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THE MAN WHO BROUGHTA Mountain of Soul to Houston, Texas
By SKIPPER LEE FRAZIER
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2012 Skipper Lee Frazier
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE BEGINNING YEARS
America was moving forward in the Roaring Twenties. World War One was fading into the past as flappers danced the Charleston and President Calvin Coolidge pushed the economy ever upward, creating new jobs for the workforce and a burgeoning prosperity for the land.
Things looked better than they ever had before. The economy was booming and no one dreamed that in 1929 the stock market would crash and the great depression of the Thirties would descend on the land.
This was the world into which I was born on July 31, 1927 in the small Texas town of Magnolia Springs, nine miles south of Jasper and ten miles west of Kirbyville. My parents, James Frazier and Dora Lee Traylor, had met at school in Magnolia Springs, and despite the fact that my father's family lived on one side of the state and mother's family on the other, the distance between their homes did not stop them from falling in love, ultimately getting married and starting a family.
Back then there were no doctors or hospitals in Magnolia Springs, so it was a midwife who helped me make my entrance into the world and bring wide smiles of happiness to my father and mother. Their joy was doubled a few years later when my sister Farris Lee was born.
Our early years were very happy, spent in the country, enjoying the wonderful summers and mild winters that characterize that part of the Lone Star State.
When I was six, we left Magnolia Springs and moved to Deweyville, a little sawmill town on the Sabine River, the dividing line between Texas and Louisiana. It was there that I started elementary school in a three-room schoolhouse. Grades 1-4 were in one room. Grades 4-7 were in the second room and grades 7-10 occupied the third room. That particular school did not take students further than the tenth grade.
As happened in many small Texas towns back then, one man called the shots. In Deweyville, it was Mr. Pevey, who owned the Pevey Lumber Company. Mr. Pevey also owned the store everyone shopped in. He owned the houses everyone lived in and the sawmill where just about everyone worked. I often thought the town should have been called Peveyville instead of Deweyville because no one ever told me who Mr. Dewey might have been.
Mr. Pevey was king of the hill. He even printed his own money - coupons with which he would pay his employees to use when they went to shop at his store. They used coupons in denominations of five, ten, twenty-five and fifty cents that Mr. Pevey would tear out of a book.
Looking back, I realize now that he was one smart businessman. He controlled the town and everyone in it, including my father, who went to work at the Pevey Lumber Company shortly after we moved there from Magnolia Springs. Whenever mother took me and my sister to the store to shop for clothes, food and produce, she would call it "Pevey's Commissary," which was a good description as everything one wanted could be bought at Mr. Pevey's store.
Those were really happy days for me and my sister. I remember one day my mother sent me to the commissary to buy fifteen cents worth of stew meat, which back then was more than enough to feed a family of four.
As I walked in, I saw the display of ice cream and my mouth started watering. A sudden thought flashed through my mind. Suppose I only got ten cents worth of stew meat, I would have five cents over to buy me a chocolate-covered ice cream stick. The temptation was too great.
I spent ten cents on stew meat and returned home, enjoying the ice cream as I walked down that dry, dusty street; but when I got back, mother took the package of meat, opened it, then frowned at me.
"This ain't fifteen cents worth of meat. The butcher short-changed you. I'm gonna talk to him about this."
Knowing I'd be in serious trouble if that happened, I tried to dissuade her.
"No, mama, you're wrong. That's fifteen cents worth, honest."
"You're wrong, son," she retorted. "I'm gonna straighten out that butcher right now. Come."
She took my hand and hurried back to the store. Feeling that my life was about to fall apart, I followed her through to the meat department where she confronted the butcher.
"Hi there, Dora Lee," he greeted her with a wide smile. " How come you're here? Did Lee J. forget something?"
Mother glared at him. "No, you forgot something," she said firmly. "This ain't fifteen cents worth of stew meat. Looks more like ten cents worth to me."
The butcher nodded. "It is ten cents worth, Dora Lee. That's all Lee J. asked for and that's all I gave him."
Mother turned to me and the look on her face made me want to curl up and die.
"So what happened to the other five cents I gave you?"
The butcher chuckled. "He bought an ice cream," he said.
I knew then I was in for big trouble. We left the store and mother whipped me all the way home with her belt - one of many whippings I remember getting because I was always doing something I shouldn't; but then, kids will be kids, and I sure did like ice cream. I still do.
Every afternoon after school my sister and I would join all the other kids and play in those dusty dirt streets in Deweyville. There were no paved streets like today, and I would guess the entire population was no more than maybe a hundred people; which meant there were not that many kids for me to play with after school.
