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XI
A School Teacher
    
          Her birthplace was one of the villages along a railroad built to harvest the great Arkansas forests.  It is gone today, as is the white oak, hickory, and the beech--even the railroad.  She had four brothers and four sisters.  When her father deemed the boys old enough to bring in a crop he bought eighty acres from a timber man, A. J. Burgess.  Nell's earliest memories were of living on this place.  When she was a wee girl her brother Gerald would let her climb a pine sapling and cling to the top, so that by felling it with his axe he could give her a long ride down. The Goodson place had a spring branch on it where she could dangle a straight line and a bent pin.  She could watch the little little sun perch nibble at a worm and, maybe, bite.  She liked to put a twig-man in a leaf-boat and send him spinning off down the clear, rushing waters. She knew how to pull a sprout off a black gum to make a toothbrush good for "dipping snuff" (cocoa and sugar). Her older brothers and sisters could make a willow whistle or a number four trap. They knew how to cut grapevine to smoke like a cheroot. Nelly always
, even into her old age, threw a kiss to a redbird.

         The  countryside was more densely settled in her day than it is now.  Nell's father delivered the mail in a buggy, and she was responsible for grooming his horses. They were usually named for the man who had sold them, e.g., "Go hitch up Mr. Walraven, Nelly." Tom Goodson, pushing fifty when Nell was born, had grown crotchety and hard to please. He was an avid reader, but his eyes were growing dim, so it was also Nell's ungrateful task to keep his lantern globe perfectly polished. Her mother, Mollie, was sometimes at loose ends, even though her older daughters helped care for the large family.  When Tom would storm out of the house late for his mail route, Nell would have to run after him bringing his lunch.  
Happily,Tom was made postmaster in Fouke under Theodore Roosevelt, whose portrait can be spotted in this photo of his one-room post office.



Now the Goodsons moved nearer to Fouke. It was while they were working out in the field there that a family going into town on foot remarked to them, "Guess y'all know your house is afire." And indeed it was. Unflappable Arkansawyers were stoic about a flaming roof.

       Tom and Mollie sold that house to the Attaway family, so that today the road up to their Old Place is known as Attaway Lane. D
uring the first decade or two of the 20th century, their new house in Fouke probably looked the same as in this picture.  It sat on the corner of two sandy lanes. By the time I came along, a white picket fence stood in front and on one side.  That is where Gerald was walking when Mollie caught him and called out, "Gerald, you get down off that fence!  An' I catch you up there one more time I'll give you a licking." "Do it and then talk about it," was his sage reply. She probably did. --It was also at about this time when Florence, always querulous, came crying to her mother. "Mama, Gerald hit me. Mama, Gerald hit me. He hit me just as hard as he could." "If I had hit her as hard as I could," Gerald allowed, "I'd a' kilt her."

 


        As you can see, a row of oak trees stood outside the fence (to the left). I remember them as very big, with a child's swing from on high.  Such a swing was made by attaching a long rope at either end to a high branch and fitting a notched board, perhaps a foot-long, for a seat--the kind of swing common in those days, but no longer seen. If you look close, there is a grown ups' porch swing visible beside the front door. By the time I was about four years old, a chinaberry tree stood over on the right, in front, with one of those big, horizontal boughs at just a good height for a little boy to sit on. When Tom Goodson was very ill, I walked round and round this house praying fervently that he might not die. But he did, and they laid his open coffin on the library table in the living room, right where you see those two windows. This table, sans lower shelf, seems much smaller where it stands today in my living room.

