Georgia Mae Gauthier
1920 - 1976
by George M. Gauthier

 

Georgia Mae Harp Gauthier was born on March 15, 1920. in Knippa, Texas. She was the second child of George Washington and Ada Mae Harp. She and her sister, Shirley Ann Stoner, and her brothers , Vernon and Benjamin Charles Harp, grew up in this small farming community and all graduated from the high school in Knippa.

Mom graduated from high school in 1937 at the age of 17. This was post-depression time and there was little or no money for "extras", so when she asked her parents for the $7.00 she needed to buy her senior ring, they did not have it. Being strong-willed and independant, even in those days when it was not proper for a young lady to be that way, she struck a deal with a friend of the family who happened to own the Knippa General Store. She agreed to work after school and on weekends for 50 cents per week, sweeping out, clerking and stocking the shelves if he would loan her $7.00 to buy her senior ring. She got her ring, went on to graduate from high school, and attended Southwest Texas State Teachers College in San Marcos. She and her older brother Vernon rented rooms from a Mrs. McNabb in San Marcos so the could attend S.W.T.S.T.C. This was the fall, spring, and summer sessions of 1937 and 1938.

At the end of the summer of 1938, Mom needed to earn some money to continue her education. So, in the fall of 1938, she was able to obtain her first teaching position in Aldine Rural School, Reagan Wells, Real County, Texas. This was a one room school house and, in addition to her teaching duties, she was also expected to arrive early enough to start the fire in the pot-bellied stove in the winter time so the classroom was warm when the children arrived for at 7:00 AM. She also had to make sure the stove was out before she left and to sweep out the building every day. All this for the princely sum of $35.00 per month plus room and board.

In the summer of 1939, Mom returned to Knippa for the summer break, and all her friends kept telling her of the "good looking railroad man" who she just had to meet. So, that summer, at the Eads Cafe on Hwy 90 W in Knippa, Texas, Georgia Mae Harp met and fell in love with George H. Gauthier of St. Martinsville, Louisiana.

Dad was a bridge foreman for the Southern Pacific Railroad. His job required him to repair and maintain all the bridges on the S.P. line from Lafayette, Louisiana. to El Paso, Texas. At the time they met, Dad was repairing the bridge over the dry Frio river there in Knippa. She and Dad went together for about a year.

Now, our grandmother, Mom's mother, was not overly fond of the idea of her daughter "running around" with a "railroad man" so things were a little tense during this time. As I said before, and as those of you who knew her remember, Mom was a very head-strong and independant person. So on August 31, 1940, while her mother was in New Mexico visiting her brothers, Mom and Dad ran off to Seguin and were married. Needless to say, our grandmother was less than pleased when she returned.

This began her "railroad years" as she called them. At this time the bridge crews, like my dad's, worked, slept, and ate on the railroad. They traveled from work site to work site by train and car. This was a self-contained community. The "outfit", as it was called, consisted of the foreman's living car, the crew living car, the cook car where meals were prepared and served to all, the tool and equipment cars, and two tank cars to supply water for the crew and the cook. So you would have the 6-8 box cars and tank cars needed the service each crew and these cars were moved from work site to work site by regularly scheduled freight trains.

For the next 8 years, Mom's home was a box car converted into living quarters with three rooms: Dad and Mom's room at one end, what was to be Kat's and my room at the other end, and everything else in the middle. In the 30s and 40s and even into the early 50s, the railroad kept a cook car with each of the bridge outfits and the full crew of 8-12 men. Mom and Dad were served 3 meals per day, 5 days a week. On weekends you had to fend for yourself. The foreman was responsible for keeping track of the food and ordering supplies. Mom helped Dad with this duty and and in some of the other record keeping duties he had.

Our Dad was raised on a farm in south Louisiana. He was born in 1899. At that time children were pulled from school when it was time to plant or harvest the crops, so Dad only had a 3rd grade education. Dad went to work for the S.P. railroad in 1916 for 50 cents a day and the days were 12 hour days and the weeks were 6 days long. With Mom's help, he taught himself to read blueprints and could take a bridge apart and put it back together better than most trained engineers. They were a great team.

