Friday, June 18, 2010

Sara Tannahill

It sometimes helps to put things into their chronological perspective in order to better understand them. Mrs. Tannahill was our chemistry teacher and so far as I can recall, she was a good one. She was energetic, moderately acerbic, and a bridge-nut. Her manner was brisk and good humored.

I struggled in her class, but then again for some reason I never really liked the study of chemistry. The back story of Sara Tannahill was her penchant for playing bridge. When you entered her classroom, you first walked toward the back of the room via an aisle that was flanked by the lab tables on the right and the chemical storeroom on the left. The student desks were at the back of the room and Mrs. Tannahill’s desk was hidden to the left behind the storeroom wall.

Steve Means, Paul Shields, Sam Scott, and Paul Tate are some of those who come to mind as filling out the foursomes for a game of bridge when time permitted—there were likely some others such as Bob Dillard and maybe David Bane also learning bridge that year. This was usually during Mrs. Tannahill’s free period in the afternoon. That chemistry room was ideally designed to hide the bridge table, which was Mrs. Tannahill’s desk, as it hid the game from being seen from the hallway through the door window. I think she also locked the door.

I found Mrs. Tannahill’s fraternization with students a bit puzzling, but now that I’m much older I think I’ve figured it out. She wasn’t much older than we were…she was a kid herself. Born in 1934, she was only 28 when we were seniors. Sara Tannahill taught for a year or two at Poly right after college and took the job at EHHS shortly after the school opened.



Anonymous said...

Coming back to this business of Mrs. Tannahill and the bridge games:

I don't remember any messages appearing at the first of school, like in the Tartan or on a bulletin board (or via one of Mr. Johnson's gross blasts on the PA system, interrupting classroom activity) to the effect that a bridge club was forming, for interested students, please apply to Mrs. Tannahill, etc, etc.

There were other clubs -- chess club, bowling club, Pan Am, etc., bible club -- but no visible "Bridge Club". And why did she have to lock the door? How was that possible anyway if it was her off-period, usually available for consultations with parents, according to stated school policy?

Doing a map check on the boys you mentioned, I find that four of the six were residents of the Eastern Hills neighborhood (and all four either lived on Danciger or within a half-block of it). All six of the boys either lived in Eastern Hills or within a mile of it. Did that constitute the potential bridge playing talent at EHHS?

Residents of West Meadowbrook or Sagamore Hill need not apply.

Mrs. Tannahill was indeed cooking her social stew.

Gus said...

How that foursome actually came together, I really don’t know. Tate was probably the sparkplug, as he usually was nearer the source of such things than others. Locking the door ensured there being no interruptions to the very competitive games; of course, it also served to quash loose chatter in the hallways about them. I don’t think there was ever more than one extra standing by and the conversation was about the same as it always had been between those guys…lighthearted, sharp, and humorous. Mrs. Tannehill fit in like one of the guys. The group gathered over at her place on Saturday mornings after a Friday night game to continue building competency and to nurse aches from the night before. At any event, it was a much more interesting thing to do than to sit around sore and listening to whether JFK was going to be able to keep us from being blown up during the Cuban Missile Crisis that was going on that Fall.

That interest in bridge didn’t develop until our senior year; I think all of us had taken her Chemistry course the year before so, there were no strangers among us. Keep in mind that those guys had been MJH pals, hanging out and competing with one another since at least the 7-8th grade. Additionally, all of them were magna grads, one a summa, a Mr. EH, a Valedictorian, three football stars, and one basketball starter. Their picture posted earlier shown in article 9.1 of these “Social Order” pieces shows most of them together at MJH.

If there were some others having similar characteristics and knowing how to play bridge with some credibility, I would think they could have sat in simply by making their skills known. Getting 4-people together for one of those games could be a challenge at times.

Anonymous said...

I think you might be taking this too personally, either for yourself or on behalf of your friends. The purpose is to examine Mrs. Tannahill's selective behavior and possibly her motives, not to judge the participation of her bridge players.

Mrs. Tannahill had a bridge playing "club" the year before, comprised of EHHS seniors, I believe, the class of 1962. Students from the Eastern Hills neighborhood were well represented. She might have had two games with eight players, I'm not sure. I had a locker that year down the hall from her door and could easily notice the unusual comings and goings and her repartee with the players, quite different from regular classroom activity. I would be coming and going up the far eastern stairway. It was during the second lunch period, I believe, just before fifth period. It had all the earmarks of some mysterious closed club, and it looked more social than anything else. But it was none of my business and I had my mind on other things.

