Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Clara's Cotton Buyer

After Clara Paxton's mother and father died, she lived with a succession of relatives: her grandmother in Independence, Missouri, her uncle Charley and aunt Sue Overholser in Valley Falls, Kansas, and her uncle Will and aunt Ella Overholser in Oklahoma City. She lived with the Overholsers in the 1918-1919 school year, when she seems to have been taking courses at Central High School--probably to get some college preparation that her high school in Valley Falls had not provided. In 1919-20 she was at Hollins College in Virginia with Mary Overholser, and in 1920-21 she was back in Oklahoma City and earning her teaching certificate from what is now the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. Because the Overholsers were part of what passed for society in Oklahoma City in those days (1918-1921), Clara turned up in the newspaper from time to time: hosting a lunch for friends at the Skirvin Plaza Hotel with her cousin Mary Overholser, attending a party here and there. On Sundays, the Oklahoman's society page would feature photos of pretty and prominent young women, apparently just so everyone would know who was who.

On September 26, 1920, it was Clara's turn (see clipping at left--click to make it larger). She was one of five women included that week, and the caption began "Two ambitious students, two charming brides, and an interesting young traveler in foreign lands. Upper left--Miss Clara Paxton, niece of Mr. and Mrs. Will L. Overholser, who is striving for a degree at the Central State normal at Edmond. . . . "

Two days after the picture appeared, a Mr. Sidney Caldwell in Duncan, Oklahoma, wrote her a letter (above--click on the pages to make them bigger). Mr. Caldwell had wisely ruled out the two brides and evidently preferred Clara to the interesting young traveler, who had just returned from Germany, and the other ambitious student, an undergrad at Cornell (unless of course he wrote to them, too.) Here's the letter in its entirety:
Duncan Okla.
Sept. 28--1920
Miss Clara Paxton
Centeral State Normal

My Dear Miss Paxton, I thought I would write you a little love letter to let you know I love you very much. I saw your picture in the Daily Oklahoman Sunday. It said that the college girls loved to receive letters from other towns and I thought I would write you a small letter to let you know I love you. If you will write me I will answer your letters.
I think you are the most beautiful girl in the world, and I don't know what you think about me. If you will send me a picture of your self, and I will send you a picture of myself. If you love cotton buyers that get a salary of $5000 a year you had better tie into me. I'm 19 and a little bit over and you look in the picture about the same age.
Don't forget to write, I must close as a wagon load of cotton is on the street.
Yours truly,
Sidney Caldwell
P.S. Be sure and write me.

I don't know what Clara thought about the letter; my guess is that she kept it because she thought it was funny (and of course a little flattering). What Mr. Caldwell had no way of knowing was that 86 years later, Clara's descendants could use the Internet to do a little fact checking on him. I found him in the 1920 census, and there seems to be some truth--well, truthiness--to what he told Clara. His FATHER is listed as a cotton buyer, but at the time of the census (January 1920), Sidney was still in high school. So perhaps he'd joined his father in business by September of that year.

So what do you think? Did Clara choose the right guy? Maybe if she'd gone with Sidney, we'd all be in the tall cotton now.

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