People are better known and remembered by what they write themselves, than what appears in their obituary. Fredda Louise James-Johnson died this week, on Feb. 3, 2014, following a fractured shoulder and declining health. I met Fredda in 1998 at the annual Jackson Waite James family picnic. She was very interested in our family history and shared much of it with me as she introduced me to other family members – all of which for, I remain grateful. Previously, Fredda had written recollections about her childhood for her daughter-in-law, Ruby Tidwell-Johnson. Ruby was collecting stories about the James family, descended from Fredda’s father Jackson Waite James and her grandfather, John James of Alvarado. The following is Fredda’s own memory of a childhood life on the Texas prairie.
MY CHILDHOOD YEARS
by Fredda Louise James-Johnson
Fredda Louise James-Johnson in 1998
The memory of my first home was on the old Grandbury (Texas) road which is now Highway 4. We lived there when I was about six months old. When I was about 3 or 4 years old, that house burned down. My mother always had to wash outside on the rub board in the pot, and what have you, and she usually washed until after lunch. On this day while she was washing, Finis (Finis LaVaurne James, her brother) and I were aggravating her, and she told me to go in the house and go to bed, which I started. When I did, I looked up. There was fire everywhere and on my bed. I came out there and told her there was a fire in the house, and she said she was supposed to get papers out of the house if anything happens. But she knew Finis and I would follow her in so she didn’t get to save anything, and that’s the first house I remember. Mama and Dad (Maggie Dozier Fitzgerald & Jackson Waite James) lost 3 or 4 houses to fires, but that’s the only one I saw. Then I don’t remember any other houses til my Dad built a house. He built the house Bobbie West lived in for a long, long time, and then he sold it here not too long ago. I think about three years ago.
The only Grandparents I remember was Grandpa James (John James of Alvarado) and I only saw him once. It was about May, a year or two before he died. He was blind and they put me in his lap, so he could feel of my face to see what I looked like and it scared me, scared me to pieces, and that’s the only thing I remember of him.
My Grandmother (Mary Elizabeth Roslaine “Ross” Bradley) had died a long time before my grandpa. After my Dad was born, my grandmother had a baby boy and they both died in the same week. Then my grandpa found someone else (Louisa Ellen Sutton), and married her, cause back then he had a bunch of kids and he had to have someone to help take care of them. So, my Dad had several half brothers and sisters, but I never saw too many of them, just every once in a while.
I got lots of whippings from my Dad, and my Mother never did whip me. I got whippings just like the boys did, with a belt. Sometimes I really think I shouldn’t have gotten it, but because I was with the boys I got a whipping too. He had what they call a razor strap too. He would use that on us and if one got into trouble it looked like all of us did. If Mama had any pets in the family I didn’t know it. When I came along, I had a brother that was fixing to get married, and my older sister stayed til Mama was up and about. I was born in June and she married in October same year. From there Herbert and his wife (Herbert John James Sr. & Rosetta Matthews) married, and one night they was going to bed and I wanted to go to bed with them and everybody laughed. I didn’t know why until later. They lived there with us for a while. That was in the old house.
Jackson Waite James
My Dad was a Deacon in the Baptist Church, but after I came along, I don’t remember them going to church very much, and if we went, we went with my brothers to church and places like that. My Dad was a farmer and raised cotton, corn, wheat, and that kind of stuff and raised everything in the garden. Everything had to be raised or killed or you don’t get anything to eat. Mama raised chickens and turkeys. I seen her many times go in that little smoke house with a duck, and every time she plucked, that duck would go chirp. And she would pluck again, and it would go chirp. That’s what she made pillows out of, duck down, and that’s the way we had to get our own pillows and what have you. Mama quilted a lot. She didn’t have any certain patterns. She’d just use old scrapes she had. I remember helping her some, you know I was a big help, I thought I was anyway. But I seen her go out many times, we had a lot of company when we was growing up, my Mother’s brothers and some other people, I’d see her go out and get a chicken and fix it for breakfast. Mother always had her hog meat, too. We killed for nearly all our meat.
Jackson Waite James Family with Fredda Louise James standing left
We had our own butter. I used to have to churn butter, and we had buttermilk you know. But I didn’t like to churn butter. I churned on the old churn and every chance I’d get, I’d try to break it thinking I wouldn’t have to finish churning, but I usually had to finish.
I’d go down to the barn and get them to let me try to milk, and they knew what was going to happen and it wasn’t anytime and I was having to help milk by myself. We had a lot of cows to milk and we had to wear boots; I can’t remember in the winter time, the mud would come up to our knees. Well maybe it wasn’t quite that bad, but it was awful, but that milking had to be done.