Mother did not like us playing in the streets. She wanted us to come home every evening so we could all have dinner with my father when he got home from work at the sawmill. There were many nights when I would not get home early enough, and out came the belt and I would be punished for playing out in the streets when I should have been at home.
No matter how many times mother punished me, I could never manage to get home in time to eat supper with my father; but as I got older, I became more obedient, probably because I got tired of having a sore butt when I went to bed at night.
During the summers I worked with my father at the sawmill. I was a tall skinny nine-year old who looked more like fifteen. We would get up in the mornings and go to work together, then return after a tiring day. If anyone is curious about a nine-year-old being allowed to work, there were no child labor laws back then, so it wasn't illegal for me to work.
After I finished the fourth grade in that little three-room schoolhouse in Deweyville, my parents sent me to Magnolia Springs to spend an entire year with my grandparents. As the two towns were only about an hour apart, I rode the bus from Deweyville to Magnolia Springs. That was a fun ride I always enjoyed, seeing the country flash by through the windows of the bus. I wasn't unhappy where we lived, but I often thought of how it might be to move to a big city like Dallas or Houston.
I started fifth grade in a little two-room schoolhouse in Magnolia Springs where students were taught from first grade to the tenth. I remember one day I was at school and I wanted to go to the well to get some water. The well was little more than a hole in the ground with a wooden enclosure at the top and a rope which was used to draw water up in a bucket. There was a dipper that we used to drink from after we pulled up the bucket of water. Another little boy came with me to get a drink, but on that day not only did I want to drink some water; I needed to relieve some!
I hurried around behind the wooden enclosure covering the well, and now safely out of sight, I unzipped my pants and let go, not knowing that my pee was trickling down into the well.
The little boy who was with me saw what was happening and ran back to the teacher.
"Lee J. just peed in the well," he said in a shrill voice that I suspected could be heard clear across town.
The teacher came hurrying toward the well and pointed to the evidence beside the well enclosure.
"You think people will want to drink that water after you've peed in it?" she demanded.
She grabbed my arm and escorted me back to the school house, whipping me as we walked. Once inside, she continued punishing me with the belt. I'll never forget that day, and needless to say, I never again peed by the well.
I had two sets of grandparents - those on my father's side were the Fraziers, and those on mother's side were the Traylors. Looking back, I realize that the Fraziers were what today we would call middle-class, with cattle, horses, hogs, milk cows, goats and farmland. The Traylors were very poor and had only one mule and no well from which to get their water. Grandma Traylor had to go to neighbors to get water because the well they had built years before had gone dry long before I was born.
I experienced great joy when I stayed with my grandparents. Grandpa Frazier had a horse that I loved to ride, which I did whenever he took his cattle to the dipping vat to be dipped in accordance with the law that all cattle had to be dipped every so often. Dipping kept the cattle free of ticks and bugs.
I was always fascinated to watch the cattle as they were driven through the dip. I remember seeing the bugs falling off as the animals made their way through the water.
The best times, though, were when I would go out riding, or watching the hogs, cattle and goats being slaughtered before being made into sausage meat.
Grandma Frazier was also a great cook, and she made the best cornbread, greens and country peas I'd ever tasted; Grandma Traylor, sadly, wasn't very good in the kitchen. My mother was also good with country peas and probably got the recipe from Grandma Frazier. I suspect that recipe was handed down from one generation to the next. They were so good. I can still taste 'em....
During my stay in Magnolia Springs, I would work in the fields in the summer. Something I really enjoyed because it meant I would be with some more of my relatives that I met there — the Rhones children. We used to play together every day and have lots of fun. One of these kids, Freddie Ruth Rhones, and I had become friends when I played with her brothers during my stay in Magnolia Springs. Freddie is still a good friend, these many years later. I've always remembered how those kids taught me a lot of things I didn't know, like hoeing corn and chopping and picking cotton. I worked in the fields just to be with my friends. The corn and the cotton were planted in long rows in the fields, not as long as they are in today's commercial farms.
I certainly didn't work just for the money because at that time they paid only seventy-five cents a day. For picking cotton, workers got so much per pound, and Freddie Ruth Rhones always helped me get my rows out.
After work, the white farmers would cook a meal that the workers ate while sitting around the back door of the farmhouse. We'd finish eating, sit and visit a while to catch up on the latest gossip, and then go back to work. I must be honest and say that while I looked like I was working, I really didn't over-exert myself. I was only there because it gave me the chance to be with my friends.
While staying with Grandpa Frazier, I met two other uncles of mine: Wesley Frazier and Roy Frazier. They also worked in the fields, but I never worked next to them. When they came home after doing their field work, they'd eat and then we all walked down to the swimming hole. No, this wasn't a fancy swimming pool like there are today. It was just an old swimming hole called the Steward Hole.
