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THE MEMOIRS OF MARYA KOEKOEK MUNSON

By Mrs. Marya K. Munson

My earliest memories of Nederland, Port Neches, and Port Arthur are those of getting off the train, wherein I had been sitting as near the aisle as possible, being sure that the swaying, careening Pullman would be turning over on its side at any moment. I was just as sure that the heavy weight of my body - all thirty pounds of it - would keep the train on the track. That was in 1911.

My next recollections were of living at the rice (canal) pumping plant, where my father had been hired as the engineer - anyway he kept the huge engines going and kept the water pumped from the river, flowing into the canal that kept the rice fields inundated.

Our house stood where Union Oil Company (docks) now stands. Our front yard edged on the Neches River and stood on a bluff where alligators and turtles sunned themselves in the Texas sun.

Our sport was throwing rocks - I think they were rocks - or perhaps clods of mud and anything else we could throw, onto the alligators and feeling very successful if we could make the alligators open their huge, hideous mouths.

We were always in fear of the alligators, especially after a dear friend and fellow workman of my father's fell out of a row boat and was eaten by an alligator.

Our back yard skirted the woods and was a haven of mysteries. We would always picture wood demons who stole little children, grape vines that wrapped themselves around humans and animals and strangled them, large ants that would sting people to death. And then there was the constant fear of snakes. Everything from garden snakes to water mocassins and black mocassins.

One evening when we arrived home we found two mocassins curled up at the front door - probably disappointed we didn't invite them in. Another time, two huge snakes crossed my path as I was going to our outdoor plumbing facility. Needless to say, I wet my clothes out of fear while running back to the house.

Blackberry picking was one of the fun experiences of living in the woods. We would go out with our little lard buckets and we would soon have them filled and our black lips and tongue were a confession of where the rest of the berries had gone.

At times we were brave enough to take a picnic lunch into the woods - find a nice grapevine to swing on - eat our lunch and spend the rest of the time swinging on nature's natural swings.

Many house boats plied the Neches River in those days and would tie up along the river bank where the water and land were pretty much on the same level. Houseboats were seventh wonders to two little inland city bred youngsters (my brother and I) and how the interiors fascinated both of us. For years I wanted to live on a river houseboat and sit at the bow and catch fish for the next meal. I have many stories I could tell about life in Port Arthur.

Later my father had gone to work as a drafting engineer for the Texas Company (Texaco) and we first lived on Galveston Street, and later on Savannah Avenue near Proctor.

One day my mother gave me 15 cents with which I was to buy steak. I had seen someone tie some money in the corner of her handkerchief so being a smart five-year-old, I tied my 15 cents in the corner of my handkerchief and went on my merry way. All at once the knot in my handerchief gave way and flying away went the 15 cents, a dime and a nickel.

Our sidewalks were boards laid across a wooden frame with cracks between the boards to let the rain run through. Well, I found the nickel, but not the dime and went on the butcher shop, purchased a nickel's worth of steak and quaveringly went home. My mother's humiliation was only bested by my fear of what my father would do when he arrived home, father being a Dutch disciplinarian.

Of course, the worst experience our family had was going through the 1915 flood (hurricane of August 16, 1915). This was known as the Galveston Flood (Ed.'s Note: Mrs. Munson may have the 1915 storm confused with the Sept. 8, 1900 hurricane, which destroyed Galveston and killed 6,000), but the whole coast, even north of Port Arthur, was inundated and among many families, we suffered great losses of household goods and clothing. Many friends and relatives came to the rescue of the Port Arthur residents.

Two of our family friends from Nederland came down to help us, Mr. Dan J. Rienstra and Mr. Cornelus Doornbos. Both men had come up with wagons and Mr. Doornbos had one of his sons drive his wagon while he rode on horseback.

The wagons were soon filled with men, women and several children. It was decided that one more person could ride in one of the wagons if someone would ride with Mr. Doornbos on his horse. I'll never knew why, but I was chosen to be that one. On second thought, it was because I was the lightest in weight. After all, the poor horse already had a load - Mr. Doornbos was a big man.

We stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Schmink for several days and then moved into the superintendent's house on the Rice Farm. From there we moved into a small house on what is now Nederland Avenue. From there we moved to a new house that J. H. McNeill built as a rent house.

My folks were good friends of the McNeill's, in fact, I called Mr. McNeill "Daddy Jim" and it was fun to visit with him at his big desk that stood on the end of the candy counter and in front of the big front window. The reward for a visit was a nice piece of candy.

The McNeill's had one daughter, Frances, who was a very pretty and friendly person and often gave me scraps of material for my doll clothes. Frances' nickname was Frankie. She passed away shortly after she married Berthold Cooke, who was manager of the grocery store.

Sometime later, my father had to be out of town and I was privileged to stay with the McNeill's and occupy Frankie's beautiful pink bedroom. Mrs. Minnie McNeill was quite a disciplinarain and her youngest son, Paul, and I, each had to practice our piano lessons for one-half hour before breakfast. Mrs. McNeill thought that all little girls should wear pinafores to school to protect their dresses so she made me three of them - two rather plain ones for school wear and one with ruffles for Sunday School.

Pinafores at that time had been passe for some time, and I was embarrassed to tears, real tears, to be wearing such old-fashioned clothes to school. After three weeks of this, was I ever glad to go home.

