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McDonald Tales | MT6 | Alex McDonald and the Potts Family
Alex was injured picking corn on the farm
Alex recuperated from his injury in the Potts family home
[For this McDonald Tale, as with MT5, we are going to ‘step aside from’ the McDonald stories through the viewpoint of Daniel and Jane and look a little closer at Daniel’s nephew, Alex, and his view of Oak Springs and the Oak Creek valley, in the years following the Civil War.]
Taking part in the corn harvest on the McDonald farm in the east valley in the fall of 1869, we know that 20-year-old Alex McDonald severely twisted and injured his back. He was taken into Oak Springs for treatment by Dr. J. D. Potts. While waiting for the treatments to work, Alex was allowed to stay in the home of the doctor’s brother, Jerry, and his wife, Polly. Their home was nearby their business building that housed not only the doctor’s office, but also a barbershop, an apothecary, and the Potts Print Shop. Jerry and Polly had no children, but did have a great library.
While initially confined to lying flat on his back, medications kept his pain in check. Alex asked for something to read, and was surprised at what was available to him. Jerry, Polly and J.D. were avid readers and were mildly surprised to realize that Alex was, as well. They soon learned of his ‘war experience’ and that much of it was spend reading history, the classics and other literature from his grandfather’s books. They discovered his depth of knowledge in these fields was unusual for such a young man, and, because of extended discussions with his grandfather, his ability to relate to the material and make it understandable was also rare.
Each member of the Potts family had been active in the Book Clubs begun by Levi Weston on his return to Oak Springs, and Alex wanted to know more about that. The four of them became a special book club and met and discussed selected books from the library while Alex was recovering, and continued after he began to get better.
Picking up children in the rural areas was a challenge
Alex learned about the Potts’ involvement with the new school in Oak Springs
That fall of 1869 was when the new subscription elementary school was supposed to have begun with Miss Nellie Truesdale as the teacher. However, it was decided to wait a year, to the fall of 1870, as subscriptions had been slow in coming. Not enough had been received to justify opening the school. Nellie, Lewis, and Caroline had been disappointed, of course, but had known the delay was a possibility. As the winter and spring of 1870 passed, however, a number of things began to come together that made the delay in opening the new school look like more of a good idea. Alex found that he was part of these discussions simply because he was there. But, it turned out to be a bit more than that.
Late in 1869, Lewis and Carolyn invited Jerry Potts to become a full partner in the subscription school, joining them as a director. They realized that perhaps he had something to offer that they had been missing. The one thing that turned out to be most obvious was his printing press. After the first of the year, he began printing handbills announcing the new school opening in the fall of 1870, and applications began coming in that, for some reason, had not prior to that time. Perhaps the printed material just made it seem more real to people. Or, perhaps, as time went by, they were simply more ready for it. Jerry Potts also contributed additional thinking about the organization of the school. They needed to solve a transportation problem for the children living out in the rural areas of the township. Levi Weston agreed to build some special carriages to use to pick up these children. Lewis agreed to man and manage them, providing the horses and manpower from his stables. This may well have been the key to increased enrollments, as well, as the plan was announced to pick up the rural children and bring them to the school each day as part of each family’s subscription.
One further contribution that Jerry Potts made late in the spring of 1870 was to recommend that Alex McDonald be added to the school as an instructor of history, the classics, and literature for the older students, part-time, in the afternoons. By this time, Alex was able to be up and around, he was helping in the print shop and apothecary; he just couldn’t lift heavy objects. They had learned he was a fast learner, always cheerful, and worked diligently at any task assigned him. With the increased enrollment information now in hand, they were also concerned that Nellie was going to be stretched to do her best with the number of students she had. She would be hard pressed to get beyond the basic reading, writing, and arithmetic required to be taught. Lewis and Carolyn were initially skeptical of adding Alex, but Nellie felt it would be fine idea.
The newspaper was a single sheet broadside
Alex added schoolteacher to his print shop duties
So, when school started, Alex began teaching the children from 10 to 13 years old, each afternoon, for two hours. Nellie had worked with him to develop a teaching plan for what she and the directors had decided he would teach. He had learned from her many of the daily teacher management procedures she had learned in her normal training. This also became important because he would now be able to assist her, if needed, and in any emergency, if she were unavailable for short periods, he could actually conduct the classes for short times.
It turned out, it seemed, that there was a secondary benefit for the students that no one had really anticipated. By having Alex come in for those middle afternoon hours, it provided a change of pace for those older students who may have become bored after lunchtime. They all seemed to enjoy Alex and his stories very much. He seemed to make history and literature come alive for them. It was something entirely new, for most of them, and he enjoyed the process very much, himself. That enthusiasm rubbed off on the students, of course.
Meanwhile, Alex continued to work with Jerry Potts at the print shop. Jerry had learned that Alex actually wrote quite well, as well, and often had him writing the text of handbills and notices that customers brought in. Alex was also very good at going around to potential customers and soliciting business for the print shop. By the spring of 1871, Jerry Potts decided it was time to print a one-page weekly newspaper. Thus the Oak Springs Enterprise was born, with Jerry Potts as Editor and Publisher, and Alex McDonald as his right-hand man, writing copy, collecting money, and doing all the little things that needed done. Alex also continued his part-time teaching. It was a good life.
Oh, one other thing. The Potts office building had a second floor, intended to eventually become apartments. J.D. Potts lived in the only one finished, at first. When Alex became well enough to live on his own, again, they finished a second one for him. They continued their Book Club meetings, and life for Alex seemed nearly complete.
Note from Author
Much of this McDonald Tale (MT6) has been told in the short story collection, “American Centennial at the Homeplace: The Founding (1833-1876)” but here we are seeing the activity through the eyes and experiences of Alex McDonald, along with new material and insights. The story Alex told of his Civil War days is the centerpiece short story in the American Centennial anthology of stores.
These Tales are a part of “The Homeplace Saga” series of stories.
“The Homeplace Saga” family saga, historical fiction stories are the creation of the author, William Leverne Smith, also known as “Dr. Bill.”
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