Note: The following words are Coya's...with the exception of a place or two where I interjected additional information for clarification. The words which I interjected are written in italics.
My earliest memories are of Pelly, Texas. We lived on Duke’s Hill, and our house was built on the hill to the point that we kids could walk underneath the porch. That’s about all I remember about Pelly, because after a short time we moved to Adoue Street in neighboring Goose Creek. In later years the three communities of Pelly, Baytown, and Goose Creek would consolidate under the name of Baytown. We lived next door to a family named Barr, who had a son my age named Bobby. Bobby and I played hide and seek and all the other childhood games. Shortly, we moved again, this time to Cedar Bayou, an area on the edge of Baytown situated near…Cedar Bayou. There I roamed the fields with a new friend, Wendell Hunt, who had a horse. I was fearful of the horse at first, but soon realized that the horse was gentle. Wendell was very kind to me, and we spent many summer days catching crawfish in the big ditch in front of our house after a big rain. I soon learned I had to be careful when I picked up a big crawfish. Its pinchers could wrap around your finger really quickly
I started the first grade at Cedar Bayou Elementary, and my teacher was Mrs. Hunt. We had some Hunts as neighbors, but she was no relation to them. I didn’t like going to school. Other than going to church and seeing kids there, I had not been around anyone except family. My sister, Jeanette, took me to school on the first day. At that time Cedar Bayou School had all grades from first to twelve, so Jeanette dropped me off with Mrs. Hunt and headed to her own class in the high school section. Mrs. Hunt showed me the table that would be my desk, as well as five other classmates. As class began, Mrs. Hunt wrote the alphabet on the blackboard and asked us to begin writing the letters on our papers. The paper had lines, so I didn’t have any problem; that part was easy!
But…as I sat there thinking I was in a completely different world, my heart began racing, and I just knew I had to find Jeanette so she could take me home. So, I just got up, walked out the door, and began running to find Jeanette. I ran in the front doors of the high school building only to see a hall that seemed to be long and dark. I went to every door and peeked in to see if Jeanette was there. I finally found her. This scene went on for several days to the point that when I opened the front doors of the high school and started running, Jeanette’s class members would yell, “Jeanette, here comes your sister!” She was so embarrassed! One time she grabbed me and spanked my bottom right there in front of everybody while I loudly cried. Finally, however, I settled down, learned to love Mrs. Hunt, and became a good student. If we ever missed the school bus, though, my sister, Daris, would march us to school, even calling out, “Left! Right! Left! Right!” until we got to school.
Just as I was to enter the third grade, we moved to 303 Dyer in Baytown. I finished the third grade at Alamo Elementary in Stewart Heights, but I wanted to be back to my friends at Cedar Bayou. So I got a transfer and moved back to my old school to begin the fourth grade. Mrs. Gentry was my teacher. I loved being back with my friends. I enjoyed school, loved my teachers, and completed the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades without a problem. I then moved over to the junior high section of Cedar Bayou to begin the seventh grade.
One of my first acts in the seventh grade was to sign up for choir. The first day of choir, the teacher, Mr. Williamson, called the roll. When he came to “Coya Creel,” he stopped, looked at me with a stern face, and asked, “Are you any kin to C.B. Creel?” I told him he was my brother. He looked at me with a glare in his eyes and said, “We’ll have none of that monkey business!” The class laughed, and I was embarrassed and didn’t know what to say. Apparently, C.B. had been guilty of a lot of “monkey business” when he was in choir. However, we all became friends eventually, and I loved choir…but apparently C.B. didn’t.
I spent two or more weeks each summer in Livingston with Auntie and Granny. Auntie (Naomi) and Uncle Grady Stephens were Mama’s sister and brother-in-law. Granny (Ivy McCaghren Gaylord, b. 1876 d. 1921) was Mama’s mother. Robert Lee Gaylord (b. 1876, d. 1921) was Mama’s father. During one of my summers there, I met Letha Mae Doyle, daughter of Brother Doyle, the pastor of the Livingston Church at that time. Letha later married Brother Jerry Ward, one of the evangelists who visited our church in Baytown. Once, when Letha and I were playing outside, a big thunderstorm suddenly came up. Instead of my going back into their house and waiting it out, I became frightened and felt I just had to get back to Auntie’s house. I struck out running down the side of Highway 146 praying and promising God that if He would just get me back to Auntie’s house I would forever be good. As I came running up the long driveway to Auntie’s house, Granny met me on the porch. She was so concerned and asked, “Child, why didn’t you wait until this little storm blew over before coming home?” I answered, “I was so afraid and wanted to be home!”
