Monday, February 23, 2015

Clara Ruth Towry Childress

For extra credit in a college history class, I interviewed all four of my grandparents.  The next few posts will be from the information they gave me and the papers I wrote in 1975.  I can't tell you how glad I am that I did this.  When I presented these papers to my grandparents, their own children had never heard some of the following information.  I want to pass this on to my children and grandchildren...and all of those Childresses out there.

John Andrew and Annie Martha Towry were a poor farm family trying to make it in a small country town, Cotton Wood, Texas.  Things were hard in the year 1908 and John had a full-time job with a family to provide for and a farm to keep going.  Sickness had been hanging over their house for quite some time--then they knew--their small son had pneumonia.  In this day and age, they knew that death would soon be coming.  At the same time, Annie Martha was expecting another child.  Finally, death's hand passed over their child and the sorrow was too great for John to bear, so he left and took his own life.  Annie Martha was overcome with grief.  She had lost two people who were very precious to her.  Now the responsibility of her family that was left and the farm fell heavily on her small shoulders.  The next two months were a great trial for Annie but then another small miracle came from God.  This miracle was a little girl born in the Wheeler County Hospital, May 23, 1908.  Annie named her baby Clara Ruth Towry.  This little pink bundle would some day be surrounded by a family of her own whom she loved dearly and her love would be returned ten-fold.  Annie was thankful for another child but it troubled her that she wold have to raise Clara in poverty.  By the time Clara was two years old, Annie was having such a struggle financially that she finally had to give up and move back home with her parents.    Annie had always thought that she would never be able to love anyone as much as she had John, but while she was living with her parents, she met A.H. Moore, who was a farmer living three miles east of Wheeler.  Soon they were married.  Within eight years, the Moore family began to expand very rapidly and once again Annie was the wife of a poor farmer.  John's parents offered to take one of the children to ten-year-old Clara was the one sent to live with her grandparents.

Clara with her grandparents, John David & Perlina Parasette Towry

Annie knew her deceased husband's parents would be able to offer Clara things in life that she could never give her daughter, so she regretfully let Clara go.  Clara was given new clothes, toys, and everything imaginable which would touch a young girl's fancy.  Her grandparents were even going to send her to college.  But Clara was unhappy and cried herself to sleep many nights.  Three years passed with this arrangement and she was allowed a visit to see her mother, step-father, and step-brothers and step-sisters.  When it came time for her to leave, she refused to go and her mother told her she could live with them as long as she liked.  So, Annie and Clara went to a telephone and made one of those rare calls to let her grandparents know that Clara was returning to her family where she belonged.  Her grandparents were furious and childishly kept all of Clara's new belongings, including quilt tops which Clara had learned to piece.  The college education was forgotten, but Clara was with her mother and that was what counted.  It was an exciting but closed chapter of Clara's life.

Well, Clara was home with those she loved and she settled down to farm life once again.  There was always plenty of farm work to attend to until around January and that was when she started school.  But first, the cotton, corn and maize crops had to be harvested and there were always chickens to feed, cows to milk, and usually horses to take care of since that was their main way of traveling until 1918.  Her family raised most of its own food.  They raised hogs, beef, and chickens and cured it themselves.  The boys always loved to get out and hunt and almost always brought back enough prairie chickens, quail, or rabbit for the entire family to eat.  Her mother taught each of the girls how to can vegetables and can and preserve fruits.  So there was always enough canned foods for the family.  On special occasions, ice cream was made.  But this was a special treat saved for when neighbors came to visit all day.