        On the porch-like structure behind the house you can see the well. This arrangement was very customary in those days. After  "city water" was piped to the house, a big wooden water tank was set on stilts out back for storing it. The back porch was later screened in and floored (with a trapdoor to the well). When my family lived in this house in the late 1940s, my father dug a new well in the back yard and set a little house beside it for an electric pump and a pressure tank. In the vacant area behind the house we had chickens, a sow with little pigs, and a sweet quarter horse who was very intelligent. The house visible on further back belonged to Uncle Tom and Aunt Matty Batt (no kin to us), who were very, very old. They lived there with their widowed daughter, Aunt Ethel Turner, who took in boarders. Aunt Ethel was a corpulent woman, immensely good natured and busy. When she came out of an early morning to feed her stock she whistled religious hymns with marvelous fluency and volume. Although her meals were notoriously sumptuous, Aunt Ethel's surviving children, grown-ups when I knew them, were emaciated. Tom Turner, an elegant young man with a pencil mustache, soon died of tuberculosis, as had his siblings before him. Elza lived to be an old lady without ever putting on flesh. She became head of Nurse's Training for New York Polyclinic, then returned to Dallas to live out her life with Nell's younger sister Raye, and suffer for her own improvidence.


        If you look close, there is another window beyond the chimney. That is for the dining room. Old Tom Goodson liked to sit before the fireplace in a red plush chair with a footrest which would slide out, and read by a well-polished globe. When I was a child there was still no electricity, but hissing gaslights on the walls. Once when Tom was sitting before the fire, a burning log rolled out onto the hearth and he, quick minded as he was, grabbed it and threw it out the window before it could damage his floor. That is the window there which you can barely see in the picture. It was closed at the time.


    I guess those are railroad ties there in the foreground providing a walkway across the ditch. Down that road to the right lived the oldest son, Albert. Behind the camera is a city block almost empty except for the old Maxwell house, derelict in my day, but formerly the elegant home of the bank owner. 
The bank occupied a two story brick edifice further on up the street.  During the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, Fouke had been a prosperous little community named after a lumberman whose exploitation of the great hardwood and pine forests had brought a railroad spur this far (1888).  It serviced the many saw mills and, in Fouke, a big cotton gin as well.  There were numerous mercantile enterprises, including the huge Paulk and Dickert general store which provided credit until harvest time for farmers all the way to the Red River.   Fouke, once a gentle, busy town, is long since sunken away into the highway dust, like mist enshrouded Germelshausen, or Brigadoon.

     But with its new railroad in 1888, it was important enough to be selected by the Seventh Day Baptists as site for one of their schools.  The Seventh Days were one of those vigorous, militant denominations which had emerged from the Great Awakening.  Doctrinally self-conscious, they traced their origins back through Reformation Sabbatarians all the way to the Waldensians of the Middle Ages. 
Seventh Days had been especially active in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and West Virginia, had sent missionaries to the Netherlands and to China.  Their university in Alfred, New York is still thriving.  A Seventh Day history was written by Corliss Fitz Randolph,  one of a large family pre-eminent in the church.   Gideon Henry Fitz Randolph was a promising young pastor dispatched together with his wife to the well established Seventh-Day mission in Shanghai.   After his service in China he returned to take charge of the new Seventh-Day establishment in Fouke.  He hired an additional teacher from South Dakota and had local help as well.


This was the teacher Nelly best remembered.  She was just entering her teens when she attended the Seventh-Day school, and she remembered Fitz Randolph as the most learned, handsomest man she had ever beheld.  Among other subjects, Fitz Randolph taught German.  Nelly learned Stille Nacht in what must have been Fitz Randolph's own translation from "Silent Night" back into German.   I have no writings from this member of the Fitz Randolph family, but a survey of the offices he held in his church suggests that he was a serious and, no doubt, a literate man.

        After the turn of the century, Arkansas passed a law requiring children between seven and fifteen to attend school, and a teaching post became available just south of Fouke.  Nell got it, although she had just turned sixteen herself.  She had to take room and board with a family who lived only a few miles from the school, the same A. J. Burgess family from whom her father had bought the Old Place. His children had married Nell's cousins.  Some of the country fellows were boisterous and boastful, such that the Burgess boys became a little apprehensive about Nell’s safety when she walked through the forest to her school at dawn and dusk. Apparently they did not wish to alarm her, but they did regularly slip out into the woods of an evening so as to keep watch over her. She, of course, caught them at it and laughed them to scorn. One of these young gentlemen, Rudi Burgess, went ahead to become prominent in local politics, County Judge, I believe. Before my mother died she made me promise not to permit one of the long-winded, vacuous preachers whom she so detested come preach a sermon at her grave.  So I asked Rudi to speak, and he came.  Later, among the funeral paraphernalia, I found the guest book, with his scrawled, "I love you, Nell."

