I’m sorry I haven’t written in awhile. It’s been a tough year.
I went to see Chrystal Falls last Friday. Several had pointed me in her direction, once they learned I was interested in Tudor Road, in the now-vanished Tudor-Gourdneck Community.
Mrs. Falls was born a Jackson in 1917, at the foot of County Knob, a landmark mountain hugging the eastern boundary of Eastland County. Her older brothers walked to the Tudor School all the way from the Knob. Her daddy later bought a closer place, on Tudor Road when she was six-years-old. He didn’t want six-year-old Chrystal to have to cross the creek, on her way to school.
She thinks the Tudors or Mitchells might have owned their farm first. You remember me telling you about that fine rock cellar at the turn in the road? That cellar was already there when they moved in. As was the house, also still standing.
The one room Tudor School sat by the cemetery, opening its one door as far back as the 1870s. Some called the place Gourdneck, don’t ask me why. The school cistern, located off the corner of the school building, still waits out there in the woods. Mrs. Falls attended first through sixth grade, the year the school closed down, the first year of the Great Depression for most – 1929.
Her family shopped in Strawn and Mingus. Mrs. Falls’ mom liked cornbread and there was a corn mill in Mingus at the time. They shopped for groceries at Watson Brothers in Strawn. That was an all-day trip back then.
Mrs. Falls was the only student in Tudor’s first grade. There was another girl in third grade. Miss Vivian was her teacher. Also Walter Michell’s wife, Mabell. She was of the Pope Family.
That old wooden building hosted school during the week. Saturdays were for Easter egg hunts, picnics sometimes. Sunday was for church. Fourth of July was ice cream, turned by hand in a wooden ice cream freezer – one of her favorite days, she recalled with a smile. Everyone from the community was there –maybe fifty, maybe 100. Mrs. Falls graduated from Strawn High School.
Whenever there was a Tudor Community church revival, the minister stayed at the Jackson house (her mom cooked). Her Dad was a Baptist. Tudor Road used to continue on straight into Strawn, she said. I’d wondered if maybe it ended at Peter Davidson’s first place, between Strawn and Thurber (neither town was there in 1856, back when he first landed on the banks of Palo Pinto Creek).
Mrs. Falls dad was Willie Jackson (William Henry Harrison Jackson), who married Nora Gailey. Mr. Jackson was a fine man, one of four children.
Willie’s dad abandoned the family when the boy was small, up in Arkansas. Just up and left. Eventually those four kids were taken away from their mom by some judge. Willie remembered seeing his mother sob as the kids were removed from their home.
So this is the part I was telling you about, when someone you’ve never met teaches you something. Just like he’s standing right there in front of you. Willie talked about being hungry as a child. You don’t hear that from folks, not in this country. Not today. He never forgot that. But listen to this.
After the judge took Willie from his mom (and his siblings, who were separated), he ended up with the Vaught Family in Desdemona. I’m not sure if Willie was adopted or just taken in. They worked him like a slave, beat him even. This became his life, for awhile. One Saturday that family hooked up their wagon to go to town, gave him a long list of chores to do “or you know what’ll happen to you”. Then they left.
Eleven-year-old Willie took off, escaped, wading up the middle of Hog Creek so they couldn’t track him in the water. The Vaughts later seined their tank, thinking maybe he’d drowned himself. Think about that for a minute.
Willie went up the creek, then took off north and a little east, cross country, through the brush. After many, many miles of up and down valleys and desolate wild country, he ended up at the Gailey Place, east of Tudor Road, south of the Tudor School. Willie had never seen the Gaileys before in his life.
He knocked on the Gailey’s front door. Grandma came to the door. “I’m hungry,” he said. “Can I do some work?” The Gaileys fed him, took him in, and raised him like one of their own. Willie worshipped Grandma Ada Gailey, the only mother he’d ever known, since being taken from his own mom’s wing so young. Willie lived in the Gailey house with the kids. He was the one who wrote out the verse that’s on Grandma Gailey’s tombstone in Tudor Cemetery: “She was a kind and affectionate wife, mother and a friend to all.”
The Vaughts didn’t find Willie until many years later. Grandpa Gailey told them they’d better just leave the boy be. That struggle made Willie a better man.
As an adult, Willie rode to work on horseback at the Number One Thurber mine, digging coal. He was devastated when the mines shut down. There’s a picture of the Number One mine in the Thurber museum, I’m told.
Willie also farmed and ranched. The family planted a garden – did okay. “We were never hungry. Daddy saw to that. He’d never let that happen,” Mrs. Falls wanted me to know. They didn’t have electricity down Tudor way until after she married.
Some names I heard, but don’t yet know. Dutch and Walter Mitchell (brothers), the Popes, the Gaileys (Mrs. Falls’ mom Nora was the oldest).
Mrs. Falls moved away when she was 24 (marrying George Falls). They traveled all over the world, after a childhood of staying close to home. The Falls’ trip to the Holy Land was a “trip of a lifetime,” she told me.
Times are hard right now, in Texas, all over really. Picking up the newspaper, watching the evening news can be the toughest part of the day. There was a time, not so long ago, when survival grew from the sweat of one’s brow. When folks had problems, they prayed, usually together. When young Willie Jackson showed up hungry, what he asked for was work.
“We were never hungry. Daddy saw to that.”
I hope things are good with you. Please take care.