Interviewed by Logan Wilson
April 23, 2013
WILSON: My name is Logan Wilson. This is the twenty-third of April, 2013. I’m interviewing Mrs. Helen Matthews at her home in Mexia. This interview is sponsored by the Limestone County Historical Commission and is part of the Footprints of Times Past project. The next voice you hear will be that of Mrs. Matthews.
MATTHEWS: Okay. I’m going to try to tell you a little bit about growing up in the community of Point Enterprise [Texas]. I’m a little younger than a lot of the people that are still out here telling stories, but I am seventy years old, so I feel like I’ve lived most of the last century. When my family, who came here from Czechoslovakia, bought land in the early thirties and moved to Point Enterprise, I was not on the scene. But my earliest memories are growing up in a family where everybody was German, spoke German in the house, or had a bad accent, one or the other, and they were hard-working people.
We lived, as most people did in the forties and the fifties, (clock begins chiming) off of what we raised, and we had a huge garden. Oh, I remember working in that garden and hating that, and making sauerkraut and canning beans and all the work that goes into that. We had hogs and we had chickens and we had turkeys. My mother’s Christmas money was always from the turkeys. She would go to somewhere—I don’t know, Bryan, I think—and buy turkey babies and we raised them. Dumb animals; oh my gosh, they’re dumb. And at Thanksgiving she had a set group of ladies in Mexia who would call and reserve their turkey, and then my dad and my mom and sometimes my brother Edmund would kill those turkeys and dress them, and then we would deliver them, for which she got maybe three dollars a turkey. But that was our Christmas money; that’s what we used for money. In addition to turkeys and chickens and hogs, we always had cows. We had a few cows for the meat, and then we also—my dad early on milked one or two all the time and raised baby calves.
I started to school at Point Enterprise in the late forties. First grade there was—Mr. Cochran and Mrs. Cochran were our teachers, Carl Cochran and Elaine. I thought they were wonderful teachers, loved them from the very beginning. In my first-grade class there were thirteen of us. Today, even today, I count some of those people among my closest friends; we’ve stayed in constant contact.
However, when I started to the second grade my dad had a brother who was in a displaced persons camp in Germany. He and his family were looking to get out of Europe, so my dad arranged for them to come to Mexia to live. So I started to school that fall, the second grade, with two cousins who had gotten here, couldn’t speak a word of English. They were living with us on the farm. At Christmas I got promoted into third grade, so I was there with my cousin Edmund. All these years I thought it was because I was smarter, thought I knew everything, but it was only to help him learn English. My teacher told me that later. In the third grade, when I got into the third grade, there were only five of us. There was one boy and four girls. Those four girls were to remain together and graduate from eighth grade and go on to high school and to this day are really, really close friends. The boy that was in our class, he left the community about the third grade.
At Point Enterprise, we had two classrooms. There was the classroom that had first, second, third, and fourth grade, and you learned from listening to everybody else. If you were in the second grade you learned from listening to third, and third learned from listening to fourth.
I can tell you about my most embarrassing moment. Mrs. Cochran was a real big fan of making you stand in the corner, put your nose in the corner. Well, ol’ Helen couldn’t hush; she couldn’t hush one day. I don’t know what I was talking about. I don’t even know who I was talking to, but Mrs. Cochran put me in the corner. You talk about hurt. My side hurt and I cried and I cried. We didn’t dare make a noise; tears were just running down my cheeks, just running down my cheeks. Finally, finally, she said I could sit down. I don’t know, to this day, if she ever let my mother know about it, but you can bet I didn’t talk anymore and got really, really still. (Wilson laughs)
One of the things I remember about being in the early grades is memorization, something that’s a lost art today. But we had to stand in front of the class and count to a hundred, ABCs, all those things in first grade. In the second grade—because I skipped on up into third grade at Christmas, somehow or another I missed the multiplication tables. So all by myself, alone, Mrs. Cochran would have me stand up and say, “Two times two is four, and two times three is six.” We had to say it out loud. I had to go all the way through the nines. I still remember to this day that it just was so hard, but we all did it. Everybody did it.