We were members of Peace Tabernacle in Baytown, and Brother V.A. Guidroz was the pastor. The Guidroz family had children who were about the same ages as the Creel children. They had eight in their family and we had ten. Judy was the closest to my age. We had lots of good times. One Sunday I went home with her after church. Come evening church time, we went back a little early, and Judy said, “Let’s go to the garden and pull us a radish.” (Sister Guidroz had a beautiful garden behind the parsonage.) So we did. That radish was so hot, I was on fire, and there was no water to be had. When Mama arrived at church she wanted to know what I was crying about. I had to tell her about the radish. Of course, she said that was what happens when we do things we shouldn’t do! No pity!
We had a simple, sweet growing up life. We were poor but didn’t know it. The neighbors on Dyer were all good. Mama worked, and Dad worked, weather permitting. Dad was a carpenter and worked, I think, through a union shop. Later, when his health began to fail, he worked as a janitor at the Roseland Park Swimming Pool. I was eleven years old and got a job working at a shoe shop. I needed a minor’s release to enable me to work, which Mama signed for me. I got my Social Security card and earned fifty cents an hour working after school. Daddy would drive me to work. By then, his ankles were swelling and he wasn’t feeling very well. When I was thirteen, I went to work for Herring’s Drug Store on Main Street next to The Style Shop, an up-town ladies’ dress shop. One of the ladies who was a sales clerk there came into Herring’s and ordered one of our fresh chicken salad sandwiches. (Mrs. Herring made fresh chicken salad sandwiches every day.) I served the lady her sandwich, and she immediately lifted the slice of bread and asked, “Where’s the pepper?” I didn’t know what she meant. Mrs. Herring walked over and told her that I was new and didn’t know about the pepper. Mrs. Herring picked up the plate and brought me behind the counter and quietly told me the lady always wanted plenty of pepper on her sandwich. She picked up the pepper shaker, and I thought she was going to dump the whole shaker of pepper on the sandwich! That’s the way, she said, this customer wants her sandwich.
I learned to make coffee in a big urn at Herring’s. When I would arrive at work on Saturday, it was my responsibility to make the coffee. Mr. Hill showed me how to fill the urn with water, remove the large cloth filter, clean it, and add fresh coffee grounds. We had hot donuts delivered to us from Patterson’s Bakery across the street every day. After the coffee was ready, a warm donut along with that hot, fresh coffee was divine! That’s how I became a coffee drinker!
By the time we were living on Dyer Street, it was just C.B., Loretta, George, Karen, and I living at home. C.B. was going to high school and playing football. After school and football practice each day, he worked at George Smith’s Humble gas station at the end of Dyer Street and North Main. Mama was working, and C.B. would come home many times for lunch, and I would fry some potatoes (maybe some Spam) and fix him a sandwich. Sometimes C.B. would need his shoes polished (he was dating Bobbie by then.) He would start out by saying what a fine job I did with his shoes. The shoes he was referring to were the shoes that were given to me. I loved those shoes. When I first got them, they were a little big, but I grew into them, but then they got a little short! But it didn’t matter to me; I loved those brown leather, lace up shoes. I polished them every night! C.B. saw this and bragged on me so much that he talked me into polishing his own shoes. He told me he would give me a quarter every time I polished them, and that did the trick. I polished his shoes every night whether I got the quarter or not.
By this time, Daddy was unable to work. One Christmas the Goodfellows Charities brought us a large bag of groceries and toys. The toy bag had a doll, a fuzzy red cap, a truck, and some puzzles. I let Loretta and Karen share the doll, and George must have taken the truck. I took the fuzzy red cap. It fit so cute on me and tied under my chin. I do remember feeling sad because we could not have had Christmas without the Goodfellows. The Goodfellows were a blessing, but I remember feeling in my heart that someday I wanted to be able to do the giving myself.