Clara never finished school.  She went to the small school in Wheeler until she quit in the eleventh grade due to work on the farm.  But the school where she went was made up of combined grades for lack of teachers.  She loved school and never minded the three mile walk even in the coldest of weather.  One morning, after a very heavy snow, she and her sister insisted on going to school.  Annie finally consented after they were well bundled up.  When they reached the school house, they were so cold that Clara's hands were almost frozen.  The superintendent of the school took Clara to his house and made her stay there with his wife all day so she could take care of the frozen girl.  Then that afternoon, the superintendent hitched up his horse and buggy and took the two girls home.  Miss Lilly Bailey moved to town after a well-liked teacher of Sandy Basin school left and became the teacher.  She announced to the class that "she hadn't come to be nobody's friend; that she'd come so they could learn."  So, it seems, everybody was out to get Miss Lilly Bailey.  One of the boys in the school, Buster Walker, put a burro in the well house and then found an excuse for the teacher to have to go down there.  When Miss Bailey opened the door, she was in for a kicking, roaring surprise!  Miss Bailey left the school within a year.

Clara was attending school in 1923 when she met Lloyd Samuel Childress at a neighborhood party.

My personal memories of my grandmother:
We grandchildren called my grandmother, "Granny."  Because my paternal grandmother was also "Granny," I called Clara, Granny Childress.  She had eight children and 33 grandchildren plus 1 who died at birth.  My earliest memories of the Childress family are of a BIG group of relatives gathering at Granny's house with lots and lots of food.  After a big lunch, Granny would put a tablecloth over the food until supper time.  I'm sure there wasn't room to store everything in the small refrigerator she had, but this was just a common custom.  Our family gathered at Granny's house often.  There was seldom a weekend that we didn't drive from Pampa to Wheeler to see family.  Because I have 29 Childress first cousins, you just always knew you'd have someone to play with when you got there.

Granny loved her grandkids!  Papa never came to our house that he didn't try to get some of us to go home with him...and usually one of us did.  I think Granny just stayed in a perpetual state of expectation of one grandchild or another spending the weekend with them.  The best was when my cousin, Kay, and I met at Granny's house.  Kay & I were only 10 days apart in age so we were the best of friends.  Granny would usually pull out a sleeper bed on the couch in the large kitchen and put lots and lots of quilts on top of us.  And then she'd caution us, "You better get to sleep before your Papa does!"  (Papa could shake the rafters with his snoring!  If he did happen to fall asleep before we did, I'd worry when he'd stop snoring--I'd hold my breath until the next snore.)  Granny would always let us cook in her kitchen and we did lots of experimenting.  Granny's favorite cookie was Fig Newtons--they were usually safe in her kitchen cabinet because there were very few of us who liked them.  

Granny had red hair and would exclaim over each new grandbaby, "Oh!  I think they're going to have red hair!"  Out of 33 grandchildren, there were only 3 of us who did.  (I also have 2 redheaded children and 1 redheaded grandchild.)  It felt very special to have red hair.  Granny tried to make each grandchild feel important.  I remember one day that she pulled me into her bedroom and gave me a trinket and told me, "Now don't tell any of the others that I gave that to you!" I promised.  It wasn't until years later that I found out she did that with each one of us.  

Granny's biggest pet peeve was when we grandkids would get in Papa's chair and spin in it.  Not because of the chair, but because Papa chewed tobacco and had his spittoon beside his chair.  Invariably, when we would spin one another, someone would trip over the spittoon and spill it.  Granny would huff as she cleaned it up.  (I don't know why she didn't make us clean it up!)  She also had screen doors on her front and back door.  As we kids ran in and out all weekend, she'd yell, "Don't slam the door!"  Of course, we did.  Papa loved to go to auctions.  I was visiting them on two different occasions when Papa came home with a new cooking stove.  Granny would huff around because he'd brought her a new stove.  It wasn't that she wasn't grateful...she'd say, "I just learned how to use this one!"

When I was young, Granny cleaned the "drive-in" cafe every weekend.  I loved to go with her to help her clean.  Kay & I would pretend we were soda jerks and Granny would allow us to make one drink each while we were there.  I can still taste how good they were!  I doubt we really helped her clean.

It was always an adventure to go to Granny's house.  I have so many wonderful memories of her and of our big family.

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