I only remembered any of this because you brought it up yourself on your blog site as an unusual aspect of Mrs. Tannahill's personality.
But I didn't think it all that unusual for her at the time; she was always playing favorites, quite blatantly, in fact. I suppose a "favorite" would not have even stopped to think about it.

It remains to be explained how Mrs. Tannahill determined, a priori, the bridge-playing capabilities of her selected charges, and possibly made arrangements in their schedules to play bridge together at a particular time.

All my earlier observations remain in place.

Gus said...

You might be surprised how many others were going through their days and years, not actively participating in the froth at the top of the wave, but close enough to make keen observations such as yours and in possession of excellent, though possibly unrecognized (at the time) intellect such that they haven't forgotten much, nor did they miss much. A number of them have come share some of these things with me. Accomplishing that was a principal motivation for doing this as Gus.

It might not surprise you much that most of those sailing along in the breezy froth have either thoughtlessly died or have ducked for cover these past few years.

The 1962 connection is very interesting to me. '62s have been noticeably absent and unresponsive from pitching into this blog undertaking. Too bad...since they were there at the beginning, they have a lot to add, if they would. I didn't know about the '62 bridge club but, I knew there was some kind of a secret handshake or passing of "the ring" between the classes (involving a member or two of those tables). As I've mentioned elsewhere, there were "insiders" and there were "insiders" among us.

Likely members of that '62 group would almost certainly have been a few of those possessing similar characteristics as the ones I've outlined for ours.

Gus said...

As I think further think about the '62 table, Bruce S. and Fred C. come to mind as potentials, both of them basketball starters and class scholars. Not sure who they ran with. What drew Mrs. T. to them isn't known unless she just enjoyed the company and the challenge. I don't recall there being much of a mismatch among the players, including her. It could very well be that she was also using the associations as a pool for her matchmaking activities. Three of our '63 table made it to the Thaelis girls' cotillion...but not me. I was dating Girl #3 and both of us were by then confirmed GDIs. Only 4 of our class went to the ball; the rest were older and/or from other schools.

Anonymous said...

On further consideration and on checking the memories of a couple of the older classmembers at EHHS, I think there was actually a Tannahill bridge "klatch" as early as the 1960-1961 school year. And you seem to have good instincts about "Bruce S." Consensus is that he was probably in it both his junior and senior years. Bruce was definitely a resident of the Eastern Hills neighborhood, living on Blue Ridge I think. I suppose he would have made a good "catch" for a Thaelis girl, but don't know if that ever happened.

"Fred C." might have had a problem with the cotillion, since he is said to have been a member of the Sagamore Hills Baptist Church. If memory serves, though, I think he was dating one of the Ballem girls, at least for awhile, and you are showing both of them to be Thaelis.

Gus said...

I'm thinking that Thaelis was just a concoction by a few of the ladies we've been mentioning, to build something similar to the Musegetes that had been operating in the same manner at both Paschal and AH for many years. I suspect that there was really no ill intent, but quite likely a desire on the parts of those folks we've mentioned to try and match the West Side aura that certainly existed then. Poly had a similar group called Leti, which I understand did not have the same membership limitations and was open to all that were interested. All of them used a community service "mission statement" of sorts to define their reasons for being.

The snarky stuff was just a predictable result when the secrecy layer and limited membership feature was added. "Belonging" and joining was a big deal back then and for some, probably still is. If the ladies intended it to be that way, then shame on them...more likely, it was a matter of focusing on narrow self-interests without giving much thought how it might affect others who were rejected. The Delphi response sort of tells that story...yet, they set theirs up the same way. If you went on to one of the big colleges after EH, you would have seen more of the same, only a bigger game as those could determine State pecking orders in some cases. I thought it was a blood sport.

Gus said...

I think her apartment was located over on Lancaster opposite Grandview but have no clear recollection of its details or size...they probably were new and there was a good probability that Sam and a few others who were going through various home disruptions found refuge in some of those apartments. I left town so soon after that year that whatever occurred after June '63, occurred without me in the neighborhood...that, according to others, apparently includes some early day stepping out to some of the joints along Lancaster to play music and tip a few but, that's out of my personal experience.

Anonymous said...

Rather than being a concoction by the girls, I think the service clubs at EHHS were a definite plan by a core group of mothers to prep their girls for college sororities as a destination goal. Being a social copy of what had long been happening on the west side of Fort Worth would have made no impression on the people over there, but it could have enhanced the entry possibilities of east side girls vs. west side girls into sororities, for example, at TCU. Providing a social one-upmanship for Thaelis mothers over others in their own neighborhoods could have simply been icing on their cake. I think it a strong possibility that the majority of Thaelis mothers had not been to college themselves, and had only a vague, word-of-mouth idea of what their girls would be facing there. If the sorority experience of the girls wound up restricting their opportunities with men rather than enlarging them, then that would be a travesty, and the mothers should take the full blame for it, ignorant or not. But even more of a disaster for the mother could have been the case where a college-bound Thaelis girl didn't manage to get into a sorority after all; that would have to be hushed up, and all kinds of back-tracking and meandering would be in evidence.

