Several of Tom's children had to experience their father as schoolmaster. Harry, always
full of good nature because he so loved
stewed apricots, was a notorious giggler, even in the
schoolroom. His father once scolded, "Harry, an' you giggle one more
time, I shall raise little
whelps all over your backside." Well, Harry
was also a studious and
curious little fellow, and of course there was a dictionary in the
scampered right to it. When he discovered Webster's
meaning for "whelp," a giggle escaped him in spite of himself. The
loved to tell such stories over and over again, claiming that they improved,
an old stew, every time it was set forth. When he was an old man, Harry
still told this one, which he would
conclude with his wheezy laugh: "And that's exactly what
Papa did. He
raised little puppy dogs all over my backside."
Plain Folks in Arkansas
(1856-1936) came from one of those Tidewater
communities in South Carolina still named after a Civil War general. Driven by the
War first to rural Alabama, they had finally ventured up the Red River to
Sulphur Springs. Here young Tom opened a teaching
"academy." It may not have been too lucrative, for he accompanied his family back
to Arkansas after his father was able to register claim (1875) to an eighty-acre homestead there.
The government grant may help explain the family's good
will toward Abraham Lincoln. The Homestead Act
had been advanced in earlier years to lure small farmers into the western territories, but had regularly been defeated by Southern
votes. After secession there was all the more reason to
reward any small farmer who had not taken up arms against the government, and the Act was finally signed in 1862. Happily, Tom's father, John Wesley Goodson, qualified, despite the family's South Carolina origins. His grant was situated in
the recently established Miller County, where the deep forest was soon
attracting lumbermen. By 1888, a logging railroad built south
out of Texarkana came through, and a postal station named Boyd was established. Other stops were at Ferguson's Crossing (a saw mill), Roberts
(where Liberty school was situated), Fouke, Black Diamond (where my mother was born in 1899), Dodridge, Ida and other
villages on into Louisiana.
From around the turn of the century that slow train provided
cheap transportation through the pine and
hardwood forests where Tom delivered the mail with his buggy, and his
children hopped the train to Liberty School at Roberts. The rails were taken
about the middle of the
twentieth century, and the last old railroad depot finally disappeared a few years later. Most of the villages had long since faded away, leaving only the cemeteries, where many of my kin are buried.
On the first day of
school, the children had to supply
their names for Tom to enter into his school book where he recorded
attendance, as well as the tuition each family paid, often in
kind. The story goes that
one child said
her name was Baby Rose. "Baby Rose," Tom Goodson growled at the poor
girl, "I shall call you Mary." And so he did.
Tom's was still a day when
religion reflected a
considered position. For example, you may recall that the Methodists
agreed with the old Anabaptists in discounting any mystical power in
the sacraments, which they liked to explain as mere symbols. It was
misleading, Anabaptists felt, to perform any particular rite without
understanding exactly what it meant, and stood for. Therefore they
thought it foolish to baptize mere infants instead of waiting until the
child reached an age of understanding. But
of course there were also still those denominations which did firmly
in the mystical efficacy of the sacraments. Tom Goodson had always been
an argumentative fellow, loved reasonable discourse, really appreciated
Since his own Methodist congregation could not afford a preacher every
frequently had to attend some one of the nearby church meetings. One
Sunday the old man
himself as guest
right down front. The preacher was haranguing the congregation on
crucial importance of baptism for infants. "I tell you brethren and
he shouted. "They is babes in hell not a span long," and he held up his palms before him. Tom, being up in
by then, may not have appreciated the resonance of his own voice.
a lie," he muttered. His fellow worshippers were scandalized; he went
across the street to a justice of the peace and paid a fine for
public worship, five dollars I believe. My mother remarked that it was
good thing he did so.
But Tom did have a sense of humor even though today
not seem very nuanced. I have a typwritten report telling how Tom, as a
man teaching in a particularly blighted neck of the woods called
Hill," wrote a squib about one of the parents.
|Of all the men of Hungry Hill
|There's one superior man.
|They called him John McCan.
|To hear him tell about himself
|You'd think no one could be
|So brave, so strong, so
|So wise and learned as he.
|He knew the history of his own,
|And foreign lands also.
|He knew the Bible lid from lid
|There was little he did not know.
|He really believed when he'd
get to heaven,
|St. Peter would take him by the
|And leading him up to the Golden
|Say, "Have my seat, John McCan."