Another thing that comes to my mind is that we put on plays at Christmas, and at the end of the year there was always a play. We had a huge auditorium over there by the Point Enterprise school. I don’t know when it was built, but it seated probably couple of hundred people. So we put on plays, and everybody in the school had a part. I was in the first grade when I was a Christmas tree. I was standing amongst all the trees in the forest, and Kenneth Norris had to walk around and pick out a tree to cut down, and I remember to this day him saying, “I don’t want this tree. It’s got a brown limb.” And there I stood with the crêpe paper draped over my arm that was brown, so I had a brown limb and he didn’t want me. Hurt me. Then I remember that we did plays or poems, and everybody in the—everybody in the class. And then at the end of the year we had graduation for the eighth-graders, and in conjunction with that graduation there was always plays, sometimes as many as three acts.
In the fifth grade, when Brenda and Ruby and Patsy and I got to the fifth grade, there were enough people that we could have three teachers. Oh, I remember that was so exciting. We had—Ms. Merle Shivers came in to teach, and she took the lower grades— and by this time I was really tired of Mrs. Cochran—but Mrs. Cochran took the fifth grade, so I had her for another year.
Every day, from fifth grade on, every day unless it was raining hard, we went out to play volleyball. We had a volleyball team that was really, really, really good. Mr. Cochran was our coach and he worked us to death. But we would get on the bus—many Fridays we’d get on the bus, and we’d go to Shiloh or we’d go to Tehuacana or we’d go to Forest Glade, sometimes as far away as Ben Hur, and we’d play a volleyball game. Early on, when we had enough boys, we even had baseball games, but mostly we just played volleyball—the girls did. And we were so proud to win the Ben Hur tournament. Two years in a row we won first place, brought home a little old gold cup, couldn’t have been three inches high. That was our pastime; that was our thing to do. And in the winter, when it was cold and when it was bad and we couldn’t go out to play volleyball, girls would gather in the corner and laugh and giggle and sew. We had a little sewing circle. We’d embroidery and embroidery all kinds of tablecloths and pillowcases and, oh, just all—I don’t know, we just kept ourselves busy. Or we read. A lot of us read, and I’m a reader to this day. I love to read, especially history. Historical fiction is my favorite thing to read.
Another memory that comes from being at Point Enterprise in that era of time, is that as seventh- and eighth-graders began to mature and look around at the boys, which we did, we couldn’t drive, we couldn’t get to town, we didn’t have any way, but we could convince somebody’s mother—and normally it was Brenda’s almost always, but sometimes the others and even mine—we’d have a little, what we called, a sock hop because by that time sock hops were really popular. You pulled off your shoes when you walked in the door, and you put on that record player with those forty-fives, and everybody started dancing and so. We girls taught each other to dance. I think my brother Edmund taught me to dance pretty much, but then we helped each other. And then on a Saturday night, well, we’d say, “Y’all come on over to Carol’s,” or “Y’all come to Helen’s,” or whatever, and we’d have a cookie or a coke or something, and we’d put on those records and jitterbug. I’m telling you, we made those boys learn to jitterbug. We made them learn to—there’s four boys and four girls. How exciting could that be, but that’s what we did. We danced, we sometimes played spin the bottle and took a walk down the road, but I won’t even tell you about that. (Wilson laughs)
Now, that school was vital to the community. That was a very important part of our community. And that school was around until I graduated from high school and left to go to college. Even after I got married and left home there was still a school here. But that was the heart of the community, it really was, that and the church. Now, that brings me to another subject because my family were Catholic. All of us had come here as Catholics, and we belonged to Saint Mary’s Church in Mexia and attended mass regularly. And my mother believed if the door was open you had to be there. We never, that I remember, ever went to church in Point Enterprise, never attended any kind of function. I know I’ve had older people say, “Oh, I’ve had many a foot-washing in that old church over there,” or I’ve done this or I’ve done that. I don’t remember ever going to a church service. I did, however, as a preteenager and teenager, get invited to some of the banquets or little things that the church would have. It would be—well, they invited everybody, so I went. But we never did participate in church activities.
