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,
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.
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.
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.
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
The following is an excerpt from the book: A River, A Town,
and Memories by Tillie McGill Bright.
Bright shares a memory about her school days in Gonzales,
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
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
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
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.
is best forgotten.
10, 2011 column
Schoolhouses | Texas Towns | Books
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