Enjoy our “Reflections” post — one of many vignettes and stories featuring memories of days gone by. This installment is from Bettye Hudson Galloway of Oxford, Mississippi, as seen in “The Oxford So & So.”
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I was born in Lafayette Springs, Mississippi, just two miles from the Pontotoc County border, close enough that half of my acquaintances claimed Pontotoc as their town and the other half claimed Oxford, in Lafayette County. I later learned why. It was very simple – we all thought Pontotoc was the town of choice, but the few of us who owned land had to go to Oxford, county seat of Lafayette County, to pay our tax. Thus at my ripe old age of five, my family migrated to Oxford.
At five years of age, I had been allowed to study at the great Lafayette Springs twelve-grade school and had passed the primer and first grade. We moved to Oxford in the early fall of my fifth year, just shy of my birthday on Jan. 4. When my mother attempted to enroll me in Oxford’s school, she was informed that I was not eligible to enroll, that to go to the first grade I had to be six years old by Jan. 1. Consequently, by virtue of three days, I had to wait out a whole year before I could start to school!
The day arrived when I could finally start to school. And I immediately learned that Lafayette Springs was a really good school: I sat in the Oxford classroom day after day listening to the new students learn their ABC’s, bored to tears because I was reading and writing cursive and reading from the books in the library Mama checked out for me. My first two years in Oxford were not much fun.
BUT when I found new friends and made my way around the new little town, things changed for the better. I discovered that the town and its people were really good. It was a place of about 2,000 people where all the kids went “out to play” in the mornings, and their parents never worried about them. We kids gathered together, roamed all over town, and if we got into or made trouble anywhere, we go a spanking from the mother of the yard we were in, and other mothers said, “thank you” and nobody yelled “child abuse.” If Mama needed me, one or two telephone calls found me and brought me home. It was a wonderful, carefree, safe life.
I lived about a mile from school on the Square, which was no distance for a country girl. Each morning I’d get dressed, fasten on my roller skates with a skate key which was on a cord around my neck, and head for school. I soon learned which hills were too steep to skate up (but, boy, were they fun coming down!) and where I had to watch for uneven pavement and tree roots. I had strict orders not to play on the cotton bales stacked in the vacant lot just off the Square, and of course I had to spend about half an hour with the other kids playing cowboys and Indians in and out of the bales.
Mama worked with the Lafayette County Health Department as what would now be called “the school nurse.” She visited the county schools, lined up all the students and gave them typhoid or diphtheria shots or whatever they needed at the time. There was no signed permission slip from parents then, it was just a thing that was done when we didn’t have so many rules and regulations. Her school job meant that she only worked during the school year. When she was finished with work and when school was out in May, we packed up, bag/baggage, and moved home to Lafayette Springs for summer. There we pulled off our shoes and fished and waded creeks until August when we put our shoes back on and moved back to town to start to school. I had my country friends and my city friends; I had the best of both worlds.
When we first lived there, Oxford was a place of peace and tranquility where even the nearby Ole Miss students had great manners. Our law enforcement consisted of only one town Marshall, but that was all we needed. The police “station” consisted of a wooden chair and a telephone on the wall of a space between two buildings on the Square. Some years we grew in population, and some years we did not grow. Sometimes we had great mayors and aldermen, and sometimes we did not. To paraphrase a noted author, growing up in Oxford was the best of times and the worst of times. I have watched Oxford grow for three quarters of a century, but it grew gradually and quietly so that we were hardly aware that it was changing. From my early childhood, living in the quiet little town, it has grown to a bustling city with over 20,000 citizens in the city proper. It is also touted in national publications as the number one city in the nation in which to retire. A city bus transit system boards over 60,000 people per month. Several new hotels are under construction, as are new residential subdivisions, shopping centers and a $300 million hospital.
The city continues to grow, but to me it will always be the little town where I spent my first two grades listening again to the ABCs I learned earlier in my Lafayette Springs school.
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