Retired teacher Naomi May has lived in the Rose Bud area nearly 95 years. She has a prime seat to look out the windows of her house to reflect on a lifetime of memories.
“I have never wanted to live anywhere else,” she said. “I have enjoyed visiting a lot of places, but this is home.”
She was born March 20, 1919. The marquee at her church still held the announcement, last week, regarding her turning 95. During her lifetime, she has seen the city of Rose Bud and its residents endure some hard times. She remembers when the city was almost destroyed by fire and, in later years, suffered the destruction of a tornado.
“Our town has had a hard time trying to grow,” May said, “but we are not quitters. The things we have gone through and survived show we are not quitters. It’s just the opposite here. We know to stick together in the really hard times.”
She pointed to the town’s school, visible from her window. She said the school is thriving now and is the hub of the community. Yet it has also fallen under hard times, she said. At another location, in 1921, it was hit by lightning. It also closed for a few months, she said, during the Depression because of a lack of money, and the school burned in 1943.
“You would never know that now, though,” she said. “We are very proud of our school.”
The Rose Bud area became May’s home at an early age. She was born in Jasper, Texas, while her father, Edgar Maddox, was overseas serving in World War I. The war ended Nov. 11, 1918, on his 30th birthday. Her parents had met in Rose Bud when her mother, who was from Texas, was visiting some extended family. While he served overseas, her mother returned to her family in Texas. When May was 6 weeks old, the family reunited to live in Rose Bud. It was the first time her father had laid eyes on her.
She graduated from Rose Bud High School in 1937 as valedictorian of her class. That same year, she began to teach in the elementary school, drawing a salary of $55 per month. She met the requirements, she said, by attending the teachers college in Conway for about six weeks and taking a teacher’s exam in Searcy. From when she was a little girl, May knew she wanted to be a teacher. Her dad was secretary of the school board, and the family had boarded many teachers in their house, and May looked up to them. Several teachers also stayed there free during the Depression. Hearing her career choice, she recalls her father telling her, “I hope you aren’t planning on making much money.”
The money, she said, was not her motivation. In fact, she said, if necessary, she would have taught for free. Her late husband, John Robert May, who died in 1990, was also a Rose Bud resident. His dad owned a store and ran a bus service to Searcy, she said. After the couple married in 1938, May’s husband accepted a job as a rural mail carrier, but he was called to serve in World War II. As a member of the Army Reserve, he also served in Korea and Vietnam. A soldier in World War II, he left in 1943 and didn’t return to his family for about three years.
A lot of women, she said, including her, were “taking the work of men” back then. However, not many women were delivering mail, but she did. At that time, she said, the rural roads would get almost impassable. Most were dirt. Some had loose gravel. When it rained, the swollen streams would overflow, covering the roadways. There were few bridges. In one place, during heavy rains, May said, to cross a stream, she would take a rain slicker and put it over the hood of her car and disconnect the fan belt until she reached the opposite side.
Several items, including sugar and gasoline, were rationed, she said. She, however, received extra coupons for gasoline because of her job. Some of those coupons, she said, were used to purchase fuel to take the sick in the community to doctors.
“They couldn’t get gas, and I could,” she said.
Her only contact with her husband while he was overseas was by letters. They each wrote daily. However, she said, they might go a month or longer without receiving any letters. Then they would receive a stack at one time. The mail was also censored, and at times, their letters would have marked-out lettering or cut-out blocks of text. A smile on her face, she talked about the secret code the two developed to convey more information to each other.
May also assumed her husband’s mail-carrier job when he was in Korea from 1950 to 1952. By that time, she said, the roadways had improved some, but her situation hadn’t. She was left alone to care for their two children, Kenneth and Nancy. May hired a “widow woman” to come and stay at their home during the week, taking some of the pressure off May.
Again, the couple wrote letters, and this time, they had the means to exchange tape recordings. Although there were few telephones, her husband called her twice during his two-year absence. He returned as soon as he could, and she went back to teaching in 1954. Through the years, she furthered her education, including earning a master’s degree in education at Harding University in Searcy, as well as achieving other certifications in science and as a librarian. She served as the first elementary librarian at the Rose Bud school.
During the Vietnam War, the family’s life was once again interrupted. Her husband deployed to Vietnam in 1968. This time, she did not carry the mail but opted to continue teaching. She didn’t hear from her husband much during that year.
“He was in ordnance and from one end to the other of Vietnam,” she said. “There was a lot of worry.”
At that point, May became quiet for few minutes. She pointed to a photo of her late husband in his uniform. It hangs on a wall next to her dad and son, all three dressed in their military uniforms. A couple of minutes later, she turned the subject back to the school.
As teenagers, she and her friend — they were about 13 at the time — each began writing to pen pals from Holland as part of a social studies project. Mays’ pen pal’s nickname was “Puck,” and they wrote weekly until World War II, when all correspondence stopped.
As a teacher, in later years, she would take those letters to school, share the story and read the letters to her students. In the ’60s, one class of students encouraged her to reach out and try to re-connect with Puck. She did and was successful. They were able to pick up as grown women where they left off as teenagers. They not only wrote but visited each other on more than one occasion. May’s pen pal and family came to Rose Bud, and May and her family went to Holland. They also exchanged gifts — lots of gifts — before Puck’s death two years ago. May pointed to the many figurines and Dutch shoes displayed prominently in her house.
May retired from teaching in 1981. However, substitute teachers were always needed at the elementary school, and May was called on a lot to teach. She returned to the classroom, after a few years, and served as an ESL teacher for about the last 11 years of her tenure. But that wasn’t the end of her involvement at the school. She volunteered at the school until about three years ago. At 92, she said, she thought she might be getting too old to volunteer and decided to step away for good.
“I can hear the bell and sit here and look out,” she said. “It is all I can do to not go up there. I wish I could see the little ones.”