 

    As a consequence of the teaching credential gained while living with the Burgesses, Nell received an Arkansas certificate.   It was valid in Texas, too, so she came to value her certification very much during the hard times she and Frank were to know.  As Nell's experience shows, the Goodson family was somehow better equipped than the Hailes for the inexorable transition from agrarian life to the unforgiving new urban world of business. I still have Nell’s impressive parchment diploma from the College of Industrial Arts in Denton (later Texas Womens' and today a part of the University of Texas). She and her younger sister spent a summer studying at the University of Chicago.
 


          There were many young women like her, grown up in a still predominantly rural America.  Her parents, Tom and Mollie Goodson, were literate people in a day when religiosity was part of erudition.  Tom's father was named John Wesley, after the founder of Methodism.  Tom bestowed his own middle name, Watts, on his first child, after the master of English hymnody, the poet Isaac Watts.  Since Tom's first child was a girl, he later gave the middle name to one of his boys, too.  Mollie was proud of her Scottish heritage.  She listened with tears to Sir Harry Lauder.  Robert Burns and Walter Scott were much quoted in her house, and read with great sentimentality by her children.  These authors instilled piety toward traditional values of selflessness, especially devotion to family.  Consider Burns' "A Cotter's Saturday Night."  These were among the classics as embraced by Mollie's Scots Irish forebears. "Well-read" was the standard by which the Goodsons judged people, and themselves.

       Thanks to the Goodsons' love for story telling, I know their traditions a little better than than I do those of the Hailes, for example, that Tom Goodson remained
not merely  informed but even partisan in matters of religious doctrine.  His children, on the other hand, all became enlightened citizens of a secular century, even while retaining the respectful piety of eld.  Nelly much admired the prowess of Clarence Darrow but felt no compulsion to espouse his atheism.  She permitted her son to be baptized, took her children to church on Easter and Mothers Day (so long as her mother lived Nelly wore a red rose, after her death a white one), but we were never part of a church community.  My father's family, though quite devoid of religiosity, were pillars of the Baptist Church, and my grandmother Haile scheduled her daily Bible reading so as to read it in full by each year's end.  I remember when I informed my mother that I had read the entire Bible.  "Harry, we must not lie about such things," she replied.

        Literacy for the Goodson family went beyond reverence for their English-language heritage and included
current events and opinion.  They shared American enthusiasm about Woodrow Wilson, sang all the popular World War I songs.  The 19th Amendment took effect just weeks after Nell attained voting age.  Her readiness, a quarter century later, to explain to her son the meaning and origin of the slogan "normalcy" reveals her interest in the 1920 presidential campaign.  It does not tell us whether Nell cast her first vote for or against Warren Gamaliel Harding, but she did express her high opinion of his successor, Calvin Coolidge.  She loved to tell the story of "Silent Cal's" meeting with Will Rogers.  Rogers was probably America's most beloved public figure in the 1920s, even world wide.  Having begun as a rodeo cowboy turned vaudeville performer, Rogers became a noted columnist, celebrated for his timely, ironic adages, e.g.,

           America is becoming so educated that ignorance will be a novelty.  I will belong to the select few.

 
Noted for his humor, Rogers had accepted a bet that he could not get even a smile out of the dour Calvin Coolidge.  When presented to the President, Rogers extended his hand, cocked his head to the side, and asked "I didn't catch the name?"