I sometimes rode a horse down there, and Uncle Wesley and Uncle Roy taught me to swim. They fixed something to hold me up until I knew how to swim. They placed a grass sack between two one-gallon buckets and I lay down in the middle.
"Kick your legs and wave your arms, Lee J.," Uncle Roy would holler, and I would kick and wave my arms until I got the hang of it and was able to go in the water without feeling scared.
There was no diving board, so we'd dive out of a nearby tree into the water. We never hit bottom as the swimming hole was about sixteen feet deep. Whenever we'd jump in, I often saw snakes swimming away from us, and oddly enough, they never tried to bite us. I guess they were as scared of us as we were of them.
Often, we'd take watermelons down to the swimming hole, break them open with our fists and eat the heart of the fruit, which was always so sweet and delicious; then we'd throw the rest away because there was no shortage of watermelons. The fields were filled with hundreds of them. Grandpa was famous for his crop of watermelons and after we'd eaten some, he would always save the seeds and plant them to make sure there was another crop of watermelons the next year. We all led simple lives back then, enjoying the pleasures of living in the country away from the hustle and bustle of a city.
Every fourth Sunday in August we had what we called a "Home Coming" at the Baptist Church in Magnolia Springs. This was a big event, complete with a huge dinner on the church grounds. It was always easy to tell which farmers were raking in the bucks — they had the best-looking wagons and mules. Others rode to the church grounds on their horses.
By the time everyone had gathered for the meal, there were horses, wagons and mules as far as you could see. This was a lot different than the way this event happens today in Magnolia Springs.
But then, so much has changed since those wonderful days when I was a boy growing up on the farmlands of East Texas.
When I reached the ninth grade in high school, my parents decided to separate. My father and I left Magnolia Springs and Deweyville and moved to Orange, Texas. My sister stayed with my mother and they moved back to Magnolia Springs.
I started the ninth grade at Moton High School in Orange, which was a much larger school than the one I had attended in Deweyville. On my first day, I was most impressed because the high school had a separate building all to itself. It was there that I finished ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades and finally graduated. All the uniforms and books for the students came from the white high school in Orange, a town that was owned by a Mr. L. Starks who was quite a character. He would hold an oratorical contest for the boys and a reading contest for the girls, who had to speak about something that related to the war. The girls and boys all did so well that Mr. Starks gave us each a gold watch as a prize.
I really enjoyed my years at Moton. I played tight end on the football team and had so much fun and at the same time learned a lot.
When I was in the ninth grade, I thought I'd try smoking. On the way home from school one day I saw a cigarette lying on the street. I picked it up and later tried to smoke it. After a few puffs I felt my stomach rising and I got sick. That taught me a lesson. I have never smoked since that day.
I had a similar bad experience with drinking. One day I got drunk on wine and when I crawled into bed, I thought the bed was whirling round and round. I didn't get sick like I did with the cigarette, but I sure felt bad. That was my first and last time to get drunk. Today I may sometimes have a small cocktail on special occasions - but it has to be a very small, weak cocktai, and never more than one. Today many high school kids think it's "cool" to drink and smoke, but I know from personal experience it's not a good thing.
After finishing high school in Orange, my father wanted me to study to become a doctor so I went on to study at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. To be totally accurate, the college is located in Scottlandville, which is an all-black town, but people always call it "Southern University, Baton Rouge, LA."
I remember I really didn't want to become a doctor. After attending a few classes, I realized that I lacked the biology and chemistry background in high school to be able to handle the college level classes so I changed my focus and decided to take some business courses. I enrolled in a tailoring course that Southern offered. The course load included basic math classes, English, tailoring and two or three other subjects .
To make some money while going to college, I ran a cleaning shop. In Orange I had worked in a cleaning plant and it was there I learned how to clean and press clothes. So it seemed natural for me to continue with that work. I worked at the Southern University cleaners and also worked in the dining room, waiting on the teachers who ate there.
On weekends I would sell hamburgers in my dormitory because back then in the Forties, you couldn't find a place to eat on Sunday evenings unless you walked all the way into Scottlandville.
Most of the students didn't have enough money to buy anything so I sold hamburgers and ham sandwiches in the dorm. I bought ground beef and regular sliced bread to make the hamburgers and purloined enough ham out of the school cafeteria to make the ham sandwiches. I had a small hot plate in my room on which I cooked the burgers. My "dorm cafe" was a great success and brought me in enough money to supplement the little that my father sent me. I did this throughout my entire stay at Southern.
Excerpted from THE MAN WHO BROUGHT by SKIPPER LEE FRAZIER Copyright © 2012 by Skipper Lee Frazier. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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