There was in the community a little store right at the corner of what is now 502 [County Road 502] and 504 [County Road 504], called McGee’s Store. Mr. Ray and Mrs. Irma McGee had a store that had two gas pumps outside. You know the kind, the old kind you have to crank up. And they had soda water and they had ice cream and they had bubble gum and they had—and, you know, a Coca-Cola cost a nickel, and a Pepsi cost a dime, and you could get a popsicle for a nickel. I actually was a spoiled child because I had an allowance. My daddy gave me twenty cents for each day’s lunch—that’s a dollar—every Monday morning, and a nickel to go to the store. A nickel. I could hardly wait for Mondays to get there. I could run—and Mr. and Mrs. Cochran let us go. Every morning at recess, if you had money—you showed them the money—you could go across the street to the store. So for many, many years, Mr. and Mrs. McGee kept our little community alive and going because they were good to us kids. She watched us like a hawk, I remember that, but naturally she would [be] not very trusting. And Mr. McGee was so, we thought, wonderful because when we would come home on the bus from a volleyball game, if we won the game we all got a free drink. We’d get off that bus right out there by that—the building’s still there. There’s a family lives there. Gas pumps are gone and all the trappings, all the signs they had stuck up—the old metal signs—were all gone. But McGee’s Grocery Store was a really, really important part of the community. I remember that very well.sound of paper rustling in following sections
When I was about ten—the first time I remember thinking, I’m working. I’m really working. I had to work. My dad planted a peach orchard. He was a blacksmith by trade. He could do anything with metal. He had learned it, apprenticed in the old country in Czechoslovakia, and he went to work when he got here. But the oil business left. The oil boom was ended, the companies left, and he didn’t choose to leave. He had bought the land, and he told me more than once growing up, his neighbor in Czechoslovakia had a peach tree, and so he would go over and steal the peaches because he just loved those peaches. So he always wanted to have a peach orchard. So when I was somewhere in the—probably about the time I was born he planted a little orchard. We always called it the old orchard. It had two or three apple trees, couple or three pear trees, and several peach trees. But then, by the time I started to school—early fifties we already had a producing orchard, and by the time I got to high school we had six thousand trees. We had a running peach orchard, and I worked, buddy. My brother, Edmund, who is closest to me, was the only one at home. The others had already grown and left. He and I worked all the time. I was driving the tractor for Daddy to spray the trees when I was nine years old; driving the truck out to the orchard when I was eleven; working at the fruit stand on the highway by the time I was thirteen. And I’m not talking a little bit of the time; I’m talking six days a week, twelve hours a day.
So I just grew up in the peach orchard. I knew everything about how to—not plow it or anything, but when to spray, how to spray. I knew when it needed pruning. I always had the job with the little shears of going under and getting the little—pruning out the little bit underneath that side. So we had lots of friends and lots of acquaintances. It was hard work, but we made lots of friends over the years. And I just—I worked that fruit stand and worked with my dad. I mean, I was—I never learned to cook. I never learned to do anything in the house because I was Daddy’s helper outside all the time because I was the youngest. And way back—Edmund’s eight years older than I am, so he really depended on me, especially after Edmund left to get married. But we raised many varieties of peaches, and because peaches were really big in the community, they were a big entity, well, we were always around the community, always busy.
