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Runnels County, Texas Panhandle

Romance at the Mailboxes,
Smuggled Books and
Why Pregnant Women Couldn't Teach.

by Shirley Thompson Mohler

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Bethel Community was across the highway from Olfen. Going from Ballinger on the Paint Rock Highway, Bethel is to the left, and directly opposite was a road that led to Rowena. I remember people referring to that as "over behind Rowena." Olfen was located to the right a little farther down the road. Bethel had a school that was a rock building. The land was donated by the Wilde family, and when the school closed, the land went back to them. The building burned a number of years back and Rick Smith wrote an article about it in his column in the San Angelo Standard-Times.

When I went to Bethel School from 1st through 8th grades, there were three teachers. Miss Pearl Holton taught grades 1-3 for many years and taught all those Bethel kids how to read. What a contribution to society. Mrs. Leora Richardson taught grades 4-6, and the 7-8th grade teacher was also the principal, and he drove a school bus. Mr. Pearson and Mr. Elliott were the two I remember.

An interesting detail was that we were not allowed to take books home! No homework in those days!! We had to have work to do during class while the teacher was working with another grade level. One time I got in trouble for slipping a book home in my drawstring bag, and someone told on me. My Daddy was on the school board for years, so sometimes I would be accused of getting favors, but the way I remember it, I had to "toe the line", even more so than other kids.

The school was the hub of the community. We had plays, domino parties, ice cream socials and other community gatherings. We had great times at recess, playing softball, swinging, making playhouses, playing "Red Rover" and hide-and-seek and in the spring gathering buttercups and stringing them on the stem of another plant that grew in the pastures and had a long stem with a brown button on top. We made hundreds of necklaces and bracelets out of them.

My favorite story from Bethel School was that of watching the romance blossom between Miss Pearl and the postman, who was a widower. She had never been married. We noticied that we seemed to be dismissed for recess every day just about the time the postman arrived to fill the mailboxes located at the Bethel intersection. We would hide and watch as Miss Pearl made her way around the building so she could wave to him when he made his stop. They eventually married and spent several happy retirement years together.

The school had coal stoves which were pot-bellied stoves surrounded by a large circular metal sheeting, so we wouldn't get too close and get burned. It was a treat when it was our turn to go gather a shuttle of coal to be ready for tomorrow's fire. That and getting to go beat the erasers on the side of the coal building to clean them on Fridays.

There were two churches, Baptist and Methodist. The Baptist church had a pastor who came on 1st and 3rd Sundays from Hardin-Simmons, where he was a student. The Methodist church had a pastor who had a dual charge with Norton, and he came to Bethel on 2nd and 5th Sundays. One of the families in the church invited the preacher home with them for Sunday dinner. Both congregations went to their own church for Sunday School, and then moved to whichever church had the pastor that day. The host church would sing songs until the other group arrived. Consequently the Baptists sat on one side and the Methodists sat on one side, because of the coming-in late.

A funny story was told at my Daddy's funeral by one of those former student pastors. He said the men of the community all gathered to put a new roof on the Baptist church. Someone said, Where should we start?" My dad in his dry humor said, "Well, since the Methodists are afraid of water, I guess we should start on the Methodist side."

I remember that the Baptists didn't have Holy Communion very often, but when they did they didn't offer it to the Methodists, because they observe closed communion. The Methodists, however, have open table, and would offer to pass the communion plate to the visitors. I can still see my Daddy shake his head, and the communion plate didn't come down our row. Even then, I thought something was wrong with this picture, so as an adult, I am a good Methodist.

Following church there was quite a social time of visiting and catching up on all the news. Many people in the Community attended these two churches. Often I would go home with my friends, or they with me, and we would play hard all afternoon, then go home with our parents following the evening service. It was great fun, because we didn't live very close to each other, and we couldn't just go over to play during the week.

One special memory is that of Easter Sunday when we went to the Methodist Church for sunrise service. The chancel area would have three wooden crosses and sheets draped over cardboard boxes stacked to make the hillside. The service would end just as the sun rose, so we had gotten up very early to attend this special service. Then we would be dismissed to go out and hunt Easter eggs that someone had hidden while we were inside. Following this, we ate breakfast, and stayed around until Sunday School time at our respective churches. It was a very special occasion, and I can't remember who was responsible for setting it all up. It just happened - in my young perspective.

The Baptist church eventually closed and the building was donated to a church in town to be used for a Spanish-speaking congregation. The Methodist church stayed open several more years. In fact, I think it is very admirable that one of my schoolmates was responsible for tithing to keep the little Bethel Church open for several years, because he felt his parents would not drive into Ballinger to worship.

One other story -- on the farm/ranch where we lived there was once a one-room school called Davis School. My mother taught there when she was a bride and moved there. She had no formal education, but took a test to give her certification to teach. It was unusual for married women to teach, but since transportation was not good, she was needed. One day one of her students came up to her desk to tell her he/she was sick to his stomach, and promptly threw up on her desk. My mother was barely pregnant, so she threw up with him! That ended her career. Pregnant women certainly were not allowed to teach.

What a great life. When I completed eighth grade the school closed, and everyone had to ride the bus all the way into Ballinger. I feel sorry for the younger kids who missed the Bethel School experience. The town of Pony was in the middle of this community. The row of mailboxes were a common visiting place if you got there early before the mailman arrived.

All of this may not be relevant, but I have certainly enjoyed remembering and writing it.

©Shirley Thompson Mohler
Garland, Texas
They Shoe Horses, Don't They? Guest Column

Bethel Community, Texas Chronicles

Subject: Miss Pearl Holton

I just came across this story by Shirley Mohler, where she mentions a romance between her primary school teacher, Miss Pearl Holton and the postman. That postman is my grandfather, Ross Alexander Smith. Miss Pearl became his 2nd wife after his first wife passed away. I met her a number of times in Texas when I was a boy.

I'd be interested if Shirley Mohler has any more infomation on Miss Pearl. I'm pretty sure she passed away in 1974 (see https://www.findagrave.com) I'm now trying to contact the Find a Grave website to add her to my grandfather's page https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=54915659

Any further information you or Shirley could pass on would be most appreciated.

- Kind regards, Geoff Smith, September 10, 2017

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