Tidbits of Shelby County History
Arney and Dock, Part 2

This week’s article is a continuation of the story by Arney Strickland of his early school days at Paxton school.

In the fall of 1939, Dock and I entered the fifth grade with Miss Grace Johnson as our main teacher. We also had geography from Mrs. Bryan, I believe, and had to go to her classroom for that lesson. Somehow, I had not learned before that year that the earth is round; therefore, I was a bit skeptical when we learned that. Maybe we’d learned it earlier, but the information had not stuck with me. Also, Mr. Pew (not sure of the spelling) taught us arithmetic. I had to miss two weeks of school because I fell and broke my collar bone and was laid up for several days. During that time, the class began learning fractions, not just adding and subtracting but also multiplying and dividing. Somehow Mr. Pew didn’t realize I didn’t know what was going on in arithmetic, for when I wouldn’t understand how to work a problem, he would quickly show me how to do it and go on about his business. I was sure I had gone as far as possible in school, and I would have to drop out.

But during the year I learned Dock and I had learned more than most of our classmates. Miss Johnson gave final examinations at the end of the ear, but she exempted the best students from the finals and were allowed to leave the classroom for the day. We went to Dock’s home, just next door to the school, where Mrs. Watson fed us a great lunch and we played until I had to return to catch the bus to go home.

At the end of our fifth grade, it was announced that Edgefield Common School District would build a new school building for us. Somehow, the WPA, a government program, was to build it. The WPA provided jobs for unemployed people, which was the case of most of the parents of the children who attended Paxton School. It was arranged the district would do some work on an old building just east of “downtown” Paxton (which was referred to as the orphan’s home, a use that was never realized). So, after some workwas done on the building, we attended that school for the next two years, for our 6th and 7th grades. But Texas went to a twelve-grade public school requirement when we were supposed to begin the 7th grade; therefore, we were placed in the 8th grade, the last year of grammar school and never were classed as 7th graders.

We were fortunate enough to have Miss Johnson as our main teacher in the 6th grade. To pick up on my failing to learn fractions during the fifth grade, after Miss Johnson reviewed fractions with us it was clear to me, and I caught up with the class.

In this year, Paxton School qualified for the Federal Hot Lunch Program, which surely was aimed at schools where most of the students were from poor families. I don’t know how it was handled, but my siblings and I had to pay only 10 cents a week for five hot lunches. We could pay cash, or we could pay with various farm products: eggs, milk, vegetables, etc. All the students would line up and pass into our big assembly room, where we would find a plate of nourishing food for each student and the teachers. This was before public schools were careful about mixing religion and school. One student each day was designated to say the blessing before everyone sat down to eat. When everyone had finished, we would pass out of the assembly room for a period of recess before the afternoon classes resumed.

Just before Christmas vacation of 1940, Miss Johnson took all of us to the assembly room and taught us “Joy to the World”, a Christmas carol that has remained one of my favorites because she taught it to us. She didn’t return the next year because she went back to the university to finish her degree. During the summer of 1941, I received a postcard from her in which she wished brother Rudy and me a good school year of 1941.

We entered the 8th grade in the fall of 1941. We had several teachers, starting the year with Mrs. Moody, Grace Johnson’s sister. We also had Miss Lillie Fears and Miss Ruth Templin as two more of our teachers. At the beginning of the year, we had a male teacher, a young man whose name I don’t recall. I just remember he had a habit of licking his lips about every few seconds. He left pretty soon after the year started. It was during this year in Miss Ruth’s English class that I cheated on schoolwork for the first time and last time. I copied Dock’s homework, verbatim, and handed it in to Miss Ruth. I don’t know whether she knew I did the cheating or Dock had done it. She just gave a soft-spoken lecture on cheating, and it left me so very ashamed. I didn’t have the courage to go to her and admit I had done the awful deed. But I did tell Dock that I knew to whom she was directing the lecture. He didn’t hold my cowardice against me for we remained friends.

On December 8, 1941, all of the school went outside to Mrs. Moody’s car to hear President Roosevelt’s speech on the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I well remember hearing the President say in his stentorian voice, “I will ask Congress to declare that a state of war exists between Japan and the United States.” The thing remarkable about this other than it was a moment of history is that our whole school had to go outside to an automobile to hear the President’s speech. Quite a different thing from schools of the year 2010.

During that year I received a thorough beating from Stanton Townsend. He hit me with an apple core during lunch time. We played a game called “Baltimore.” A person with an apple core would yell “Apple core!” and someone would say “Baltimore!” The person with the apple core would ask” Who’s your friend?” On this occasion someone said “Arney!” Stanton hit me with the apple core, and I challenged him to a fight. He finally agreed to fighting me and we went way back on the school grounds under some oak trees, and he beat the socks off me. I got a goose egg on my forehead from one of Stanton’s blows. We made up a lie to tell Mrs. Moody to avoid telling her that we’d had a fight. She looked at my bump and remarked without emotion, “It looks to me like you’ve had a spat.” That was all that was said.

At the end of the 8th grade, Paxton school had a graduation ceremony for those finishing grammar school. Our ceremony was held in the Methodist Church in Paxton. Dock and I were the two top students, I being valedictorian and he being salutatorian. We dutifully memorized speeches Ruth Templin provided for us. (She should have required us to write our own speeches.) Our class song was “Welcome Sweet Springtime.” We were told we did a good rendition of the song a as a part of the ceremony. We boys dressed in white shirts and ties and the girls wore their prettiest dresses. A young man (who seemed old to me at the time) gave a commencement speech encouraging us to make up our minds early about what we wanted to do with our lives. I think he was a candidate for a county office of some kind, maybe county judge. Anyway, I knew we were moving away from Shelby County after that year, so the occasion was sad for me. I shed tears during my speech, and so did some of my classmates.

The rest of my public-school career was in big schools in Henderson, Texas, and Orange, Texas, where I graduated from high school. Although I continued in school and made fairly good grades, I never enjoyed school life again until I went to college after my stint in the USAF. But I always knew that it was my duty to do well even if I didn’t like what I was doing at the time. I owe this value to my parents and to the friends, teachers, and classmates that I was blessed to have at Paxton School.

Note: I would like to invite everyone to come see the Shelby County Museum exhibit “Pictorial History of Shelby County”. For those who are out of towners, I am including pictures each week of the exhibits. I realized last week the titles of the pictures could not be enlarged enough to read so this week I am during things a little different. (More pictures) I hope this help! Also, I would like to remind everyone about memorials or contributions made in the memory of friends and loved ones. This helps support the Museum while commemorating their memory. The museum may be contacted by writing to SCHS, Attn: Memorial Fund, PO Box 1542, Center, TX 75935 or come to the museum at 230 Pecan Street, Center, Texas.
We would like to encourage anyone who have a few hours to consider volunteering at the museum.  You are needed!!!!