung there forever, or so it seemed, screaming my head off before Daddy came running out to rescue me.  I wonder where Allen was?  He probably left me there on purpose.  We were only two and three years old, so probably not.  Again, Daddy was my hero.
Worse than getting abandoned upside down on the swing set were the jets breaking the sound barrier.  You never knew when one would fly over, and the deafening boom it made when it flew faster than the speed of sound was enough to make you run for Mama, which we did often.  You could tell them by the double trails of smoke their engines left, but by the time you noticed them, it was too late.  It was like a giant clap of thunder, only deeper.
The big house near Van became the source of many memories.  Stay tuned. . .