In the fifties—I don’t know when, ’54, [’5]5, [’5]6, somewhere in there—the community had a drive to clean up the community, fix up, and we entered a contest to have the best community in Texas, and we won. We won. Everybody in the community—I don’t remember what all they did. I do remember coming to many meetings where there might be as many as a hundred people in that clubhouse. And there was such a community spirit. We’ve got to—you know, everybody had to pitch in, everybody had to have their yards all cleaned, the road ditches had to be cleaned, and that was just a real—in my memory, a really good time, and a good time to live in the community. Unfortunately, today most of those people are gone, those people that were so busy in that community. And people today move to the community—they come out to live in the country—they don’t have that sense of community that we did. They didn’t belong, they didn’t strive to help one another, and now I bemoan the fact that we don’t stick together anymore. And a lot of it is due to the loss of the school. You don’t know who’s living around you; you don’t get to know them. And (clock begins chiming) we have—we still have a church here that’s an active church, but it’s a small group of people, a small number of people. I’m trying to think what else about the community to share with you.
WILSON: Well, while you think about it, I’m going to ask you, Mrs. Matthews, something that I have asked everybody, one question. And 90 percent of the time I get the same answer—different words, same answer. Here’s the question: if you had one piece of advice to tell the young people today, what would it be?
MATTHEWS: Oh, I think—I have a lot of advice. (laughs) I think that comes from being a schoolteacher. But I think that honesty is just the biggest thing that you—my dad always said, “Your good name you can never lose, and always remember—” I mean, he really drilled that into me: “Your good name is all you are. I don’t care how much money you have or how little you have,” or whatever. “If you have a good reputation and a good name and people know they can trust you and you will be responsible, then you’ve got it made. And after that, the rest of it will come.” So I think my advice would be, do what you say you’re going to do, be there when you say you’re going to be, and own up to whatever you did wrong.
WILSON: That’s very good. You were a schoolteacher most of your adult life.
MATTHEWS: Right. I went to Sam Houston [State University] and got my degree, and then I married and taught everywhere I ever lived. And we moved back to Mexia, my late husband and I—he was also from Mexia—Thomas Matthews. We moved back to Mexia in ’78, we bought the farm over here just across the creek from my mother and daddy, and I taught—from then on, I taught at Mexia.
WILSON: Well, tell us then, how are the schools different today than they were when you first began teaching? The relationship—the parents, the students, and the teachers, how is it different than it was then?
MATTHEWS: Well, I’ve been retired eleven years, and I’ve been out of touch with modern day. Everything I hear about it is negative. But I know that when I first started teaching—and I taught in Denver, Colorado, in Japan, in San Antonio; I taught in several places—parents backed the teacher up. They didn’t question the teacher. They made sure their children were in bed when they ought to be and that they’re not prowling the streets. They made sure they had their homework. And the curriculum was pretty narrow compared to today. Today, kids have to know so much more than we did. I see this in my grandchildren. I see—or I realize. They’re reading earlier, they’re learning earlier, they’ve got all those little machines, and they know all that stuff, but parents still need to be parents. They still need to be taking responsibility for their kids, and I see that less and less. I realize that because I have one daughter in education, and I hear her bemoaning that there’s—they’re not there to make sure their children are doing what they’re supposed to do. They’re not on top of the situation, and that’s just really become hard.
And our world has changed. At large, our world has changed. You can just look at the different ethnic groups that are in Mexia today. I had a newspaper today. You looking at all the different ethnic backgrounds in there, and you throw all that with the technology that we have today and the things that are—it’s just—it’s got to be hard, hard, hard to be a teacher today.
WILSON: Hard for the teachers and—
MATTHEWS: Hard for the teachers and hard for the students.
WILSON: —possibly in the long run hard for the children, too?
MATTHEWS: Um-hm. Well, they’ve just got to learn so much, and they’ve got to know so much, and then they don’t have anybody just really saying, “Okay, hang in there. You can do it.” And so they lose heart. I think that that’s the worst part of it is that we no longer feel that the school is where you need to be, and you need to be paying attention. I’ve not got that same feeling.
WILSON: Well, I want to thank you for this interview. I want you to—
MATTHEWS: (speaking at same time) Oh, you’re quite welcome. I’m happy to do it. I hope I helped.
WILSON: You helped a bunch, and we do appreciate it, Mrs. Matthews. Thank you very much.
end of interview