Readin’, Writin’, and Roebuck(From Kathleen’s Memoirs of The Great Depression)

SearsIf you haven’t read “I Quit” , that is precursor to this story.  Follow this link.

That night after supper, Daddy read his “Ranch Romance” while Mama hemmed a dress and John and I finished our homework by the coal oil lamp in the front room.  As soon as I finished, Daddy put out his cigarette, patted his bony legs and called, “Come here, Kitten.”  I crawled up and waited, knowing a treat was awaiting me.  We often begged for stories.  It was rare for Daddy to bring it up on his own.  “Let me tell you how I learned to read.”  Though I didn’t want to jinx my chance at a story, I silently wondered.  How could this be a story?  Everybody learns to read in first grade. 

He continued.  “My pa homesteaded a place in Johnstown, Texas, not too far from here when I was just a leetle feller.  Couldn’t have been more than eight.  We’d been living out West, near Waxahatchie.  That was pure frontier.  Four men named John homesteaded in Johnstown about the same time my pa did.  That’s how it got its name.

We had a nice little cabin, but it was more than twenty miles from the nearest town.  There was no school.  There were twelve of us youngun’s.  Pa couldn’t read nor write.  Ma had been to school a little, but didn’t have time to teach us. Neither Ma nor Pa had sitting time.  If we weren’t all working, we were probably sleeping, just trying to keep something in our stomachs and clothes on our backs. Lots a’ times the leetle fellers’ went to sleep at the supper table and dropped their heads in their gravy and biscuit.  Pa always tried to knock off early on Saturday and cut us loose for courtin’ and such,  leavin’ Sunday for church and visitin’, but other than that, the only time for learnin’ was if it was rainin’ and Pa didn’t have somethin’ for us to do in the barn.  Ma and the girls was always busy in the garden, cooking, canning, sewing, quilting, or something.  My ma didn’t believe in sitting idle.

By the time us younger kids come along, there was a teacher a time or two..  None of ‘em ever stayed long. The women teachers would get married right off.   Even when there was a school, we couldn’t go in bad weather or when we was needed on the farm.  I remember once when they made me go to school.  I was walking along, just a’bawlin’ my eyes out, ‘cause I didn’t want a’ go.  I was a’ squawlin’ so hard I couldn’t see, when all of  a sudden, I spotted a big ol’ bear right on the side a’ the trail.  I lit a shuck for home.  Pa didn’t believe I’d seen a bear, since there hadn’ never been no bear in them parts.  He tore me up and sent me right back to school.  There it was, right in the same place.  I figured I’d better face it instead a’ Pa this time an’ slipped up a leetle closer.  It was just a big ol’ bush lookin’ like a bear with all my squawlin’.

I probably never went more than three months, altogether.  I learned my letters right off and kind’a got a leetle idea of readin’.  I was always quick with numbers, since I needed to know that.  Well, when I was twenty-one or so, I come up with some old traps.  I did good enough with’ em that I had the idea of ordering some more from the Sears and Roebuck Catalog and make some real money.  I sat down with that catalog.  It took me a while, but I finally worried with it enough that I had my order filled out.  I know it now it must have looked like hen-scratch when I sent it in.  A few weeks later, I got a reply back from Sears and Roebuck in the nicest handwriting I ever seen.  It had to have been from a young woman.  It said, they were sorry, but they just couldn’t make my order out.  Could I please ask someone to fill it out for me and they’d send my order straight away.  I felt just awful, to think I was twenty-one years old and couldn’t write a hand good enough to be read.  I made up my mind then and there to study that Sears and Roebuck Catalog and practice my handwriting till I could fill my own order out in a good hand.  It took me a little while, but I got that order right and my traps came right back, just like they said.  I didn’t quit then.  I kept on with Sears till I learned what I needed.  They were my reading and writing teacher.  Now you know I write a fine hand and read more than most any other man I know, except maybe the preacher, and all thanks to the Sears and Roebuck Catalog.  Reading has brought me about as much pleasure as anything in my life.  Now that’s why you need to go to school.”

4 thoughts on “Readin’, Writin’, and Roebuck(From Kathleen’s Memoirs of The Great Depression)

  1. Wow. Great story. Love that you use his paints such an authentic picture. Reading is second nature, almost like breathing; but it is important to realize that we can never take the skill for granted. Literacy is still an issue. Thanks for the reminder. Van

    Liked by 1 person

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