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  • Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

    "A River, A Town, and Memories"
    Remembering Miss Tillie

    by Murray Montgomery
    Murray Montgomery
    I met her one time and I will always cherish those few hours that we spent together talking about the memories of her childhood in Gonzales, Texas.

    Tillie Bright was one of those people that you meet for the first time and feel you've known them forever. She made a lasting impression on me and my only regret is that I won't be able to visit with her again.

    Mrs. Bright passed away on July 20, 1999, at the age of 89.

    I remember being somewhat troubled over the best way to write this introduction for the following article from her book. But finally, the thought came to me that this shouldn't be done with any sadness of heart. Tillie wouldn't have wanted it that way.

    My recollection of her from our brief meeting was that she loved her God, her family, and her town. She lived through the hard times and the good times. She had a zest for life and was always looking for a "new project."

    Those of us concerned with history are very fortunate, because most of Tillie's projects involved preserving the history of her town, Gonzales, Texas. She saved newspaper clippings for years about anything that she considered important to the history of Gonzales.
    Mrs. Bright left behind some history of her own for us all to enjoy. Her book: A River, A Town, and Memories is an eyewitness account of life in Gonzales during the 1920s and 1930s.

    When I read the book, it brought back memories of stories told in my family down through the years. I believe it will affect most folks that way.

    One other thing I want to share about Mrs. Bright. During my interview with her, Tillie made sure I was aware of her religious preference.

    "Did I tell you I was Methodist?" she asked. In fact she had several times.

    The following is an excerpt from the book: A River, A Town, and Memories by Tillie McGill Bright.

    (Mrs. Bright shares a memory about her school days in Gonzales, Texas)

    My brothers, my sister and I attended the same school and had the same teachers except for a few who did not remain in the system very long. Therefore, we passed good and bad reports of our teachers to those who followed us. I liked and obeyed all of my teachers.

    I started first grade in the grammar school in 1917. The interior of the building was varnished woodwork with a wide staircase leading to the upper floor. To be a student on the upper floor was the goal of my life then.

    Everything was so neat and orderly. I enjoyed the smell of the beeswax polish when I entered the building, for the janitor kept the floors and staircase spotless.

    When I started school, I walked nine blocks with my brother. Later, I walked with my sister and younger brother. There was nothing unusual about walking. Every student walked to school. Motor vehicles were just beginning to appear on our streets, and we weren't allowed to ride a horse or mule to school, although some students did at country schools.

    The students gathered on the school playgrounds at 8:30 on school days and played until a bell rang. Then we rushed to the wide front sidewalk and stood in line quietly. Not a sound or shuffle did we make.

    Then a teacher put a record (or disc) on the Victrola and we marched into the main hall to the sound of marching music. I thought it was grand. We marched to our rooms, stood by our desks, and sat down when the teacher said we could.

    There were rules and there were RULES! (1) Raise your hand for permission to speak, to put papers in the wastebasket, to leave the room (if necessary). (2) Do not speak to your classmates, and put your books in your desk, but quietly. It sounds regimental, but it worked. This routine was followed until we were promoted to upstairs classes.

    Most children were taught obedience at home, and at school they were just a little bit afraid of the teachers. This was a new experience, and it was best to behave, or a note would be sent home to mamma and papa. I never witnessed a student being punished with a paddle, but some were sent to the cloakroom to think matters over.

    The cloakroom was next to every classroom, and its purpose was to contain coats, hats and lunch pails. Speaking of lunch pails may make everyone wonder about our school lunches.

    Some children had pails in which their mothers placed a sandwich and an apple or cookie. These pails were usually made of tin which had once contained jelly or molasses.

    Some lunches were leftovers from the meal at home, such as bacon, biscuits or homemade bread spread with butter. Lunch was available at school on rainy days for a nickel. It was just a bowl of stew and a slice of bread, but it tasted good.

    There were many plays in grammar and high school. I was in a play once on the high school stage with parents and friends invited to watch. We danced to the tune "Just Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella."

    There were sixteen boys and girls, or rather sixteen girls with eight dressed like boys. I was short and small and had short hair, so I was asked to be a boy. I borrowed a suit from a boy in my class and smoothed my hair back with grease so I would resemble a boy. We were boy and girl partners, and we sang and danced and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

    I just remembered my other stage appearance when I was in grammar school. In a little play the students dressed like flowers and vegetables, and I was a cabbage.

    Maybe that is best forgotten.

    Murray Montgomery
    October 10, 2011 column
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