Mrs. Butts, the Post Office, and Spelling Bees

My third grade school picture. Mom had put a perm in my hair.

I was in Mrs. Butts’s third grade class at J.E. Rhodes Elementary in Van, Texas. Mrs. Butts was a tall and beautiful lady who always had a smile ready. The main thing I remember about her class is the make-believe post office she had at the back of her classroom. Or was that in Mrs. Russell’s second grade classroom?

That’s me in the second row from the front, second from the back in the white sweater and home-cut bangs!

The post office was a child-sized building likely made of cardboard, with a counter and mail slots, and we each got turns playing postmaster. I couldn’t wait to finish my work so I could check my mail. If I recall correctly, our valentines were delivered through the classroom post office that year. With all the playhouses and bounce houses and Crayola towns and museum towns these days, a makeshift post office in the classroom might not be as exciting as it was to me in 1968. I wish I could find a photo online of one but my search found nothing similar.

Another thing I remember about Mrs. Butts’s class was the spelling bee she held occasionally. We would compete with the other third grade classes. I remember Mrs. Ice’s class coming in to our room once, and I’m sure we went to other classrooms as well. I loved spelling contests, as we called them, because I have always been a good speller.

We would line up on either sides of the room and the teacher would call out a spelling word. The first one in line would attempt to spell it, and if she missed, she would have to sit down and the word would go to the other team. I always felt sorry for the first person to have to sit down. It was usually a “dumb boy” (not my words, a friend’s!). I’m not sure I ever won a contest, because I usually missed a letter or two, but I made a lot of 100’s on spelling tests.

Third grade was a happy year, as I recall. What about you? How was your third grade?



Another Move

In 1965 (or maybe late 1964) we moved to the James house on the west side of the small town of Van.  The old rental was basically a four-room house with the later addition of a bathroom and a closet converted into a tiny bedroom.   There were no hallways in the house, and the large central room between the living room and kitchen served as a bedroom for us three kids.  Much to my mother’s delight an old upright piano had been left in that room as well, so she got to indulge in her love of music.  The kitchen, where we would gather at lunchtime—or dinnertime, as we Southerners called the midday meal–with our daddy who came home from work for a hot meal, sat at the back of the kitchen.

Me on the left with my baby sister Sharon and brother Allen in front of the James house.

My brother and I entertained ourselves indoors and out with his metal pedal car, his plastic green army men, my baby dolls, and the neighbor’s kids.  The Hough family lived in a house on the other side of a wooded thicket of chinaberry trees next to our house, where a trail had been worn between the houses before we moved there.  There were several kids of multiple ages who lived there, but my most vivid memory is of a turtle they had, that they tried to convince us was going to be put in turtle soup for everyone to eat.  I feared them more than liked them because they seemed rough and a little out-of-control for my sheltered taste.

Me and Sharon hanging on the swing set in the side yard.

One of my favorite things about living there was what happened when we had lots of rain.  The dirt driveway in front of the house would fill with massive mud puddles—or at least they seemed massive to us, enticing us to wade and play in them as if we had just been granted our own private swimming hole.  Of course, Mama didn’t like it and we were in big trouble if she happened to catch us. 

Me on the donkey with neighbor teen.  Note the mud puddles in the background.

Here is where I learned to play by myself outside.  There was a large cedar tree I would climb into that hid me from everyone else, but it was so scratchy I didn’t do it very often.  Looking at the large cedar tree on our property now I can’t imagine how I did that!  There was also a thorny thicket on one side of the house that I would pretend was a house with various rooms in it, and I would wander around it making up stories as I walked.  I had to be careful not to get stuck with the thorns, though.  I dropped a little plastic clown, a Cracker Jack prize, out in the yard while playing one evening and never did find it.  I was heartbroken.

That house also had a huge exhaust fan in the back that was designed to pull air through the house during hot weather.  No air conditioning for us yet.

Next:  my public school years begin, and I survive measles.


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.

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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.