        Rogers died in the crash of a hybrid airplane put together by his friend Wiley Post, journalist and first round-the-world solo pilot.  Aircraft adventures were a theme of the day. 
The most celebrated and inspiring hero of all was a young Kansan, just two years older than Nell, Amelia Earhart (1897-1937), whose brilliant, tragic career and championing of women's independence set an example.  Earhart made her solo transatlantic flight in 1928, in the same summer Nell married one of two brothers who operated an airport in Austin, Texas.  They performed just such barnstorming at state fairs as had captured Earhart's enthusiasm for flight.  The Haile boys took people up in small planes, exactly the same experience as had inspired Earhart to obtain an airplane of her own. 

       Prominent women just a little older than Nell were the writers Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980),
Pearl S. Buck (1892-73), Rebecca West (1892-1983); also Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), known for her sharp tongue, also the dedicated columnist and radio commentator expelled by Hitler, Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961).  Almost exactly Nell's age were  the romantic novelists  Zelda (b. 1900) and Scott Fitzgerald (b. 1896).   The influential research by Margaret Mead (1901-1978) in anthropology, to be sure, was not famous until the middle of the century.  Just a bit younger than Nell were the politically engaged screenwriter Lillian Hellman (1905-84) and the novelists Mary Renault (1905-1993) and Ayn Rand (1905-1982).  These women constituted  a wave of genuine feminism, very conscious of their own womanhood, dedicated to self realization and independence.  I suspect that Nell eventually read all of them, but I list them here because they articulate for us the kind of world she encountered in the early 20th century.  The Victorian Age of their mothers had culminated in the fin de siècle, with its exaggerated Nietzsche mustaches and hoopskirts, with the can can and the Comstock laws.  In America, as in Europe, girls were rejecting that 19th-century culture, more or less strenuously.

        Nell at sixteen, teaching at a remote country school in an Arkansas forest, may not yet have heard about any of these 20th-century celebs.  She may even have been sheltered from Margaret Sanger's newsletter The Woman Rebel, which was creating a sensation in New York at that time.  Sanger fled to Europe to escape being arrested for the publication.  But certainly before Nell was twenty she had at least heard of the new concept for which Sanger coined the term, and which
Sanger popularized when she founded The American Birth Control League in 1921 (today's Planned Parenthood).  Nell as first-time voter (after the 19th Amendment!) is certain to have read Sanger's classic The Pivot of Civilization (1922), with its fervent praise of conjugal love.   These developments meant more to a young woman in that day than they possibly can to us.   Nell was at this time teaching in Hot Springs, perhaps with no inkling of marriage.

        I see my family as representative of many other American families in having undergone,
over the past dozen generations, three great transformations.  The first trial was, of course, giving up the security of 17th-century England for "adventure" in the wilderness of colonial Virginia.  There followed almost a century of progress and prosperity.  But the second great change came down upon us as invasion and devastation of the homeland in that great War of the 19th century, which scattered and estranged any survivors.  The third great crisis came with the 20th century, as the transformation of motherhood.  Nell is a very typical representative of this last great upheaval in the life of our family in modern America.

       
Since the origin of families thousands of generations before Nell was born, the mother had always been the center of the household. But this ancient understanding was itself being diminished.  The Greek word for home, ὁικος, synonymous with agrarian "livlihood," is the root from whence we have our English word "economy."  The family in early America, no different from ancient times,still embraced all the servants it could support, for they in turn supported it as well.  When pioneer couples from the tidewater ventured upriver, beyond the fall line to the west, and then moved further south, those traditional inclusive families emerged as "nuclear" families--but the nucleus of this smaller group was still the mother.  The young father did the heavy work and tried to protect his family until the boys could relieve him; the mother nourished him, cared for him and maintained their home, often still a very extensive household.  We have seen how mothers  loved to name the first boy Shadrack, thus promising at least two more reliable men for the plow, the axe and the rifle.  But she bent her own back to all these tools, too.  Mothers in our family typically bore, instructed, and nourished seven to fifteen children.  Thus had it been, since time out of mind.  Nell, born just at the turn of the twentieth century, was one of many young women with new aspirations beyond those of her mother.  Nonetheless, she still cherished those same ancient ideals of motherhood which she saw fulfilled in "The Cotter's Saturday Night," and in her own mother who read it to her. 