Recess time at Langham meant hurrying out to the side porch and finding room for an exciting game of jacks. Another game often indulged in was "crack the whip." I liked the game - it was lots of fun - but all too often I was given the end position. I did have sense enough to grasp hands loosely so I could let go whenever the whip cracked.

One interesting thing about living at the rice mill was walking to school - living the fartherest out. I would get to Kitchen Road and join Celeste and Earl Kitchen. Next we would pick up the Wagner kids, Nettie and Marvin. I think the Blocks came next and sometimes we would meet up with Charlie Biermortt, but we didn't like him because he was always teasing us and if my hair happened to be down in braids, he would yank them - real hard too.

When we moved to the McNeill rent house on Chicago, we were very near the remains of the old Nederland (Orange) Hotel. And my! How we loved to go over there and play! There were lots of bricks and pieces of wood (I think the hotel had burned down. {The editor believes it was torn down, but most of the lumber, etc., was left on the site.}) We built forts and houses and scrambled all over the ruins. The participants of these escapades were Murdock and Elizabeth Ingersen. Delmar Johnson, a couple of other neighborhood children whose names I don't recollect except one girl's name was Elsie.* Oh, yes, J. B. Morgan, a friend of my brother John. (*Elsie-a very good little Acadian schoolmate of mine). We children were finally chased away permanently because there were lots of rusty nails and other hazards lying around. I think it was Delmar Johnson who did get a rusty nail in his foot and after that, the old hotel ruins were off limits! Realy taboo!

I remember when Brother (Robert) Day, a good old time evangelist in the Baptist Church came to town (CA. 1917-1918), and John and I were allowed to join the church. The baptistry at that time was near Magnolia Grove (Figtree Landing on Main Street) down by the Neches River (in Port Neches). A large group (so it seemed to my child's mind) was baptized on a summer evening. This included my Father and Mother, who had not been immersed before. Our minister at that time was a Rev. (V. V.) Youngblood.

I can remember when cars first appeared on the scene. The last of the good old horse and buggy days! We had a very nice black horse and a black buggy, and how proud I was when Daddy let me hold the reins - with a giddee yup and a whoa at the right time. We found out our poor horse was "frightened to death" of autos, so when we were on the road, and we saw or heard a car approaching, my father would give mother the reins, get out of the buggy, and hold the blinders (I think that was what they were called) over the horse's eyes. This seemed to calm Ol' Charley. One day I wanted to treat a friend of mine (one of the Broussard girls), I think it was Inez, to a soda, but I only had a nickel, so I asked the soda clerk for two straws! I think the soda clerk was William Haizlip - could that be?

One Sunday afternoon, I was visiting Ida Hillman, who lived in back of the bakery (I don't know the name of the street). The odor that emanated from the bakery alerted us to the fact that some cookies were being baked. Being a very disciplined Christian, I was not allowed to spend money on Sunday, so I coerced Ida to go in and buy us some cookies. We got four cookies for my 5 cents, so we sneaked into her bedroom, closed the door, and enjoyed "Sunday afternoon tea."

The old Interurban was our modern means of transportation between Port Arthur and Beaumont. Our third grade tgeacher was Miss Katherine Kuehn, who lived in Port Arthur. Our childish delight was taking Miss Kuehn to the Interurban Station and seeing her off on the train (trolley). Of course, there was always the children vieing as to who was to carry her lunch bucket, her satchel of papers, and a book or two. I was always so proud when I was allowed to carry her pretty lunch pail. I never had one. I either carried my lunch in a papersack, or when in town, I had to go home for lunch.

Blackberry picking was always a spring or early summer venture. The drawback was getting chiggers or red bugs that would itch like you couldn't believe. When we arrived home form those childish excursions, my mother would have a big tub of warm water waiting for us. In this water was carbolic acid, and off would come our clothes, and in we went for a good soaking, and the clothes would go into the wash tub - no electric washers in those days. We would come out clean, smelly, but disinfected.

Two childish tricks we had were feeding green persimmons to a newcomer or getting one to put two stems of (don't recall the name) grass in their mouth crosswise, telling them we were going to weave a basket. Then we would pull on the ends and leave all that horrible grass fuzz in their mouth.

One fun thing I did was with my friend Elsie who lived nearby. My mother could not go along with many things Southern people did. One thing was the "sopping" up of syrup or gravy or any kind of sauce with broken off bread or biscuits.

Now Elsie was well schooled in that mode of eating, so after school we would go to her house and she would mix up a batch of fried bread - biscuit dough fried in a heavy iron skillet. We would pour ourselves a saucer of sorghum syrup, break the bread into it and then go out on her porch, straddle the porch railing, break up the bread, sop up the syrup thoroughly, and gobble it down. It was a delicious after school treat.

Mrs. McNeill introduced me to cheese toast, cornbread, and black-eyed peas, and were they ever yummy.

Before we had cars, we had to depend on the electric interurban to get to Port Arthur or Beaumont, and before that, it was the train. The Interurban was quite a treat because we could visit quite late and still get home that night. I think they ran every hour or on the half-hour. When we needed to catch a late car, we would have to send up a flare by lighting a roll of newspaper. Flash lights weren't strong enough for the motorman to see.

One night, the motorman missed the first flare and the second flare and the only thing that stopped him was hearing us screaming our heads off. He backed up (he had gone that far down the track before he could stop) and four very tired, bedraggled, harassed people got on and headed for home in Port Arthur.

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