I was born at the Newborn Hospital in September of 1944, the third child of Elmer Louis Walker and Jimmie Mauritzen Walker. James Walker, Sr. and Elizabeth Thomas Walker came from Virginia to join Stephen F Austin's settlement of Texas as one of “The Old Three Hundred.” They had a league of land on the Brazos River in Washington County and built a log house that is now registered as the oldest log structure in Texas. One son wrote letters to the family back in Virginia telling of their life in Texas, which included the price of corn and cotton, the slaves that were in Texas, his exploration of the Brazos, and the richness of the land. As Santa Anna marched into Texas he wrote “The Spaniards ‘is comin’ to try to take our land.” Those letters are now in the Texas Historic Library in Austin. James Walker Sr. was killed in the Runaway Scrape when the settlers banded together to protect their families and escape the Santa Ana attack.
Jeff David Walker married Rhoda Owings Walker. They settled in Gallatin where they raised nine boys and two girls. They were my grandparents. After the 1916 fire, my grandfather moved the family to San Augustine, Texas, where he taught agriculture at the old University of San Augustine. Jeff David Walker died in San Augustine in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 to 1920.
My father was the oldest unmarried son and when he returned from service in the Navy in WWI, the family moved to Newton, Texas, where he and older brothers operated a saw mill. My father's love was farming and he eventually moved back to Jacksonville during the early tomato boom. It was there that he met my mother. An older cousin told me that my father had been quite an athlete, and as an adult he challenged a local high school senior that had won a state competition to a foot race. As an age handicap, he was allowed to set the distance for the contest. The race was downtown Jacksonville starting at the old well in the middle of town. There was wagering and people gathered to watch him outrun the local state champion.
Henry L. Mauritzen came to Georgia from Denmark before the Civil War. He made that journey with his brother who was “lost at sea.” After the war, his only son James Bozeman Mauritzen came to Panola County, Texas. He was a blacksmith and made furniture in the classic Denmark design. His son William Henry Mauritzen married Eva Nail Mauritzen, they were my grandparents.
The Mauritzens were parents to five girls and one boy. “Papa” had operated a saw mill in Panola County but, “Mama” was a teacher before her marriage and they moved to Jacksonville because of the good schools. They built a sturdy house out on Kickapoo and operated a dairy where all the children were required to help with the milking. My mother escaped that chore as she was a wonderful cook and spent her time in the kitchen. She and her siblings attended school on the site of the current Tomato Bowl. They carried their lunch every day in a syrup bucket which mostly consisted of a baked potato and biscuit. If they were up early enough to be ready, they could ride the milk truck with Papa to school, otherwise they walked. The land on Kickapoo became the site of the city's Lake Acker and Papa moved the dairy across town to the current location of Nichols Green Park. Mama's flower bulbs still come up around where the old house sat.
When I was born we lived in a very old “dogtrot” house near Craft. To my mother's dismay, the land was always more important than the house itself. My brother attended the Dialville School, and many days rode his horse for eight miles to get there and back - I clocked it one day. He would let “Molly” run wide open for much of that distance. He sat me on her for the first time when I was three years old; I never got over my love of the horse which has shaped my life.
We moved to the current home place on O'Keefe Road when I was three years old, where Daddy had seventy acres of tomatoes. We had tomatoes; the neighbors across the road had a peach and plum orchard with occasional watermelons. We were truly in the country with only five families on that road. There was a sandy farm road through the orchard over to the store on Hwy 79. We were allowed to make that walk through the orchard to get a popsicle on hot days. Movies were nine cents with a penny left for the gum machine. Movies went up to 25 cents. School lunches were $1.25 for the week.
I had learned to swim in the Turnpike Creek in Gallatin with water wings made from syrup buckets. Later there were family picnics and swimming at the beautiful Loves Lookout pool.
My daddy's greatest love was baseball and we were regulars at the little league park behind East Side School on summer nights. Many times after the games, we would pile in the back of his pickup and sing silly songs as he drove us around. When cold weather set in, he took us on hay rides on his old tomato trailer by the tractor. My class had truly wonderful parents - they were the ‘greatest generation’ home from the war. We had wonderful freedoms as children, and there were many parties.
The youth center (Wig Wham) was hugely popular with dancing on the floor level, ping pong and pool upstairs. We danced to the enchanting music of The Platters and Johnny Mathis. There were some terrific dancers, especially when the boys came home from college. In 1962, we ushered in The Twist brought home to us from The University of Texas. Friday nights were mostly girls that chipped in a quarter for gas riding around until the youth center had a good enough crowd to hold our interest. Usually on Saturday night, a typical date would be a movie at The Palace Theater followed by The Root Beer Stand and home by 10:30.
We had great teachers all through my school years. In high school the intercom was used for weekly devotionals. There was prayer before each game and, win or lose, a prayer circle on the field after the game. The class of 1962 had 99 graduates and was the first to graduate from the newly organized Junior High School, when the new high school was built in 1959. We have kept up with each other over the years and recently celebrated our 60th reunion. We have all felt blessed to have shared a small part in the rich history of Jacksonville, Texas.