On Jan. 6, 1942, Mom gave birth to George Martin Gauthier (me) at the old Uvalde Memorial Hospital in Uvalde, Texas. Her mother was working as a registered nurse there in Uvalde. Three weeks later, Mom packed me up and we drove to El Paso, Texas to join Dad, who was stationed there for some repairs on a bridge(Pecos High Bridge). Four years later, on February 20, 1946, Nancy Kathryn Gauthier was born in Seguin, Texas. Shortly after Kat was born, the crew had to pack up and move to Columbus, Texas. These types of moves occurred regularly. We would sometimes move as often as 6 to 10 time a year. This was the way we made the moves. All the furniture and personal items were packed in boxes by Mom and secured in the living quarters and, since the outfit was all railroad rolling stock, the first freight train going in the right direction would stop, couple the outfit in with the other cars, and haul the whole outfit to the desired location. There they would set our cars off on a siding somewhere, usually out in the middle of a cow pasture near the bridge that needed attention. We would drive by car to the location, unpack and set up our home for the next few weeks or months and then do it all over again.

As a small child, when you don't know anything else, what you have seems the best of all worlds. But for Mom, those years from 1940 to 1948 must have been very hard and lonely at times. Often we were camped in places where there were no other people around for miles. The closest town could be 20-40 miles away. She was the only woman among this crew of 8-12 men and, during the day, she was by herself out in the middle of nowhere with no phone, no electricity, no hot running water, kerosene lamps for light, and no indoor plumbing. Only the breezes to cool her in the hot summers and a pot-bellied stove to warm her in the winter, in the middle of nowhere in West Texas with only her small children to keep her company. I never heard her complain, but neither did she shed a tear when we bought a house in Uvalde.

In 1948 we bought a house at 238 Martin St. so that I could start school. From then til about 1954, Mom settled into the kind of life most women enjoyed at that time, raising her children and making a home for her family. Dad was still having to travel and they missed each other very much. Dad would get home as often as he could but Mom still had to run the house by herself. When Dad was home, usually only for a weekend, they would discuss what had happened and then try to plan for the next week or so until Dad was able to come home again.

In 1954-55, Mom decided she wanted to go back to teaching, but she did not have her degree or certificate. She got a job at Uvalde High School teaching math, I think, during the regular school year. Then in the summer she packed Kat, me and herself up and we moved to San Marcos so she could attend S.W.T.S.T.C. to complete her education. We would spend all week in San Marcos, then leave on Friday afternoon to drive back to Uvalde to meet Dad. We'd spend Saturday and part of Sunday at home and then drive back to San Marco Sunday afternoon so she could go to class Monday. She did this for over 2 years, but she completed her degree and her certificate in the fall of 1956. She returned to Uvalde High and spent the next 20 years teaching the students of Uvalde, not just English and Math, but that they could do anything they wanted to do if they wanted it badly enough and were willing to work hard for their goals. She taught them pride in what they did and how they did it, dignity, and, most importantly, self respect. She always emphasized the importance of education. She loved teaching and the students of Uvalde High - all of them.

Unfortunately, we lost Mom on Feb. 19, 1976, twenty-four days befor her 56th birthday, to cancer. She survived less than 5 months after being diagnosed, but, during this time, she faced this, as she had all the other challenges of her life-with dignity, grace, and courage. We still miss her so much and I am sure she is missed by many others, but we are all better that she passed our way even for a short time.

In writing this, I realized I had not thought of some of these things she experienced in her life for many years. When you look at the hard times, trials, and challenges, she, and others of her generation faced, you might wonder how they survived. We must remember-these were the people of "The Greatest Generation". They did not ask "Why do I have to do this?" They simply said, "This needs to be done." And they did it-quietly, with dignity, neither asking for, nor expecting any thanks or recognition. There have not been any like them before, and there may not be any like them again.

Kat and I want to thank you for the honor you are bestowing on Mom, and we are very proud to know than she touched so many others. We Know she would be very proud also.

George M. Gauthier
Kathryn Gardner