I was thirteen when Daddy died. I remember him lying in a hospital bed in our living room growing weaker by the day. The day he died, May 4, 1951, he had been in a coma for hours (didn’t realize it at the time.) When Myrt came to the house, she immediately went into the kitchen, gathered up whatever was in the cabinets and refrigerator, and began making soup. While the soup was cooking, she picked up a broom and started sweeping the floor, crying the whole time. I realized at that moment that Daddy was bad off. The house began to fill up with family because my brothers and sisters always supported one another. I’m not sure of the time of day that Daddy died, but I do remember Jeanette sending someone to Lyon’s Grocery in Stewart Heights to get something. I rode in the car with, I think, C.B. and Bobbie, and sat in the car while they went in. I couldn’t understand why everyone seemed to be going about their business when Daddy had just died. For a while afterward, it was hard for me to pick up and live each passing day knowing that things would never be the same. I didn’t realize that God had His hand on me and knew my future and my needs. With a praying mother and family, my life was secure.
One summer our yard needed mowing, and the flower beds that Mama insisted on having needed cleaning. I was working full time at Herring’s Drugs. Mama was working, and by now C.B. had gotten married. To take care of the yard, I hired a neighborhood man to mow and clean our yard. I don’t remember how much he charged, but I was able to pay whatever it cost. The yard looked really nice…for about two weeks!
When I was in the eighth grade at Cedar Bayou Junior High, I became a cheerleader for the junior high football team. I was also in the band. The band would march for the high school football games even though we were junior high schoolers. C.B. was playing on the high school team, and it was exciting to hear his name called over the loud speaker at the games. I played the snare drum in the band. I chose the snare drums because the school furnished the drums. There was no way I could afford to buy a musical instrument. Also, the uniforms were furnished with no fee. The cheerleader skirt and vest were furnished, but I had to pay a fee for use. I managed to earn enough money to cover the cost.
During this time we siblings were furnished meals by a program for orphans, so I was able to eat in the school cafeteria every day. After lunch I was able to buy an ice cream cone for five cents. There was this cute boy who worked the ice cream counter. Each time I returned to my table, my girlfriends would say, “Coya, that boy likes you!” I would look at them and reply, “No way! He’s too old for me. He’s in high school.” They just laughed. That went on for a while until I began to realize that they were right. We began chatting, and he would give me an extra dip of ice cream and a big wink. The girl friends said, “Wow! Coya, he likes you, he has a new car, and he’s very nice.” They apparently knew him from Cedar Bayou Baptist Church where he and his parents attended. Soon, Don Eddleman asked me out for a date. He picked me up about 6:30 on a Friday evening, and we went to Princess Drive In on Decker Drive and got hamburgers and French fries. We visited there for a while, and then he took me back home about 8:00. On the next date, he came to church with me to a young peoples’ function. We began dating every Saturday night, usually to a youth church function or just to eat out somewhere. We really didn’t care where we went…just so we were together. Don was 18 and I was 14 when we became engaged; I was fifteen when we married. Within a few years, we were blessed with two beautiful children: Pamela (January 4, 1958) and Donald (May 12, 1961.)
Don and I enjoyed 56 beautiful years together. Before we were married, my Aunt Lizzie (Daddy’s twin sister) told me that if I would “put that marrying business behind me” and finish school, she would see to it that I was able to go to college. She, a retired school teacher, and her husband, Uncle John had no children. I would visit them for a couple of weeks every summer. But, as we know now, her talk didn’t change my mind about “that marrying business.” She always told me, “Coya, you’ll probably have a houseful of kids by the time you’re 25.” Her fears of that event never came to pass, but I always appreciated their love and concern.
