By Dana Delgado
Life-long area resident Clara Belle (Whitted) Davidson turns 100 on Feb. 1 with much to celebrate including family and fond, vivid memories of life in the Liberty Hill-Bertram area during times of great change.
“I have seen so many changes,” said Mrs. Davidson, who has lived through countless presidents, the Great Depression and World War II. “It was colder then, we had no electricity, and we cooked on a wood stove, but they were happy times.”
Born in 1918 to parents Carl and Velma (Humphries) Whitted on a frigid, icy day in the family wood frame two-bedroom farmhouse off of CR 200 on the outskirts of town, Clara Belle Davidson found herself welcomed to the world by a close-knit family bonded by love and hard work. Her birth year, however, also marked the family’s acquisition of a new Model T, which set a course of travel and adventure for the young family that included older sister Frances (Whitted) Isaacks and later siblings Cecil (Whitted) Crawford, a younger sister, and William Whitted, the youngest child and only brother.
Davidson recalls her mother who came from a family of musicians, to be always singing especially when she was in the kitchen cooking.
“She never complained, could play the piano, and made the best pork tamales,” she recalled.
In the evenings, the family would ritualistically gather around their mother who would read the newspaper with the aid of light from a kerosene lamp.
“My parents would always get the paper and my mother would read the news and comics to us,” she said.
Although admittedly not particularly interested at first, Mrs. Davidson said she was captivated by the news of the kidnapping of Charles Lindberg’s son. The ceremonial reading of the newspaper was never the same again after those bold headlines and intriguing story. So enthralled, Davidson has maintained a newspaper subscription, particularly her beloved Austin American-Statesman, for all of her adult life.
During the day, every member of the enterprising young family had chores to do on the busy farm.
“My daddy would wake us up for biscuits and would tell us to wash our face and hands before going outside,” she said. “I picked cotton and gathered corn, worked in the garden, and drove the tractor. I loved working in the fields with my father (who died an untimely early death from apparent heart attack while shoeing his horse).”
At noon, the family had hot rolls every day for lunch.
“We had our own meat, chicken, eggs, and made our own butter,” she said.
Mrs. Davidson said she so loved the outdoors that she fished in many a creek, most of which were running then, and climbed every tree around.
“It was a happy life,” she added.
And the mail order catalogs couldn’t come fast enough to their mailbox.
“We couldn’t wait to cut up the catalogs to make paper dolls,” Davidson said. “That’s the way we entertained ourselves.”
Holidays were always special although incredibly simple. For Christmas, the children made their own decorations and usually got dolls as gifts. For Easter, there were always Easter baskets filled with a variety of things and a traditional egg hunt.
“And for our birthdays,” she said, “we knew a cake mother baked for us awaited us after school. We never did suffer for anything.”
For the adventuresome country girl, school was in a one-room building near Bear Creek. The school grew so quickly that it had to be expanded to three rooms. Davidson went on to attend Liberty Hill School, which at the time had outdoor toilets. She participated in volleyball and said she was supposed to graduate in 1937 but a mix-up with her credits forced her to do some additional coursework and graduate in 1938.
One of her graduating classmates was Milton Pogue with whom she has remained in regular contact.
With a Model T on the farm, the Whitted family took to the open road on a regular basis.
“We were always out doing things together,” she said. “My parents took me everywhere.”
Davidson said they attended local events like Old Settlers as well as visited family in Paint Rock in west Texas. The family also ventured into Austin, a small capital town at the time surrounded by farms, for a variety of excursions including seeing the elephants parade through the streets when the circus rolled into town. Once they went to Georgetown and joined a crowd in watching a man climb the walls of the County Courthouse. Another time in Georgetown, she remembers going to see a couple get married in the mouth of a mounted whale passing through town on a train.
There were trips to the “picture shows” and jaunts to area musical events since her mother came from a family of musicians. The family also journeyed frequently to South Texas and the Gulf Coast and traveled into “Old” Mexico. Saturdays were particularly busy days. It was the day to motor into town to get groceries and catch up on the latest news and gossip from the town’s residents.
In 1940, she married John Barton Davidson in a private ceremony at a pastor’s house in Liberty Hill by the old Baptist Church. Davidson recalls wearing a new dress on her wedding day and being accompanied by her two sisters. As was customary back then, her parents did not attend the actual ceremony.
“We had double dated for a while,” she said.
The couple frequented the Globe Theater in Bertram during their courtship and caught some silent movies at a theater in Liberty Hill. Upon getting married, the newlyweds moved in with his brother and his wife who had a small farmhouse along the South San Gabriel River near Bertram.
“We were not that rich, but we farmed,” she recalled. “Those were happy times.”
The couple’s three children — Larry Wilton Davidson, Sharon Gail (Davidson) Hall and John Barton Davidson, Jr. — have fond recollections of their early years in Bertram.
“It was a good life having all fresh poultry, pork, beef, deer and wonderful canned, frozen or fresh fruits and vegetables,” said daughter Sharon Hall. “My mother taught me how to sew and cook before I was in 4H and took Home Economics. She was a co-Girl Scout leader with Estelle Bryson one year and was an excellent homemaker and saw to it that we children participated in Girl Scouts, FFA, band, twirling or whatever activities we wanted in our youth. She instilled the value of home, family and love of God in her family. ”
From 1956-1980, Mrs. Davidson was also active in the workforce. She began at Mathis Air Conditioning Factory in Marble Falls where she worked for five years before taking employment with a mattress sewing workroom in Georgetown. She worked there for nine years until they closed and then worked with Airborne Electronics in Georgetown for 10 years before retiring to care for her husband.
Family members say that about 100 family and church members including Davidson’s three children, six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren are expected to attend the milestone celebration Feb. 3 at a family home in Bertram. Yet, Mrs. Davidson, who credits her mother’s side of the family for her long life, said she doesn’t really understand what the fuss is all about.
“I’m just a farm girl,” she said.
For decades she attended her high school reunion and was active in the Church of Christ, but on her 100th birthday she will likely spend it like she has every other day since she was a child, by reading the newspaper. She is not as mobile as she once was, but her mind is as sharp as ever.
“I miss going to church,” she said pausing for a moment to reflect on family and friends lost over her lifetime. Her father, who bought one of the first plots in the Liberty Hill Cemetery, is buried there along with her husband and most other members of her family. Still, Mrs. Davidson holds on to the hope of connecting with someone she might know from her past.
“I got a Christmas card from Charlotte West about a year ago, but it didn’t have a return address,” she said. “Her husband was in my graduating class.”
It’s the kids, the grandkids and the great-grandkids that bring great pleasure to Davidson these days.
“I enjoy all the kids,” she said with much delight. “Everyone’s happy when they come. I’m so thankful that I’ve got three kids who are happy and in good health and get along real well.”
Although an avid gardener most of her life and an accomplished cook while being uncommonly calm and a natural problem solver, Mrs. Davidson will dutifully work on word finds and crossword puzzles which have helped her keep her lifetime of “happy” memories adeptly vivid.