At one point in her young life a barefoot little girl, dusty and dirty from picking cotton, blackberries and pretty much anything else growing in the ground, decided there had to be something better.
Annie Coomer Baldwin hadn’t reached her 10th birthday, but she knew school and an education would end her days as a migrant worker. And besides, she was weary of traveling from East Texas to South Texas, following the growing seasons.
She, her nine siblings and mother and father were hired by growers to pick whatever crop needed picking. It was a hardscrabble life, one that created character, tragedies and most of all, memories.
School was almost an afterthought. The picking seasons determined when she could enroll but when she was finally able to sit in a classroom, she was reborn.
A life away from the dusty fields, the sweat and the unforgiving Texas sun was close to a reality.
That little girl with the “meager beginnings’’ discovered a life full of love and fulfillment as well as a passion for the written word.
She became an author (her memoir “Meager Beginnings’’ is available on Amazon.com) as well as a feature writer for the Lindale News and Times.
In fact, the story of her oldest brother who was killed in World War II won first place for features in the North East Texas Press Association’s 2017 Better Newspaper Contest.
The judges were enthralled with her story and commented “(we) couldn’t put this down…maybe the most compelling and detailed-filled piece in the contest. It reads like a movie, crafting scenes with sentences.’’
Looking back, she was afraid her life would consist solely of cake-on mud, blisters and sunburns.
“There for awhile, I thought I’d always be in the fields,’’ she said, “but I also always wanted to go to school.
“And,’’ she added, “I’ve always loved to read.’’
Much the same as those crops she picked, once she was planted in school she grew to greater heights. She loved her English classes, took math and science and excelled to the extent she was in the top 5 of her graduating class at Lindale High School.
The teaching profession appealed to her, but she had no money to get into college.
“Momma called up the banker, Mr. Crook, and told him we needed $50 for me to go to school,’’ she said, laughing at the irony of a banker named “Crook.’’
Tyler Junior College was her next destination, but the fields still needed tending.
A Lindale man, Bud Praytor, then suggested she apply for a job with the Texas Employment Commission. It was 1963.
“I wasn’t sure after the interview if I had a chance to get that job,’’ she said.
A few days later, while in the field picking blackberries, her sister-in-law came running with a phone message.
“It was the man from the TEC,’’ she said. “He said ‘wash your feet and comb your hair we need you to come to work for us.’ ’’
That began an association with the TEC that lasted until 1993.
She began as a secretary in the Tyler office, but moved up the ranks until she became a program specialist in the regional office in Longview. State employment officials considered her an expert on laws and rules of the Texas Unemployment Act and along the way she won several creative writing awards.
In 1995, she was honored as “Retiree of the Year’’ for the International Association of Employees in Employment Security for Texas and was named first runner-up at that organization’s international convention in Montreal, Canada.
Down through the years, her talents have been on display in the News and Times with an occasional feature or column.
She retired in 1993, but didn’t really. Eager to give back to her community, she served on the board of directors with the Smith County Appraisal District, the Smith County Emergency Services District No. 1, the city of Lindale Planning and Zoning Commission and currently represents the city of Lindale on the Tax Increment Financing Board.
In 2002, she received the Herschel Duncan Volunteer of the Year Award from the city of Lindale and in February, 2006, the Lindale Volunteer Fire Department named their new substation in her honor.
The Lindale Area Chamber of Commerce named her “Citizen of the Year’’ in 2008.
Not surprisingly, she has taken the time to speak to school children about the importance of staying in school.
“By the time I started first grade I had never had a book in my hand,’’ she remembered. “But within six weeks, I was in the top reading group.’’
The desire to write her memoir sprouted from conversations over the years with her sister Ruby.
“We’d sit around and tell stories of when we were growing up,’’ Baldwin said.
“She always said I should put this or that in the book.’’
After her TEC retirement, she sat behind her electric typewriter and began “Meager Beginnings.’’
Sometimes, it was slowing going.
“I’d write for awhile then stop,’’ she said. “I couldn’t do it all at once.’’
Finally, after seven years, the book came together.
It’s an easy book to love. She details her life -- the awful times, family troubles and all the hard work -- and balances it with the sanctity and glorious gift of a loving family.
“There were a lot of good times growing up,’’ she said. “As farm workers, we had money to do things other kids couldn’t do. We could go to the movies, buy candy, those kinds of things.’’
Nowadays, when she’s not spending time with her husband Arthur of 51 years or pointing with pride to the accomplishments of her son or grandkids, she enjoys working part-time at Caudle-Rutledge-Daugherty Funeral Home in Lindale.
Her life, while “meager’’ for awhile, has nonetheless become full to the brim.
“People tell me all the time they can’t believe I can remember all that stuff,’’ she said. “But I always knew I had a story in me.’’