June 5, 2008
By Sid Riley
After 44 Years of Teaching, An Active Life As A Civic Volunteer, and Being A Devoted Mother, Grandmother and Great-Grandmother, Her Family and The Greenwood Community Honor Her Life’s Work
Some day when you are traveling through Greenwood you might encounter a spry elderly lady bouncing along in a golf cart. If so, the chances are very good it would be Wessie Rae Oswald, who turned 100 on June 1. Her hearing is getting bad, but other than that slight bother, her mind and body are as sharp and spry as they were when she was a grade school teacher forty years ago.
In recognition of this milestone, her family has engaged in a series of separate, family sponsored parties in her honor as she spent time with each of her five children around the Southeast. Then on her actual 100th birthday on Sunday, June 1, the immediate family and their spouses held a special birthday party for her at Jim’s Buffet and Grill in Marianna. On July 20 the City of Greenwood will hold a special event in her honor, from 2:00 till 4:00 at the Town Hall.
Her son, Jack Oswald brought an autobiography of Wessie Rae by the offices of the Jackson County Times for our use in this story. We are pleased to reprint this in it’s entirety.
My Story Continued from Front Page
By: Wessie Rae Smith Oswald
as told to son Jack Oswald
I was born June 1, 1908, to Andrew Wyatt and Ocia Williams Smith in Grimes (now Midland City), Alabama.
In September 1914, at age 6, we moved to our new house in Ashford, Alabama, where Papa and Uncle Pomroy Gilstrap had a general mercantile store. I remember Mama telling me to gather up my toys and things because we were going to move to our new house. I got my red wagon and began gathering my things. I began school in Ashford that year and completed grades 1 through 3 there.
The store went bankrupt in 1917 and Uncle Pomroy moved to Lovedale and Papa bought a farm in Crosby, Alabama. The day we were to move Essie Kay and I went to spend the night with Uncle Wes. While Papa was carrying the first load to Crosby, Mama was staying with our neighbors and thought she may not have pulled the door closed and the wind blew it open and scattered ashes from the fireplace, catching the house on fire. Mama’s piano, a victrola, and lots of other things were lost. At Crosby, I finished grades 4 through 9.
I remember this picture very well. I was in the yard playing while Mama and Essie Kay were in the house dressing. Mama then called me in to get dressed and she made me wear these new shoes that hurt my feet. After getting me dressed we went to have our picture made. By the time we got to the photographer’s my feet hurt so bad, I was mad as a hornet.
Like all younger sisters, I always thought Mama felt Essie Kay was the pretty one because she would dress and make over her so much. That’s probably why I sought attention from Papa and wanted to go everywhere with him.
In September 1921, when I was in the 7th grade, Mama got typhoid fever for the third time. I remember Papa telling me to go get Dr. Ryals in Ashford (this was a brother to the Dr. Ryals in Dellwood.) I was only 13, but I took the car and drove to Ashford and told Dr. Ryals Mama needed him. A few days later Mama died.
The year after Mama died, Papa sent Essie Kay to Troy Normal School, in Newton, Alabama. This was done because Malone High School had burned. Essie Kay spent one year at Troy Normal and returned to Malone High School for the next two years. When she completed the eleventh grade, she ran off and married Curtis Conrad. I continued at Crosby through the ninth grade and then went to Malone.
One of our neighbors was Hiram and Aunt Vic Oswald. I remember both of them very well because Hi would get me to stay with Aunt Vic while he would go to work or to town on business. Aunt Vic was already blind when I knew her. The story was that they bought some foot powder from a traveling salesmen and each night she would shake the powder from the socks and had gotten some in her eyes. She went blind sometime during her middle years.
I liked to watch her and thought she could really see because she got around so well. She would go straight out back to the smoke house and cut off a piece of ham and come back to the house and cook it. I remember Hi and Aunt Vic frequently had corn bread and milk for supper. When Hi died, Papa and other men in the community dressed and laid him out for the burial- April 19, 1919.
In September, 1923, I began the 10th grade in Malone. I began boarding with Leora and Estel Simmons. This only lasted for a couple of months (she didn’t like Big Mama even at this age). I then went to board with a Mrs. Martin, but when we were making up the bed, bugs began running all over the place and I left. Papa then arranged for me to stay with Mrs. Kitty Lee Arnold where I stayed a little over a year and half until the Arnolds moved to Donaldsonville. I then finished out the year with Mrs. H.K. Herring.
