We are: George Frost--who is over 80 but active and sharp as a proverbial tack and has a wonderful sense of humor and many amazing tales to relate. Jan Charles, a fantastic woman of African American ancestry who grew up in Ohio when segregation and active prejudice were very much a part of the culture. She also has a wonderful way of telling stories and mixes humor and anguish in an inimitable fashion. Carolyn Kittle, a native of Appalachia who still has a few of those mountain folk idioms and accents (reminding me of my Kentucky grandma) despite extensive education and experiences has a trove of wonderful stories to share. And Jay Brenner, a friend of mine from Arizona days who was instrumental in my living here today. She was another 'hillbilly' from West Virginia who left those roots far behind and also has had some amazing experiences including a two year stint as a contract employee in Iraq, supporting the soldiers there. Then there is me, the old mule skinner, cowboy girl and eccentric author.
You can well imagine the tales we share. Everyone reads something aloud and then we farm things out to be edited before we include them in the collection which will be published about September. It will be an ebook at first but perhaps in print at some point. In time I will share some of their stories that I have to edit but for now here is one of mine. It is a little long so take your time!
And here is a photo from that time before you begin! The blonde with braids in the middle is yours truly!
Boys Camp Wood
I went to second grade in Jerome at
for just a couple of weeks. After that, I began an interesting adventure as the
only girl and for one year the youngest pupil in a tiny one room school in a
remote corner of central Clark
Street School Arizona.
I had not been too happy in the Jerome school because I was still adjusting to being among a group of kids for the first time in my life and I was a misfit because of the way my parents dressed me and the experiences I had lived thus far.
was a much easier adjustment for
me! There wearing jeans or miniature railroad overalls was no odd thing. There
were no other girls to compare to, certainly none in frilly dresses and patent
leather Mary Jane shoes! Camp Wood
The student body of the school consisted of a grand total of eight students. In the seventh grade were Bill Pehl and Jack Crow. They both came from the Yolo Ranch, one of the Green Cattle Company’s properties and part of the old Spanish Land Grant called the Baca Float. Bill’s dad was the foreman and Jack was the son of a cowboy and at least part Indian. I am not sure if Mervin Foster was in seventh or eighth grade. More on his family in a minute. The sixth grade was Fred Merritt whose dad ran the sawmill and whose mom was the Post Mistress and queen of the very small kingdom of
. He often wore a
Davy Crockett style coonskin cap with the ringed tail hanging down and I envied
that no end! Camp
The rest of the students, scattered among the grades were all Fosters. Their dad was kind of the foreman and main sawyer for the saw mill. They were some kind of “hillbillies” and perhaps had come from
Alabama, where the Merritts were from
originally. There didn’t seem to be any girls in the family. The eldest, Norman, was out of school
and working beside his dad. He was probably in his mid teens. Next was Mervin,
already mentioned, then LeRoy who was in
the fifth or sixth grade, Lauren a grade or two lower and finally Ronald, who I
think was in second grade or third. We all progressed at our own pace, really
so grade designations were a bit artificial. I was, of course, the eighth
The teacher was my dad, who had just gotten certified to teach in
Arizona at the time. He, Mom and I lived in
a tiny trailer which was smaller than a lot of today’s RVs and Campers. There
was no electricity or running water. The school was served by two outhouses of
the traditional variety. The first year we used an old rickety frame building.
I guess it was heated with a wood stove but I really do not recall.
Anyway, the boys all wore jeans or dungarees to school, mostly with polo shirts which were striped knit shirts, sometimes with a front placket but pull-overs instead of a full button front. Bill may have worn some western cut shirts, probably miniature versions of his dad’s work uniform. Cowboys wore
Levis and long johns, denim or chambray
shirts and jean jackets or leather coats lined with sheep skin for the most
part. The saw mill people, Mr. Foster and the Mexican men who also worked with
him dressed much the same, either bib overalls or dungaree work pants.
I wore my overalls or jeans with high top ‘clod hoppers’ and flannel shirts or polo shirts like the boys, a jean jacket or sometimes the little red wool coat that my grandmother had made me. By then it was about car coat length on me although it had begun as a regular coat near knee length. I loved red at that time and really enjoyed that little coat which had a matching bonnet or hat with a strap under the chin to keep it in place.
Within some limits, I played with the boys and we all had a lot of fun. We played a baseball game that had no teams—Dad called it “work up” since each player began in one position and ‘worked up’ through them all until he reached the at bat turn. I was no great athlete but played my positions and sometimes managed to hit a ball when my turn at bat came around. There were tag games, dodge ball and even crack the whip, I think. The next year after the new school house was built, we played “king of the mountain” on some piles of dirt left from the construction.
The second year, we had a new building but still only a one room school. However it was less drafty and had shingled sides—probably asbestos (oh my!) and clean bright windows. Still a wood burning stove and still no electric lights but it seemed nicer. The old building became a kind of wood shop for the boys and Dad managed to get some simple basic tools like hammers, hand saws, pliers, screw drivers etc. The kids had a great time building things with the scrap lumber left over from the new school. I didn’t participate much but did play with some of the cars and things they built.
Behind the school and the teacher’s trailer home there was a fairly deep arroyo. The boys soon cut roads in the banks and with “log cabin” syrup cans and other odds and ends created a regular little community and drove the trucks and cars they built up and down the banks. I joined in this some too. Still, I tended to do some girly things too and with sticks and pine boughs laid out some ‘houses’ furnished with a few boxes and odds and ends where I devised elaborate games to amuse myself. I could do that even when school was not in session and the other kids were not around.
That second year, I think Mervin either graduated or quit and a new younger Foster came to school, Verlin, who was in first grade and then two years behind me. At that point in my life, I hardly differentiated between boys and girls. I dressed much the same and except for being kept a close eye on by my parents, I did not experience a lot of different things during school than the other students. Since I had no girls to play with, the boys were okay and beat being alone all the time.
Looking back on those days, I realize what a unique and amazing experience it all was! Not a lot of my contemporaries ever got to live such a thing. I am sure my education did not suffer, either, as the teacher was especially strict and demanding when it came to my lessons. I got a full dose of readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic appropriate to my grade levels. I mostly made B’s and A’s on my six week report cards which my Mom duly signed and sent back! In many ways, it ended too soon.
I have not seen any of the other students since I left really, although I think a couple of them came by Clarkdale, where we lived, several years later, now ‘big boys’ past high school and working to put together a band! As for
itself, from my research it appears that the community has gone back to the
forest and few traces remain. A small sawmill would not be economically
feasible now and although the ranches still exist, they are more often managed
remotely by people who live in more settled areas and only visit as needed to
care for the stock during round up and such. Perhaps one or two reclusive
cowboys may reside in a small bunkhouse or line cabin but that’s it. Camp Wood
I did look for a few names on the internet and may have located two or three of the former students, but never tried to get in touch. I seriously doubt they would recall me, just one pesky little girl who briefly passed through their lives… And I never did get a coonskin cap!