Psychologist have written much about memories of early childhood, saying they cannot be trusted. They claim the adult mind has a difficult time separating what is learned through repeated stories and what is learned from actual personal experience. After this story is told, you be the judge about the validity of these memories. First–just a little background:
LELIA LAKE, TEXAS. Lelia Lake, on U.S. Highway 287 in central Donley County, was established in the late 1880s as a flag station on the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway. It was originally named Lelia after Lelia Payne, the sister-in-law of G. A. (Gyp) Brown, the town’s founder and the first judge for Donley County. When the community’s post office was established in December 1906, however, the word Lake was added to its name to distinguish it from Lela, Texas, in Wheeler County. The railroad section house and depot were the townsite’s first buildings. In 1894 the first school was opened at the community. By 1915 Lelia Lake had several stores, two banks, two gins, a lumberyard, a barbershop, and a resident physician. In 1925 its population was estimated at 150. Two years later the estimate had risen to 300, and by 1929 it was 500. Four churches were established by 1930. The Great Depression closed the banks, however, and by 1933 the population had dropped to 150. Lelia Lake gained some publicity in 1940, when the family of D. E. Leathers, son of one of the town’s pioneers, was selected as the Typical American Family by the Texas Chamber of Commerce in Fort Worth. The town has been noted for watermelon production and as a grain-shipping point. The population of Lelia Lake decreased from 500 in 1947 to 300 in 1950 and 125 in 1970. In 1984 the community had three businesses, a town hall, a gin, a church, and a post office. Through 2000 the community’s population was still reported as 125.
When did I enter this little town? Actually I am not exactly sure of the date, but likely soon after my birth. I can remember that my father and my mother both taught school when I was very small and that I spent a lot of time with a neighbor lady, or on the playground, either with my elder brother or with some school girl appointed to look after me. By the time I was four Daddy was Superintendent of Schools K-12. As a small boy, he had attended school in that same building, graduated from there, taught English, Spanish and math, until he finally took the Superintendent’s position just before he joined the Navy during World War II. I remember old class pictures, suspended by wires from a wooden railing up and down the walls of the main hall, office and in every classroom. All seemed to have my daddy’s pictures in them–sometimes as a student and sometimes as a teacher. I don’t remember anyone talking about those pictures or about my daddy, but knowing he had always been there gave a certain confidence and a genuine feeling of security.
My first memory is of an early morning when my daddy passed through the room where I was sleeping. He had been expecting a friend who was a fund-raiser for what was then Abilene Christian College. Daddy tiptoed out the front door into the darkness to meet him and bring him back through the room where I was (probably the dining room) to the kitchen for breakfast. I can remember distinctly standing up in the crib and waving my arms at him as he and his friend attempted to pass by to a lighted room on my left. No doubt they tried to be quiet, but I had awakened and was eager to be out of bed. I remember awaiting his lifting me up and letting me sit on his knee while Mother prepared breakfast. Later they told me I used a phrase I often used, which was a version of his statement to me. “Wove me hun, mon den,” translated “Do you love me honey? Come on then.”
I also remember that my mother cooked more than one scrambled egg for me that day. Doubtless the oohs and ahs were what encouraged me to keep asking for more until I ate the third egg. At that point Mother probably ran out or decided I might make myself sick, so she quit giving them to me. That was all for that day, but there is another memory associated with a different house.
One other vivid memory of a time when I must have been about two was having to stay with the neighbor while my mother went to school. Usually Mother was a stay-at-home mom, but when one of the regular teachers did not show, Daddy asked my mother to take care of that classroom. The day I remember so well was rushed, and I was scuttled off to the neighbor about half a mile down the tree-lined country road. Telling it all now even brings back the emotion — the traumatic feeling of abandonment. The room, with its burden of furniture added to my dismay. Not being much to talk to or entertain children, the neighbor went to another room to do her work. And that left me in a dingy, dank feeling, formal dining room to get over my tears. Voila! I knew what to do. Run away! And run away I did, the whole half mile back to my own house where my mother just might still be. There she was on the front porch, just walking out the door. When I arrived, of course I was allowed to visit school that day.
Memories fill my heart and mind, but those can be saved for another telling.