Current events spark memories of a few good men

Posted 6/2/20

I have written these Musings for five years this month, but current events have reminded me that I haven’t done much with local Black history.

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Current events spark memories of a few good men

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I have written these Musings for five years this month, but current events have reminded me that I haven’t done much with local Black history.

Then again, I struggle to find much of it recorded. I’m writing this today to remind you of good folks with whom our community has been blessed, and to also pay some personal debts. I owe each of the men below for good deeds they performed for me, my family, and this community. I won’t say they were saints, but neither am I.

H.S. “Trick” Johnson always lived in High Prairie, my community. When I was very young, Daddy’s family would get Trick to come for Cannon Christmas Eve gatherings to distribute gifts for Santa who was busy elsewhere. Always jolly, he called us each by name, and he knew personal things to say about each of us. As an adult, I have realized that his own family probably would have enjoyed his presence on Christmas Eve. I’ve always hoped he was generously compensated for his time and laughter.

Floyd Sandles was school counselor for the Elementary School and I think the Junior High during my first year of teaching. He did his best to take care of the youngsters. There’s no telling what supplies or clothes he purchased for students. Also, if they were absent, he’d go to their homes to learn why. He was aware of some staying home because there was no babysitter for little ones. He got babysitters, took the older ones for breakfast, and got them to school as fast as he could. He died in August of 1973, at the beginning of my second teaching year. He was sorely missed!

Lem Johnson was a janitor for our schools for years. He was near my father’s age, and I should call him Mr. Johnson, but he was always Lem to me because I knew other Mr. Johnsons. When I recently shared on Facebook about recent Musings about Walter Gooden, another janitor, friends chimed in with compliments about Lem. Larry McGinty said that Lem always made sure Larry always got chocolate milk in the mornings, whether he had money for it or not. Others mentioned his kindness and encouragement. I remember him best as a co-worker, because he was janitor at the Elementary School for my first years of teaching.

In those days, a late bus brought high school and junior high kids every evening, dropping them off near where we teachers parked and after other buses had run. One afternoon as I walked to my car, I noticed students ringed around two others fighting. I was the only adult in sight. Dumb me, I walked right into the midst, yelling for them to break it up and go home. They must not have been too bad, because they followed my orders. Before they got out of sight, Lem was at my side, saying, “Don’t you ever do that again! I saw from the cafeteria window what was happening, and I could not have gotten here fast enough if you had needed help. It’s a miracle you weren’t hurt! Remember, I’m NOT going to rescue you, so don’t ever walk into a fight like that!” That’s been almost 50 years ago, and I’ve remembered that time and again. He said he wouldn’t rescue me, but I could tell that he would have sure tried.

Olan Haynes was always Daddy’s good friend. They both often told how they played and misbehaved as boys. Later, after time in the Army, Olan worked for Audie and Fred and Westmoreland, my aunt and uncle, at Westmoreland’s Grocery and at their ranch. He was dependable to the max, and the following should prove that. Olan knew Audie from childhood, and Fred died much earlier than her. Both were dead and gone when Olan got old and suffered ill health plus dementia. His daughter, Lynda, struggled to keep him home because he always wanted to go to work. One day she thought he was napping. She thought she could safely take a shower. When she got out, he had disappeared! She knew his habits, so she got in her vehicle and drove out FM 978 towards High Prairie. He was almost a half mile out of town when she caught up with him walking. When she tried to get him to get in her vehicle, he demanded, “Mrs. Audie told me to turn those heifers out today, and I am going to do it!” Lynda thought quickly and said, “Mrs. Audie called after you left. She says she heard it’s going to rain so she doesn’t want the heifers turned out til tomorrow.” That satisfied Olan and he got in her car. Gout and hot sun or not, he would have walked over five more miles to turn out those imaginary heifers!

If you did not know Rufus Wooley, you missed out. He had impeccable manners and a quiet, capable demeanor. While raising three children with his wife, Ruby, he worked at Evans Grocery and also pursued the college degree that he ultimately earned. Later he was employed at our local post office plus elected to our local school board for a term or two in 70s or 80s. Jo Ann McCoy served on the school board around that time too, and I don’t think we’ve had black school board members since them.

John Ethel McAdams was another High Prairie man that my family always knew. Daddy died in February, 1989, and selling calves that summer without Daddy was a new experience for my family. One day we drove some cattle across FM 978 to stock pens behind the house, took their calves off and to the auction sale in Bryan, and put the cows back across the road that same day. We weren’t thinking about that pasture being leased, which was important. Folks can’t afford to put great fences around leased places.

That afternoon Mother, my daughter, and I went to Bryan, picked up the check, and ate out to celebrate finishing a hard day. It was dark when we got home and found cows all over the road in front of the house, hunting their calves! Mother didn’t think, jumped out, and a mad mama cow almost hit her! About that time, John Ethel drove up with his sons, Buster and Robert. We brought some of the cattle back into the stock pens, but some were still in that pasture. To make sure they stayed there, John and his boys went to work fixing fence. Know this, they built better fence in the dark than most people do in broad daylight! Also, they did not usually work for us, they just knew the fence needed to be fixed to keep cattle off that road!

The first time I met Jesse Boyd Huey, he was a bus driver for the old elementary school and transported a group of students and teachers on a field trip to see a symphony concert at Texas A&M University. Preparing the students for a picnic after the concert, we had advised them to wrap Coke cans in aluminum foil and stick in the freezer overnight before the trip. Teachers did the same.

But it turned out to be a blustery November day, and the soft drinks remained in their solid state when it came time to dine. Just a block of ice in a can. Then lo and behold, we looked up to see Jesse with a handful of drinks secured at a nearby convenience store. He distributed all the drinks and refused any recompense, despite the low wages of driving a bus.

I got to know him much better working on the ranch, but never forgot his moment of largesse.

Current events have made me think about how much prejudice and discrimination the above men probably endured in their lifetimes. Today I worry about their children and grandchildren. Surely one day things will change.

Madison County Museum is closed indefinitely. The mailing address is P.O. Box 61, Madisonville, TX 77864. We have a Facebook page by that name that you might enjoy.

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