Papa had gone to Miami during my Senior year to work as a bank guard at Biscayne Bank. This was during the period of frequent robberies and he didn’t like it very well, because it was so dangerous.
Papa came home in May, 1926, and married Leora Simmons (Big Mama) a week before I was to graduate from Malone High School. This broke my heart. I threw a fit and laid on the ground in front of the car to try and stop him, but it didn’t work and he married her anyway.
I had been going with William Max Oswald for about three years and after graduation he and I went with Papa and Leora back to Miami. We got there on Sunday and Max got a job in a laundry on Monday morning. He was making $25 a week and that was a lot of money.
On June 16, 1926 Max and I were married. I was 18 and he was 23. We boarded with Aunt Lindy Gilstrap, who had moved to Miami and was running a rooming house (Uncle Pomroy had a stroke a few years earlier and was in bad shape). Papa quit his bank guard job shortly after we were married and moved back to Crosby. Being a bank guard in the 1920’s was not a real healthy profession. While in Miami, I took the teaching test, scoring 96- higher than any of my classmates taking the test in Jackson County.
Sometime around August/September I got a telegram that Papa had been put in Moody’s Hospital in Dothan with a severe heart attack. I caught the train back home and missed the 1926 Hurricane by about two weeks. This storm devastated everything and Max came home several months later. Papa survived this heart attack and later moved to Haines City, where he died in 1941.
In September, 1926, I accepted my first teaching job at Friendship with Mrs. Robbie Hatton. Then before the year was over I accepted a teaching job at Sink Creek with Mrs. Hattie Martin teaching 1st through 4th grades. Thus began my teaching career as follows:
Year School Grade Principal
1926-1927 Friendship 1st - 4th Mrs. Ray Hatton
1927 Union 1st - 4th Miss Hattie Martin
1927-1928 Central High 7th & 8th Mr. J.H. Ayres
1928-1931 Concord 1st & 2nd Mr. Ralph Nordan
(In 1929, I got Lucy Paramore to come and live with us to care for the children while I worked. Aunt Lucy was a colored lady whose mother was a slave and her father was a white plantation owner. Myra Jean and Maxine were so little and I took off teaching to raise my children and did not start back until we moved to Dellwood. I started substituting first and then started back teaching in 1942.)
1942-1944 - Dellwood - 3rd/4th - Mr. Pumphrey -Mrs. Stellar Wester
1944-1951 - Central - 1st/2nd - Mr. Pelt,/Bishop,/Mitchell,/ Lipford
1951-1953 - Alford - 2nd - Mr. C.O. Allen
1953-1954 - Alford/Greenwood - 2nd /5th - Mr. Roy M. Deloney
1954-1969 - Greenwood - 4th /5th -Mr. Braxton, Daniels, Lawerence
1968-1969 - Greenwood - Spec. Ed /6th Language - Mr. Lawrence
1969-1970 - Marianna Riverside - Spec. Ed - Mrs. Florence Zeigler
In 1947, with encouragement from Mr. Pelt and others, I began taking correspondence courses and attending classes at Chipola Jr. College. I finished Chipola around 1950 and began taking night classes during the winter and going to FSU during the summer. I did this for three years and then transferred to Troy because it was cheaper and lots of classes were available from Troy in Dothan. I took classes in Dothan and went to summer school in Troy for three years and graduated from Troy after the summer session in 1956.
Max died from a heart attack (coronary thrombosis) on Thursday, April 23, 1959, at 3:45 PM in Jackson Hospital. He never believed he had the first heart attack or had a heart problem.
In October, 1959, I moved into my new home. The mortgage was $6,500.00 and monthly payments were $57.00 per month. It was a Great Day! I served about 12 years on the Greenwood town council in the 1960-70’s.
In June 1968, I made my first of three trips to Laos. This was quite a trip, not only was it my first experience flying, but I had to deal with layovers in New York and Tokyo and then a stomach virus in Taiwan. However, everything worked out fine and I gave a report on the trip when I got home and received continuing education credit to have my teaching certificate extended. My next trip to Laos was to help Margaret get affairs together after Smitty’s death in 1972.
My children and family have always been a big part of my life. So many people have told me "Wessie, you have the best children in the world". That is probably because everyone in Greenwood notices all the people at my house when my children come to spend Thanksgiving at home.
(Editor’s Note: Happy 100th Birthday Mrs. Oswald!)