Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Smartest Girl in Her Class

Copy of an excerpt from "The People of Shrock" by Duncan C. Covington.

Above: Lelia Porter
circa 1922 - 9th Grade
Midway School, Attala Co.

Recently, while thumbing through my new copy of Duncan Covington's book, "The People of Shrock," I found that my paternal grandmother, Lelia Porter Branch, was the only student in the 9th grade at Midway School, who was on the "Honor Roll." Also, on that honor roll, were two of her brothers, Clarence Porter and Leonard Porter, one of my paternal grandfather's sisters, Laura Branch, and a cousin of my grandfather's, Mart Baldridge.

I always knew that my grandmother was a smart lady, and I based this opinion, in part, on the variety of books she read. When she was not busy with household chores, gardening, or chasing us when we were young, she could likely be found reading a newspaper, a book or a magazine. Her choices were many, ranging from the classics of her young years to modern day fiction and non-fiction, and any current event publication she could get her hands on. One of her favorites of the 1950's was "Grit" newspaper. My best recollection is that this was some sort of "tabloid" newspaper that included some current event items.

She remembered so much of what she read, and many of the things she discussed with me as a child came from what she had learned from something she had recently read. I feel so fortunate to have had a grandmother like her, because she instilled in me the belief that I should "take care" of all books. She also passed along to me her fondness for books and her lifelong love of reading. I still have some of the books she gave me over the years, and I will never, ever part with any of them. Each time I pick up one of the books that belonged to her, I feel that she left a part of herself with me.

One of my most sentimental possessions is a copy of Eudora Welty's book, "Delta Wedding," that my grandmother gave me during my teen years. A few years later, I actually met Miss Welty while she was "Writer-in-Residence" at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, and I was fortunate enough to have her sign the book. Now, many years later, the book is not only a sentimental treasure, but a valuable one as well.

I also have in my possession two of my grandmother's well-worn textbooks, "Latin for Scholars" and "Textbook of Chemistry." According to the many marks in these two books, her two sisters, Vertie and Etta Porter, must have used them in school, as well. The fact that three young ladies who lived in rural Attala County, Mississippi, who pursued difficult courses such as Latin and chemistry during the early 1900's, should dispute the opinion of many outside the State of Misssissippi that Mississippians have not valued education.

My personal belief is that Mississippians have always valued education and the dreams that blossomed along with it. And books will continue to allow those dreams to flourish and grow.

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