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A Tribute to Mildred Toaz.
Written & Submitted By Priscilla Maine
© Priscilla Maine, Feb. 18, 2005


February 18, 2005
Mildred Toaz, as I remember her.

Even in the midst of bomb shelters in our backyards, Air Observance Corps, Sputnik and fear of communism, the '50s were a time of innocence for me. It was during this period I first met and grew to love Mildred Toaz.

Vaguely I recall hearing she came back to Oklahoma after living in Wisconsin for a time. I cannot verify that. I do know she lived with her brother, Harold and his wife, Healon. They both taught school at Limestone Gap, Atoka County. Mildred, also a school teacher, taught at Redden, Oklahoma. Her pupils were, for the most part, from McGee Valley. I'm sure Mildred taught at other schools but it is the one-room school at Redden I recall best. Because, while learning to spot and identify aircraft, I acquired a far more beneficial skill.

Observation is an awesome tool, at least for me. What I see I retain much longer than what I'm told. And this lesson was by accident not design. Because, I doubt that childless, middle-aged, spinster school teacher, would appreciate anyone trumpeting her deeds, either then or now.

I couldn't have been more than nine or ten when I first became aware of a situation that so intrigued me I made a point to keep a watchful eye on it. As it happened, I blundered into my discovery when I opened the wrong door and found Mildred in the middle of dressing to join the family for Christmas dinner. With no false modesty on her part, she asked me to come in and close the door.

I scooted onto the edge of her bed and watched. At first fascinated, then in disbelief. When she pulled her print dress over her head, I saw her underwear. Well, of course, I'd seen a woman's under pants before but, Mildred wore boxer shorts. Men's boxer shorts and, they were patched. A safety pin held her petticoat strap in place.

Now, I don't recall ever considering my family poor, though looking back I can truthfully say we were. But back then everyone I knew had no more than we did though many had less. Still, seeing Mildred in such obvious hand-me-down undergarments made me uncomfortable. Far more so than her prior state of undress had done. In my naiveté, I remember wondering why this lady wore such pathetic clothing. After all, she was a school teacher. In my mind that meant money, and lots of it.

Not wanting to overstep the bounds of good manners or abuse my privileged status, I remained silent and tucked my questions away. Later I would ask my mother.

"Because she spends her money on others," my mother answered, when I broached the topic of my newest curiosity to her.

"All of it?"

"If she's wearing her brother's castoff underwear I suspect she spends it all."

I suppose I could have ask more questions but the idea of Mildred spending every penny she made on other people confused and bewildered me. So, instead of taking someone else's word for her actions, I made it my business to find out for myself.

It was an occupation that filled years and told volumes about the woman I watched.

On payday Mildred took from one to three children to town and bought jeans, dresses or coats for each as their need dictated. Shoes were more often than not taken to the cobbler for repair. After all, I soon realized, even school teachers weren't made of money. But when the re-soled shoes grew too thin to hold another patch, Mildred replaced them with new ones. Often, she bought & brought boxes of groceries to school: buckets of Mrs. Tucker's Lard, sacks of flour, corn meal and sugar. These staples were sent to the neediest of families in the valley. Now and then there was even a pair of man-sized brogans or a cotton, print dress tucked in the bottom of a box. Man, woman or child, it didn't matter to her. When she saw a need, she did her best to meet it.

Even with the passage of time her deeds still inspire me. Yet I've wondered too about what her life was like before Redden and the families in the valley. What prompted her to give so generously to those less fortunate than herself? Had she ever known the love of a man? If so, what happened?

Perhaps it's the romantic in me but, I like to think there was someone special in her past. Someone so special that when she lost him she dedicated herself to others rather than settle for less. All I'm certain of is she taught me meaning of selfless love. Much more productive than aircraft watching, don't you think?

Priscilla Maine


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