        Industrialization was encroaching on all this, sometimes
cruelly. In New England, the economy had already shifted from home and field into urban factories.  Southern agriculture itself became a great industry driven by commercial production, processing, and export of cotton.  Industrialization could bring wealth and ease to many, but industrialization marginalized the mothers.  She was still likely to be responsibile for whole households.  In tobacco regions and even in the larger farming and ranching enterprises she cared for the farm hands and cow hands as well as for a large brood of her own.  This is the way it had been both among Mollie's forebears in Virginia and among Tom's rural people in South Carolina and Alabama.  Tom came from a family with eight children, Mollie from a brood of ten.  Tom and Mollie had nine.  As Tom was just a schoolteacher, he was prompted to purchase acreage where his boys could bring in a crop.  Mollie remained traditional mother of a household.

        But all around them the world was changing.  Pearl, their oldest daughter, married late.  Her only child died in infancy, and her husband shortly thereafter. 
Pearl became a registered nurse, and continued to look after her adult siblings, nieces and nephews.  I had the opportunity to ask Pearl, many years later, why had she waited so long to get married.  "I could not go off and leave Mama with all those children to look after."    Of the other four girls, two married in time to become mothers, the other two pursued successful careers. Thus from Mollie's nine offspring there survived six grandchildren.  At the birth rate of earlier generations there might easily have been sixty.   So I wonder how did Pearl's young sister Nell look at woman's  rôle?   Did this teenager in backwoods Arkansas know about the world of Amelia Earhart, Zelda Fitzgerald and Margaret Sanger?  For us to see things her way would take a little imagination on our part.  We would have to remember that this schoolteacher's  Arkansas backwoods, compared with the world into which she was to marry and live out her life, had been a pinnacle of enlightenment.

       As I recall it, we were driving between sandy Texas peanut fields in a 1934 Chevrolet.  As a very small boy I eavesdropped raptly on adult conversation, in this case between my mother in the back seat and Ardys, my father's brother in the front.  He had averred that squirrels castrate their young.  My mother, always curious, wondered how we knew that to be the case, but she was not enjoying much success in getting Ardys to help probe the evidence.  Had castrated squirrels been taken, for example, or had Ardys reports to that effect from hunters?  Nell was not really questioning the truth of his report, but just interested in where it might come from.  She tried to put the problem as simply as possible: 
      
"Ardys, how do you know?"  Ardys was just appalled.

"How do I know?"  He stressed the words and drawled them out, "Hayuh, dew Ah know?"  And he repeated such an insolent question, this time just as a statement.

"How do I know.  --Just like I know there's ahr all around me.  That's how I know!"  Here was a man who could rope a calf, bulldog it to the ground, tie its legs and doctor it like an expert, then be back on his horse before you could say "book learning."  The epistemology of Immanuel Kant had no place in his world.  But Nell's story was told and retold so that in our worlds
Ardys held a very prominent place.

      So Nell had a hard time of it.  All the women mentioned in this history shared the traditional burden of providing material subsistence for their husbands and children.   In so far as I can tell, women are still today subject to the traditional demand that they be good wives and mothers.  If the men and their children are to have homes at all, then it is they who provide it, the mothers.  The industrial world will eventually develop its own peculiar concept of "the family" and will probably do so without help from history, or from literature.  Nell and Frank were the first in each of their families to have to find work outside the household, outside their ὁικος, the home.  She taught high-school English.  We can only conjecture about Nell's idea, when a little girl, of the kind of woman she wanted to grow up to be or, having become a teacher in big cities and little country schools, how she hoped her students might turn out.  Fortunately for our understanding, she lived at a time when gifted women writers were passing on to us an idea of their world, and of Nell's.









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