Friday, May 31, 2013

For a few months in 1936, students called her “Miss Patty”

*Look for a new Posting every Tuesday and Friday*

Bud, Catherine, and M. E.
Catherine Frazier Patty reported for her first teaching job at Alcoa Middle School around the first of October, 1936.  She arrived after classes had already begun for the year so there was no time to "ease into" her teaching career; she had to hit the ground running.  She acquired this "teaching place" from an agency associated with State Teachers College and was obligated to pay a fee from her meager $85 per month salary for the privilege. 

Like James Neville, there was very little time after she found the job to think about anything except getting to the school. A phone call was received with some details, a couple of bags were quickly packed, a sleepless night was endured, and then off Catherine ran to the station the next morning. At least train and bus connections between Memphis and Knoxville provided a reasonably speedy and uneventful journey.  Alcoa is 14 miles south of Knoxville and was formerly known as North Maryville.  It incorporated under its present name in 1919 to reflect the "company town" it had become due to the presence of the Aluminum Company of America

Catherine's brother, Bud, picked her up at the train station and took her to spend her first night in East Tennessee at his UT fraternity house.  The house mother, Mrs. Brown, put her up in the guest room in her apartment.  Catherine enjoyed a nice visit with Bud who escorted her the next day to 403 Ramsey Street in Alcoa*, the rooming house that had been arranged for her to spend the next 8 months.  As you'll see below she felt her expenses were "sky high."  Indeed... board (meals) was 85 cents a day and renting the room cost her $6 every four weeks!

In a short letter to her mother mailed on October 9th, Catherine describes one of those "boarding" days:    
"My board may be high - but it is certainly worth it.  Every meal is delicious - not only is the table full but everything tastes good.  For breakfast today we had grapefruit, flakes, bacon, toast and coffee - For lunch - liver hash, macaroni, spinach, pickle, and some other vegetable I forgot with cornbread, chocolate pudding, and tea - For supper, Irish potatoes in sauce, cauliflower in sauce, chicken, dressing, pickle, biscuit, sweet milk, and jello. - Not bad?"

Mail service being somewhat slow in those days and phones not even in every household, it took several days for James Neville to learn about this much anticipated "place." They were both quite happy that, with Catherine now earning a paycheck, their savings accounts would soon be bursting and their "Spring Wedding" would come off as planned.  Let us not forget that he was 21 and she was 20 and if one looked up "naive" in the dictionary, a picture of these two could be found.

Grandma and Grandpa Patty
Almost all of the letters that I have found written by mother during this period were written to her family in Memphis.  Still missing is that "famous letter-stash" you have heard me speak of; those 1936 love letters written to 'Duke.  The few letters that are available were sent to Mr. and Mrs. C. R. Patty and Miss Mary Elizabeth Patty beginning the first week of October
 until the week before she and James Neville tied the knot on December 23, 1936.

While most all her letters have been only one page, I did find a rare five page letter written at the end of her fourth week in Alcoa.  It touches on several interesting subjects and I thought I would share it with you in its entirety.  It tells a lot about a young Catherine Patty who is concentrating on her life as a new teacher.



                                                                                                                  403 Ramsey
                                                                                                                 Alcoa, Tenn.
                                                                                                                 Nov. 3, 1936
Dear Folks,

     Well, I suppose you think I have deserted the family fireside for good!  It does seem that way - and I do often wonder if perhaps I haven't just changed lives.  I certainly seem never to have any time of my own any more - I did at last take time off Sunday to read a book - the first I have so much as opened since I've been here.  I am in the delightful predicament of owing everyone a letter - that is, everyone but Juanita.  She never has written.  I got a card from Evelyn last week saying that her school had closed because attendance was too low - she hadn't made any other plans.
     I saw 'Duke last week-end.  I stayed with brother at the Frat House.  It certainly is nice there - Mrs. Brown is lovely, and the boys are very nice too.  We all went to church and had dinner together Sunday.  I talked to Bud a little while last week during E.T.E.A. (Teacher's meeting) but didn't have time to see him.  I suppose he's still all right, but says he has to work pretty hard.
So far as that is concerned I do too!  I really am kept busy - I have six classes.  35 in one, 33, 37, 22, 10, 7 in the others - enough that when I give tests I am kept up until late at night - and you know how I love sleep.  The kids are not particularly mean, but just seem not to have any conception of self-control or self-respect - and they're the biggest bunch of tattlers I ever saw - No matter what "Tom" was doing, Dick and Harry, and Sue were doing something worse - only they're my "pets"! - They almost drive me crazy - but so far I've only had to whip - or, as we say "strap" one boy. -- and I did such a good job of it that I made myself notorious.  I expected the humane society to be out after me.  -  but all I got was applause, because that is the approved method of treatment here, and the kids expect it.
     I am still very well satisfied with my "room and board", although I find that, good as Mrs Hunter's cooking is, it is just as monotonous as Miss Lizzie's - or Mrs. Patty's.  My appetite is unparalleled - and a week ago when I weighed the scales tipped 123 - a gain of about five pounds! - but I think, as usual, that it's all going to my face.  I do have plenty of fruit and vegetables and a glass of milk a day - so I shouldn't complain - even tho I do get hungry some times for a good ol' starchy meal cooked a la Patty style!  A "balanced dish" rather gets on your nerves after so long a time.
     The main thing I don't like here is that I seem unable to save anything.  After I sent Nena that five dollars (but don't tell her) I found my board was more than I had expected and I had to turn right around and borrow five! - But what is worse - even with a full month's salary in November, after I finish paying the Agency and Dr. Smith and Nena - I won't have anything left at all.  I don't suppose I'll ever be able to buy any clothes - or send you any money.  Maybe after Christmas I'll be a little bit above water - but expenses here are sky high - Board is 85 cents a day and room $6 every four weeks.  I have to have a little cleaning done every now and then.  I've not spent much foolishly either - I've only been to the show once - and I seldom buy more than a coke.  I did buy some brown shoes, hat and purse in Knoxville last week - and that reminds me - I wish you'd see if you can find the button to this brown coat - the one off the sleeve - The last time I saw it it was on the big dresser.
     I just can't write any more letter - Two of my classes have been writing letters and I've read and graded so many that the very thought of a letter makes me sick - perhaps that's one reason I'm so far behind with my correspondence.  I enjoy your letters tho -  you get A+ - so write them more often.
     I have two sets of tests and two sets of themes to grade tonite - and something tells me I'd better get busy.  
     Tell everybody hello for me.  Be good, and write more often than I do.

P.S.  Thanks for those hose.  I'll pay you for them someday.  Maybe.

*For our curious readers hoping for pictures of her brief time in Alcoa, sadly we have none.  And a search to try to find Google Street View of the house was not successful.  There is no Ramsey St. in Alcoa, TN anymore, though there is a "Ramsay Street" (spelled with an A, with street numbers in the 1400s) very near the current Alcoa Middle School.  Based on the look of the current Alcoa Middle School pictures, it must have been rebuilt since Catherine taught there.  If it is the same street, and the school is in the same place, that would have been a perfect location for a "boarder" to walk to her new place of employment.

Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)

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