G.M.C. Massey returns as guest blogger with more about his early days of schooling in 19th Century East Texas, with this tale of learning, dreaming and problem-solving.
When I was about 14 years of age, and was in the advanced class in arithmetic, we were using the old Davies Arithmetic. We were on page 207 and the 32nd example.
The problem was like unto this: A and B could build a certain wall in seven days. A and C could build the same wall in five days. And B and C could build the same wall in nine days. How long would it take A, B, and C working together to build the wall?
Well, we tried the example for several days and failed to come to a solution of it. The teacher told us that he was not going to tell any of us how to do it, but he was going to give a dollar to the one that worked it out.
That gave me something to think about and to work on after I got my lessons for the next day. I would get down the book and begin going over that old problem. It seemed that I had tried every rule in the arithmetic book that could apply to this particular case.
Then one night I began a system of analysis that I had learned before and worked along that line until I was thoroughly exhausted. Being very much vexed with the thing, too, I went to bed. After I was in bed, I just lay there and thought about the example or problem, till at last I went to sleep in that state of mind. After awhile, I dreamed it out and in the dream, I was at the schoolhouse working it on the blackboard, and when I got it I awoke.
While I could see the problem on the blackboard, I just got up and went and lighted the lamp and sat down at the table and put it on paper. All this had awakened my father who had been worrying with me over the problem. He asked me what was happening and when I told him, he had to get up and see what I had done. When he saw the problem worked out in as simple analysis as were ever seen, he wandered. He said that the Lord had had something to do with that for that could not be denied.
Well, I went to bed and slept well till the dawn. Then I could hardly wait to get to the school and put the problem on the board before the teacher got there. But I did get there and had it put on the board in good order before Mr. Craddock got there.
When he got there, he hailed me with, “Well, Cade, who helped you get that?” Upon being told that it was my work, he said that he knew that somebody was going to get it, and he had as soon believe that I would as anybody else in the class. Then I told him how I labored night after night to get it, how my father had worked with me (but that my father was very limited in that knowledge for he had never gone to school but eight months in his life for he came up during the time of the Civil War. He had learned with me the most that he knew.)
So I won that dollar and I kept it a long time – till I needed it so much for something one time. When I turned it loose, it was with regrets. But this episode taught me that perseverance would help you to win.
Another excerpt from “Pappa’s Childhood,” the opening section of G.M.C. Massey memoirs, as edited by Dell Buller, his daughter and my mother.