It was my first day of school back in the 1940s. And what a day it was…a day I shall never forget. One day I was a happy carefree kid running and playing up and down the sandy road in front of our house, and the next day I was snatched up by my mother and taken to a large white building with a green roof, which housed a lot of other kids who were total strangers to me. I had never seen any of them before in my entire life. They were running and jumping and yelling and some were playing with a big yellow ball…pitching it back and forth. This all seemed strange to me because I had never before been around so many kids at one time. The only kids I had played with, other than my younger brother, John and a couple of cousins, were the Gesford and Lowery kids that lived down the road from us. That day, I had officially started my education. I was in the first grade at Bald Hill School.
Bald Hill was, and is today, a rural community of scattered homes and churches located in Angelina County on FM 326 about eight miles southeast of Lufkin. We moved there from Huntington when I was very young. In the late 1930’s just about everyone living there was a farmer or was in some way work-related to the farming industry.
When my mother dropped me off that first day of school, she told me she was going to Corbet Jordan’s store and would bring me something when she came back by the school. Corbet Jordan’s store was about half way between Bald Hill and Highway 69 that runs from Beaumont through Lufkin.
Since my mother knew we couldn’t have candy or chewing gum, she brought me a big red balloon tied to the end of a stick. It was the biggest balloon I had ever seen. Some of the other kids were playing with balloons, but mine was the biggest of them all. I was so proud.
There I was…running and playing and having a good time at recess when one of the older children on the playground came up to me and asked if I would like to see something really funny. I told him I would, and to my surprise, he stuck his pocketknife into my beautiful balloon. Yes, we could carry knives to school back in those days. To me, that was the worst thing that had ever happened to me in my young life. After all, I was only six years old
As it turned out, that was not the worst thing that would happen to me at Bald Hill School. Later on that week, I was drinking water from the outside water fountain, which was no more than a faucet installed upside down on a tin cistern that caught rainwater from the roof, when the same boy that broke my balloon, shoved my mouth down on the fountain and badly cut my lip. I bled for what seemed like hours. I had never known anyone to be that mean. That kind of behavior was new to me. I was a pretty naive kid, I suppose. I had some disagreements with other kids that I played with, but nothing like that.
One thing that stands out in my memories of those early schooldays is our study of music. Well, you couldn’t really call it music. It was just four or five little kids banging a couple of drumsticks together while the teacher played a record on a small wind-up phonograph. One of the kids, whom I suppose was more musically inclined, was given a toy drum to beat on with his sticks. Can you imagine what that must have sounded like?
Our first stab at learning history in the first grade was when we studied about the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving. This was totally alien to me. It was just a lot of people wearing funny clothes. They wore a belt with a big buckle, but they wore it on their hat. This all appeared weird to me, but I went along with it and asked no questions. After all, I still hadn’t figured out what I was doing there in the first place, unless it was as I had thought on the first day of school, that I was being punished for some terrible offense that I had committed.
I was a six year-old kid that had never seen a movie, never heard a dramatic program on the radio and of course in those days, there was no television. Can you envision what must have gone through my young mind when the teacher tried to explain Indians with feathers in their hair hunting with bows and arrows? My thinking was that it would have been a lot easier to hunt with a rifle as my father did. But what did I know? I was a backwoods country child that knew nothing of the world and its people.
By the end of the school term, I had learned quite lot about Pilgrims, Indians and life outside the confines of Bald Hill. There was even a picture of an Indian on the front cover of my Big Chief writing tablet.
We moved back to Huntington sometime in late December of 1941. I know it was after the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7th because I remember my parents sitting on the front porch at Bald Hill talking about the bombing. I was unaware of what a bombing was, except that it was something really bad.
As the years passed, I dove head first into the ways of the world. Moving back to Huntington brought me into the mainstream of life in East Texas. Gone was that naiveté of yesteryear. Gone was the freshness that was mine back in 1940.
As I entered my teen years, the world had changed and I had changed with it. The innocence had started to fade. I had discovered music, cars, girls and a longing to see what was over the next hill. I gazed in awe upon each new day, knowing that some new adventure would likely befall me.