I always had cats and dogs, if I could get a dog. I can remember one time I had a dog, I think I called him Patches. One day I couldn’t find him and Dad told me he raised up a rock and he went under it…I always had a cat and one time I had a goat, a neighbor had given it to me and brother (Finis), I had to get rid of it because it was an old male and we sold it back to the people who gave it to me and they killed it for meat. But he was getting too mean, and he didn’t mean very much to me anyway.
Bertha Duke James-Nichols, 1998
Rosetta made some of my clothes, my oldest sister (Lillian Roseline James) and Bertha (Bertha Duke James, her sister) made some too, slips and things like that you know, but we didn’t buy clothes like people do now for sure…Mama made all the men work shirts, her aprons, her slips, and things like that.
Talking about raising food, my mama would sell eggs, and take that money to buy groceries and things like that, but when you raise all your milk, eggs, and butter and that sort of thing, you don’t need much of anything else.
We had to pick cotton a lot, and I don’t like it at all. I couldn’t pick it. I guess everybody had a weak back but I just couldn’t pick it. I picked with brother and he’d get like 100 pounds and I would only get 50 pounds. But brother would help me. He would pick it and pile it up in a row so that I couldn’t put it in my cotton sack, trying to keep me up with him. This is how we got our school clothes. We had to work for them. I think my Dad would pay us like a dime a pound for picking cotton, and then when we get through, we could work for the neighbors, and they would pay us and that’s what we bought our clothes with. Brother would take some of his money and buy some of my clothes. That’s how close we were. You don’t see that nowadays. He was always good to me.
Fredda Louise James-Johnson in January, 2013
I went to school at Lone Cottonwood until they had to close it down, because there were lack of funds. That was when I was in 7th grade and they could only have a six month school because they didn’t have enough money to run it. Those that had a way had to go to Godley School, but we didn’t have a way and the country schools at that time had to go to the Johnson County Court House. That’s when we took our test. All the country schools had to go in at the 7th and was fixing to go into High School. We were out there three months and brother and I went in and took the test. My teacher wrote us a letter that said we could pass on trial basis, just try it and see if we could make it, we thought that meant that we passed, then when graduation came, it was over here at the High School where you kiddos went to; everybody had to go into this room and they called your name out. They never did call our names and they said they have no record of when we passed. Anyway, I started to Cleburne, and I believe Finis went to Alvarado for a little while and then they decided we were in the Godley School District, so they sent us up there. We went there for a while, and finally brother had to quit, and then the next year there wasn’t a bus, so I didn’t have a choice since there was no way to go to school and this was about the 8th grade. But I had always passed all my subjects and made 90′s and 100′s in this school and then send you to High School in town, now that was different.
I had to work in the fields, help bale the hay, shock the wheat, I was a Tomboy and I could get up on the top of the barn, and I’d climb to the top of the windmill and when we were baling hay; you had an old baler that had to have a mule that would go round and round, and I had to punch the wires through the bales so they could be tied. I rode horses bareback, and I knew how to saddle, and a few times we rode horses to school, but not many times. I helped Mama put up vegetables and I helped take care of the garden. We always had a big orchard. Mama would cut up peaches and I would get on top of the barn and lay them out on it and that’s the way you dried peaches. I had to go up every day and turn them you know, one way or the other, then when they dried you would gather them up and put them in bags. For some reason, when we emptied a jar we didn’t wash it and when it came spring time to put up the vegetables, it was my job to wash those jars, and you think we didn’t have a time. Our big old wood stove had what you call a reservoir on it and that thing held about 5-10 gallons of water and I had to carry the buckets of water to the wood stove and keep water in it. Then after Bertha got married, she told me I would have to keep house because Mama had all the cooking and everything else to do. I mean I went through the house every morning, and because Bertha told me to do it, I thought I had to do it. I was about 11 years old at this time. We worked, we all had to work.
Fredda in July, 2013, recovering from a fractured shoulder with daughter Glenda Johnson-Dunn
There weren’t too many at home when I was there, but some of the older ones may have come back for a spell, but there were many Christmas’ that I didn’t get anything. I think when Finis was about 12 or 13, we had a big tree put up in the hall, but we didn’t have any presents under it, except for one box of candy somebody had given Mama, and that’s what we had. If you don’t have money, you don’t have money.
We always had lots of storms in early spring nearly every year and maybe it would hail a crop out or it would always do a lot of damage and it was always at the last of school when it was worse. We had a cellar and one time I remember we had a storm and we went into the cellar, the house wasn’t very far from it and Dad looked out the cellar door and Jesse was helping him hold the door down because it was just so bad and then directly it came lightning and he said that the house was still there and everything else was gone, the barn was laying in the garden and ruined it, it picked my Dad’s wagon up and took it about a mile into the pasture, and Mama would always have to go out and gather her chickens many, many times after storms, cause they would be killed if you don’t get them. The babies would hatch about that time…It was every year we had something like that.
Obituary for Fredda Louise James-Johnson
Jackson Waite James Family Reunion, 1998 – slideshow