In 1955 I was working for Franklin’s Dress Shop. O.E. and R.L. Downing were brothers whose families were attending Peace Tabernacle. By then, Don and I were attending there, also. The Downings owned Downing Roofing Company, a business located just down the street from our church. One Sunday morning, R.L. told me he would like to speak to me after church, so Don and I waited in front of the church. R.L. had a lot of responsibilities with our church, so he was usually one of the last people to leave. He began by saying, “I know you are working at Franklin’s, but we are needing to hire a full time secretary.” O.E.’s wife, Reba, was working as secretary at the time but was ready to go back to fulltime housewife. Of course, I was certainly interested. A secretary wasn’t on her feet all day meeting the public! Plus, the environment would be nice, because both O.E. and R.L. were perfect gentlemen. I became proficient with the telephone, especially the calls that came in on rainy days. These people always wanted immediate repair service! During my employment with Downing Roofing Company, I was able to become better acquainted with the Downing families. R.L. and Ethel had small children who would come visit while they waited for R.L. to come in from a job. It was a pleasure to see how they adored their dad and waited patiently to get a hug from him. The oldest, Bobby, was nearly grown (he thought.) He was a brilliant young man, very mature for his age. He loved coffee. I can’t remember just how old he was, but I kept all the coffee fixings in the adjoining room to the office. I kept the cream and sugar packets handy but also had a box of sugar cubes nearby. Bobby would go into the room, fix his coffee, come back into the office to visit, and comment, “This sure is good coffee!” This went on for a few days until I realized all the sugar cubes were gone, because Bobby loved his coffee really sweet. I had to laugh, but I just kept buying the boxes of sugar cubes. Bobby had two sisters at this time, Judy and Kathy. Later, another sister, Mary would come along. To this day, I love these kids.
I worked for Downing Roofing Company for about six years, during which time I had my daughter, Pam. I went back to work when she was four weeks old, thanks to wonderful neighbors, the Vanovers (Roy and Beatrice with their two older kids, Patsy and David,) who lived next door to us on Windy Lane. Beatrice (or Vanover, as we called her) wanted to care for Pam while I worked. This family loved Pam and treated her as their own. Patsy eventually taught at James Bowie Elementary while David went to college. Pam became so much a part of their family that when David went off to college, he took a photo of Pam and said she was his sister! Roy loved to let Pam hang on to his finger while she walked up and down their front walk. Vanover always had beautiful flowers growing, and Roy would let Pam pick one of the blooms.
Today, in this part of my life, there is so much that I could say but just don’t know how. God has been so good to me. When Don passed away suddenly on March 4, 2010, it was the most jolting, life changing event that ever came my way, yet I never lost my faith in God. That event will forever be embedded in my memory, and I won’t write down all the details because it causes my heart to restrict even now. I just need to say that I know that God has had His hand upon me each day of my life. He knows what is in store for each of us. Of that terrible day of Don’s passing, I remember telling the doctors that I just needed to talk to Don. They were telling Pam and me (Donald had not arrived yet) that Don was brain dead. Everybody who knows me knows how I depended on Don always. There I was, and after 56 years of marriage being completely dependent upon him, I couldn’t ask him what I should do. “Oh, wow! I sure need you now, Sweet Jesus!” I prayed. I have to say…along with my children, family, church family, and lifelong friends, God has brought me to this day. It has now been four years since I lost Don, and I still believe that God is in control. I have faith, and I’m so glad I know Him.
During this time my son, Donald, has been absolutely awesome. Pam and I have wondered many time, “What would we have done without Donald?” In the midst of his grief over losing his dad, he handled every detail that had to be done. He and Pam organized all the details of Don’s funeral. They, along with the grandchildren, were grieving, but with dignity each one played an important part of making sure Don’s homecoming was beautiful. The song “I’ll Fly Away” sings about when He takes us home “…To a land where joy shall never end.” We sang the song at Don’s memorial service. It is comforting to know God took Don home in his time.
I want to tell about how Don and I became lifelong friends with Hazel and Wilburn Bracht. Don worked with Wilburn at Phillips Petroleum throwing fertilizer bags. Phillips was having a company picnic one Saturday. Wilburn and Don had to work, but Hazel and I were to meet them that evening. Hazel came by to pick me up. We were living on Alford Street at the time. I had never met Hazel at that time, and I was pregnant with Pam. It was the summer of 1957. Hazel and I visited in the car on the way to the picnic, and our friendship grew from that day onward. We’ve had many wonderful, precious times together. To this day, Wilburn and Hazel are just as precious to me as any of my siblings. The same goes for their daughter, Cindy. Cindy and her husband, John, have two children, and their families are precious to me also. Time and age makes our friendships more cherished with each passing day.
I wish Hazel, Wilburn, and my children could add their memories to my story. I’m sure they could add some really interesting moments.