Fred Smith: A rural teacher driven to fulfill expectations

Fred Smith is the little guy in the white shirt and light-colored overalls on the right end of the front row in this photo of the Upper Brixey school that was probably taken in 1917 or 1918. Most of the other students are unknown, but Beulah Collins Smith, the teacher, is the dark-headed woman standing in front of the door of the school, which still stands on Highway 181 south of Rockbridge.

Fred Smith was the Upper Brixey teacher when this photo was taken in 1959-60. Top row, from left: Smith, Gayle Parsons, Stan Taber, unknown, Jerald Mahan, Kay Berry, Ronnie Parsons. Sec-ond row: Mickey Smith, Jerry Haskins, Gary Mackey, Deloris Smith. Third row: Harold Clayton, Beth Taber, Galene Smith, Dwayne Honeycut. Bottom row: Unknown, Phyllis Mahan, Larry Smith, Sue Clark, David Haskins.

Editor’s note: To read more of the reminiscences of Ozark County native Ronnie Parsons, now living in Texas, visit his Facebook page:


Back in my childhood days in Brixey Holler, people seemed to be driven to fulfill, to the highest degree possible, the expectation placed upon them by their peers. 

For example, I give you Fred Smith, the schoolteacher at the Upper Brixey school for grades 1 through 8. Now, just imagine having eight children, one year apart, the oldest in the eighth grade and the youngest in the first grade and having to home-school all of them from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Now consider that each of them had several friends their own ages who would come by each day for you to home-school as well. That would be a daunting task, to say the very least!

Fred not only taught us how to study, how to behave and how to use our hands, by golly he also taught us how to play. We played “Annie over” the old school house building, we played deck ball, softball, we played Red Rover, we had three-legged races and sack races, and we had a basketball goal nailed to the old walnut tree at the back of the school yard where we would shoot baskets – or at least try to. 

On rainy days, we played inside games like Mother May I? 

After the rains were over, Larry Smith and I would make paper sailboats and sail them beside the schoolhouse in the little creek that was a tributary to Brixey Creek. We would usually dam up a section of the stream so the water would pool and be calmer.

On days after a good snow, when the roads were clear enough for the “school bus” (which was Geraldine Smith’s car) to get us to school, what did we do? We rode sleds down the hill behind the schoolhouse. Not on the road but through the trees! That was so much fun. There was usually one sled, but we would also use pieces of roofing tin with strings tied to them, car hoods or anything else that would slide. You couldn’t control where they went, but the corrugations on the roofing tin would keep the front in front so you could at least see what you were definitely going to run in to!

One of the things I remember most in our play is that Fred was almost always there playing with us. Even now I can still hear him in my memory yelling, “Annie over!” or “Batter up” or “On deck.” 

I can remember, during each of the prominent holiday periods, how he would have us make something crafty pertaining to the holiday. I remember making a rabbit out of plywood for Easter, making a Christmas tree corner wall shelf out of plywood, a three-shelf corner shelf, a flower holder out of oil cans and plaster of Paris and other things like that. Can you imagine getting these things accomplished today with all the computer games to compete with? Not in your wildest dreams!

Ozark County Times

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