In a lifetime, everyone has experiences that become dividing points for them ... events that in one way or another alter their life forever. One of those times, for me, occurred in the summer of 1943. It was then that my Mom and I moved to Texas. As I have already told you, my Dad was stationed in Harlingen, Texas with the Army Air Corps. We spent the remainder of World War II there.
In the beginning, I wasn't all that enthusiastic about the move away from the neighborhood I had lived in. I left behind my chums ... Joe Sharpless, Jimmy Jones, Jay Kendig, and the rest. But it meant that my Mom and Dad would be together again and I would have my Dad to see everyday.
There was no way on earth to know Lillian Weems Baldridge would be part of the deal. She was my homeroom teacher in the sixth grade at Sam Houston Elementary School. She also taught art and Spanish to the sixth grade.
On the first day of class, I received my new textbooks ... Spanish, arithmetic, and Texas History ... among others. This, in itself, was an event. Parkside School in Silver Spring was a "progressive school". The principal didn't believe children should have their schoolbooks to take home. She didn't believe in homework, either. That might sound like heaven on earth for a school child but it wasn't for me.
So when I got my new school books, I began reading like there was no tomorrow. Almost overnight, I changed from a poorly motivated student to a kid making straight "A's". A lot of that had to do with Mrs. Baldridge. A widow lady in her 60's, Mrs. Baldridge was the sort of teacher Norman Rockwell would paint. She loved teaching and loved the students. Thanks to her, going to school became a joy. Long after the sixth grade, the enjoyment of school remained ... it had become a habit.
I was a school crossing guard at Sam Houston School. We had a badge and a special white belt we wore. Before and after school, it was our job to stop traffic so the children could safely cross. Even though we were only children ourselves, the motorists knew enough to obey our signals to stop. Nowadays, of course, the school district pays adults to do the same job that we proudly did for free. Mrs. Baldridge figures in this part of the story.
The school was on a long straight street in Harlingen and somewhere down the road was Mrs. Baldridge's home. She drove to school in a Ford Model A coupe ... and she drove like the wind. When the school crossing guards spotted her coming, we stopped the kids from crossing until she sailed into her parking place right in front of the building. Then it was "all clear" again.
I liked Spanish. In southern Texas, it was a mandatory class for all public school children from first grade through Senior High. Coming in as a sixth-grader, I had some catching up to do. But in a few months I was up to speed.
Another subject I enjoyed a great deal was Texas history. The Texans take their State history seriously. All in all, the sixth grade was a wonderful time. At the end of the year, I was selected to make a speech at graduation. I don't remember what I talked about but it was a wonderful honor and my Mom and Dad were very proud.
The next school year was at William Travis Junior High (named for another prominent figure in Texas history). The school year was unremarkable. In a way, I was yearning for the War to end so we could go back home to Silver Spring. The war in Europe was raging. And in the Pacific, too. I remember that each day, I would sketch a map of France and show where the Allied Forces had advanced, according to the local newspaper.
One afternoon in April, 1945 I was listening to "Wilderness Road", a radio show about Daniel Boone, the American frontiersman. It had just begun when an announcer interrupted to report "President Franklin Roosevelt has died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Georgia." That was incomprehensible. Franklin Roosevelt had been President for my entire life. While my father and mother were Republicans and never once voted for Roosevelt, the thought of the wartime President dying was awful no matter what political belief you held. But the Nation went on as it always does.
Vice-president Harry Truman became the head of state. In a few months, as commander-in-chief he would authorize the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. The war ended shortly thereafter. By late September, 1945 my Dad was eligible for discharge from the Army. We packed up our things, piled into our old Chevy, and headed to Silver Spring.
My time in Texas was over. You might be interested to know that every Christmas for many years, Lillian Weems Baldridge and I exchanged holiday greetings. Then the cards stopped coming. I assumed she died but I never learned for certain.