later, so my report continues, "at an exhibition for the last day of
school exercises, a cousin asked Mr. Goodson if he
could give a number, to which Mr. Goodson agreed, asking if he himself
should select the subject to be recited. No, the cousin would select
own number. Imagine Mr. Goodson's horror when the cousin began
being introduced by the master of ceremonies the night of the
'Of all the men of Hungry Hill'--but Mr. Goodson relaxed considerable
instead of [John McCan] the cousin shouted 'Ephraham.' You see, John
was really a friend of Mr. Goodson's, and was present at the
As Tom and Molly grew older, the
children took a more protective posture. I believe it was Gerald
his mother a huge specimen of the favorite dog of that day, a German
His name was Tony, a perfectly lovely dog, but I take it the beast was
intimidating. It is said he liked to stroll down the sandy lane under
oak trees behind some unsuspecting pedestrian, then silently leap over
head. They said Charley Cox poisoned Tony.
I think the children may
all contributed to buying Tom and Molly another of the fads of the day,
automobile. I remember it well., a Chevrolet I think, but in
case a coupe, with a rumble seat upholstered in red imitation leather.
got to ride in it.
Family of Thomas Watts Goodson (1856-1936) m. Mary
Elizabeth McClure (1862-1938):
Standing: Gerald, Harry, Albert.
Pearl, Nell, Ora, Raye
Albert followed in
his father's footsteps delivering a rural mail
route, but Ora actually succeeded her father as postmistress in Fouke.
Pearl became an R.N., and Raye followed her example but then went ahead
and became a school nurse, ultimately the head of that department in
the Dallas Public School System. Harry went to the University of
Arkansas, became a C.P.A. and eventually a partner in Haskins and
Sells. Gerald and Florence got positions with oil companies, he in
equipment sales for Continental, she as legal
secretary for Gulf Oil. Although Tom and Molly, children of the
age, had nine children (including Little Charlie, who died as a boy),
there were only six grandchildren. Three of their offspring did not
who did remained childless. It was the ones espousing urban life who
Gerald came on a visit to Dallas one hot summer, Nell, Raye,
Harry, Elza and Gerald decided to run down
to Cabell's and get some ice cream. Cabell's was the best ice cream
in Dallas. Harry, being the one with plenty of money, was the first out
of the car to go in and buy it. "Will a pint be about right?" He asked.
"Aw, make it a pint and a half," Gerald suggested.
Tom and Molly's grown children would "go home" for
Christmas. Our little family traveled from West Texas, Harry and Raye
and Pearl from
Dallas, Florence from Houston, Gerald from Tulsa. Some might sleep at
Ora and Russell's, others with Albert and Hortense. On Christmas Eve some of the men
would go up
to the Old Place.
Albert Junior would scale a huge holly tree and saw the top out,
letting it fall to the ground. This would be our Christmas tree,
which reached to the ceiling of the front room.
Rough banquet tables borrowed from the church yard were set up from the
room through the dining room out onto the back porch. After dinner the
would sit around the fire and light their pipe by putting a red coal
into its bowl. For them, Christmas Eve was the time to shoot off the
had all brought along for me. We would take a shovelful of red coals
into the dark backyard. You could stick the fuse of a firecracker onto
hot coal and when it began to fizzle, you had to throw it. I remember
when I was about four I did not throw it in time, and my hand was
really stunned. I had Roman candles, too.
In those days pretty much
open to quail hunting, and most people could direct you to where a
had last been sighted. One good field was at the Old Goodson Place,
triangular fifteen acres south of the county road was still an
open field surrounded by remnants of the rail fence
the Goodson boys had built. Several old black oaks marked the site
where the house had once stood. The place was surrounded by the big
woods where we got the Christmas tree.
and Harry liked to bring their fancy hunting coats, gear, and automatic
shotguns along on visits to the country.
Harry brought the bird dog which his trainer kept for him during the
the year. Russell (Ora's husband) would take his city inlaws
quail hunting. Harry
liked to show off the
set of chokes he had for his 16 gauge. He and Gerald were expert
on size of shot and drams of powder in the shotgun shells. They
discussed the shot patterns of various loads. Albert, the local brother,
did not go, but his teen-aged son,
Albert Jr. did, and he was by far the fastest with his shotgun, speed
all important when you flush a covey of quail. As I entered my teens, Russell passed his lore of the woods on to me,
or a little of it: how to spot a squirrel in a distant oak, how to
scale a perch or skin a cat, how to dress a deer. I understood that
during the hard times these had been skills from which a family had to subsist. But Russell was no quail hunter.
found records in the old Washington Courthouse (at that time the court house for Miller County) of Tom's
marriage to Mary Elizabeth McClure.
Molly Goodson nče McClure, with author, 1932