Perhaps more on college sororities later; that was where the "real arena" was ...

Gus said...

Perhaps you’re right about the original intent of the club not involving a competition with the West Side; however, after taking a closer look at some directories of the first 2-3 years of members that I stumbled upon, it does appear that whatever the original intent might have been, the intent almost certainly morphed a bit with each succeeding class to include the more local focus as you suggest. I agree that few of the mothers had attended college in their youth…in fact very few adults attended college before WWII.

I never really paid attention to the girls’ preparation for sorority rushes; in fact the whole greek notion never really entered my mind before finding myself target of a stream of fraternity rushes after graduation…it just wasn’t something with which my family had any experience or ambition.

On the basis of her older sister’s sorority my webfoot wife refused the rush at LSU but, she’s had some tales to tell. Such as the pair of well-coiffed matrons that came to town to interview one of her friends at her home. Their visit included a requested inspection of the family china and sterling flatware!! Wife put in 2-years, said to hell with it and went off to fly the friendly skies.

Note the streets on which the very first members lived….
1959-60 MEMBERSHIP: N. Edgewood Ter. - Stratford Ct. - Oakland Blvd - Meadowbrook Dr. - Medford Rd. - Holt – Normandy - Melinda Lane – View - Meadowbrook Dr. - Blue Ridge Dr. - Morris Ct. – Vinson - Emily Dr. - Danciger Dr - Rockhill Rd.

Anonymous said...

I have noted the resident locations of the first classes of Thaelis girls -- the first class of seniors was West Meadowbrook all the way, with a few exceptions. It's an almost an incredible concentration around MWB Elem, MJH, and the Meadowbrook Methodist Church. The junior class strayed eastward a bit, not much. The sophomore class showed a significant eastward orientation. The succeeding classes began to take in a number of Handley girls (suspect cheerleader connections).

It's hard to pinpoint the original Thaelis motivation, given how fast it apparently got off the ground. Many of the original senior members just don't strike me as "sorority types". It would be interesting to know just how many of the first two classes went on to attempt sorority entry at the college level. But there was a considerable pickup in sorority interest by the sophomore level, as evidenced by their actual placements. Begin to suspect some advanced planning by mothers of sophomores and perhaps some juniors to create a well-established "support group" for their girls as they approached EHHS graduation, by getting in on the ground floor and perhaps creating Thaelis by enlisting the interest of already-prominent senior girls in a "new idea".

In my earlier comment, I didn't want to leave the impression that the eastsiders didn't think they were competing with the west side, they definitely were. But I think that the westsiders could have cared less, and would have considered it no competition. What's more important to Thaelis mothers was to present the impression to naïve eastsiders that their Thaelis girls were the social equivalent of westside girls, and somehow "better" than other eastside girls. I suppose if an eastside Thaelis girl actually believed that about herself, it could give her more confidence at a rush party, or in conversation with one of those "well-coiffed matrons".

Gus said...

One thing that is difficult to characterize in this topic is the way the neighborhood was in a dynamic state of change as new housing was added to the east of the older neighborhoods. As those newer houses were occupied, it stands to reason that the new occupants had younger children, thus their future Thaelis girls would fill in the ranks from the newer neighborhoods as time passed.

One curious anomaly was the placement of Charles Matthews Antiques at Lancaster and Ederville (I think)at an early date. I think his store went back a number of years, perhaps into the 1930s...his 40' trailers parked outside certainly did. Mr. Matthews' stock was of a high quality, a lot of ornate Victorian, which he purchased during annual buying trips to the Northeast in the Spring and Summer. It was definitely not the kind of furnishings that had found its way to Texas in any quantity by the 1950s when I first saw it. I think he made a long swing through the Northeast, attending the weekly country estate sales that are held throughout the region on weekends, and loading out his large trailers over the period of several auctions.

Now, the question is...where on the East Side would that kind of furnishing fit at that time...few of the houses were large enough hold the things, which tended to be quite large and imposing. I'll do a blog piece sometime on his shop as I've found a few pictures of its interior at that time.

There's no question that at that time, moms everywhere were embarking on their most ambitious phase of life and getting their girls prepped would have been a part of it.