Sonja Lewis

BioSonjaLewisQUESTION: Tell me a little about yourself and your background?
My name is Sonja Simon; it used to be Sonja Lewis. It should be pronounced Seamen (Seamen’s are German) but when my children were little they said all the Seamens are poor and all the Simons were rich and they were going to be Simons. And so I was a ‘Seaman’ until I left that particular man.

I think that Randy Simms and I are cousins or so my mother told me (see end note). My great-grandmother was a Simms and was part of the Ignatius Sims clan that settled in Grimes County about 1821. We are the only direct descendants of the family that still live on part of the original land grant. I have recently learned that the original Richard Simms came from Bristol, England before 1800. Richard was a sailor on an English ship that was captured by the Spanish. He was thrown in jail in Cuba then commandeered to sail on a French ship (allies of the Spanish) and, finally, became a farmer in Louisiana. Richard was granted land in Shelby County, Texas before 1800.

My dad was from Georgia. He came to Texas when he was 9 years old. He was very Welsh. My dad was born in 1916 and came to Texas during the depression (the same depression that had existed in the South since the civil War). The Lewis family had fallen on hard times in Georgia. Grandpa Lewis had lost his farm and two wives before he remarried and took up residence in Florida. After a brush with the law over making moonshine, business failure and a feud with an employer who tried to rape one of Grandpa’s daughters, the grass began to look a lot greener in Texas. The family came to Texas in 1926 in a caravan of one Model T Ford and a big, flatbed truck with sideboards. Their bank roll was fifty dollars. They ate bologna and bread, sometimes crackers and cheese on their journey. These items cost about five cents a pound. You could feed a lot of people for a quarter and this was a large family.

Grandpa fathered thirteen children. My uncle accidentally turned over the truck in Louisiana. Grandmother was pregnant with one of her boys and became sandwiched between mattresses and boxes in the truck. It’s a wonder she didn’t get killed. After arriving in Texas, the family was told they could find work picking fruit in Laredo. One of the vehicles broke down in Grimes County. They were camped out trying to fix their car when destiny stepped in somewhere between Houston and Madisonville. My great grandfather, John Landers, a large landowner in Grimes County heard about the family looking for work. He needed workers to harvest his family’s crops. He hired them on the spot. Shortly thereafter, Daddy met Mom his first day at school. He fell in love at first
sight. It started a seventy-five year love affair.

QUESTION: Your mother’s family being well off, what did they have that was out of the ordinary for those days?
My great-grandfather bought a phone from Sears and Roebuck right at the turn of the century. He was the first one to own a Model T Ford automobile. At the end of the first day of ownership, Grandpa Landers decided to put the car in the barn. Since Great Granddaddy had forgotten how to turn the lights on, he had his boys hold lanterns so he could see. After getting the car started, he couldn’t remember how to stop the dang thing. He drove through the back of the barn yelling, “Whoa! Whoa!”

Mom and Dad married in 1937. Mom’s parents were not happy about it. They didn’t think Daddy was good enough. They didn’t go to my parents wedding. They changed their minds I guess. The marriage lasted.

Well my grandmother had a problem too getting married. The Landers didn’t want her to marry the man she married. They met the preacher on the railroad track and he married them then and there. At one time a railroad went through Bedias. Gone, gone.

QUESTION: And what do you do for entertainment?
I paint; love to travel. I’ve been to Europe and I went to Peru. I’d love to go the other way. I’ve seen lots of the states. I do a lot of painting workshops all over. Peru was a painting workshop and I went to St. Louis last year. I do a lot of workshops in New Mexico. I’ve been there many times. My dog and I run around but it’s hard to travel with a dog because they charge you more and they give you the rattiest room they can find. But she‘s a good dog, a little white rat-terrier.

QUESTION: Have you traveled a lot?
When I was a little girl, I used to see the Sunbeam Streamliner, a train and say, “There goes the Sunbeam going to the Gaulbang.” Kids say silly things. We went on several train trips when I was a kid. My brother and I took the train home from the farm in Grimes County many times. We took the train to the oil fields in North Texas when Daddy worked there. I can still feel the heat from the pot-bellied stove, the smell of burning coal and the taste of the water from those little triangular paper cups.

I took the train from Laredo to Mexico City once. It was a sleeper and I had a good-looking sister-in-law. She was about 20 with long blonde hair. We couldn’t latch the door to our sleeper and the whole night she got pinched. She was black and blue when we got to Mexico City and the door worked just fine! I’m telling you the truth. It was broken all the way to Mexico City. I think the porter just put his hand in every once and awhile and just pinched her in the middle of the night. It was the first time and only time I slept on a train.

I’ve been all over Mexico. It’s wonderful. I’ve been to Mexico City and Guadalajara. I went to Puerto Vallarta in a camping truck with my sister-in-law when she was 16 and I was 29 and we drove all the way across Mexico (3500 miles by ourselves) from Kyle to Tampico to Puerto Vallarta. We camped out. It was the first year that they opened up the road from Puerto Viarta to Tepic, a town located on the main road into Mexico City from the west coast. We drove from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico.

QUESTION: Do you speak Spanish?
For many years I tried to learn. I know the words. I can get along in Spanish but I’ve never been very good at it. In fact I was bilingually certified at one time. I was a teacher, certified in Spanish. They were desperate. I have a degree in secondary education, speech and drama with a minor in art. I went back for certification for elementary education. The first year I taught art and speech, the second year I taught drama and from then on I taught elementary school. I loved 4th grade-that was my favorite; I did not like teaching 6th. For the last few years I’ve taught intermediate school: 4th, 5th and 6th. I taught 29 years. I retired on May 25, 2001.

QUESTION: What elementary school did you go to?
I went to Brookline Elementary. I started there in the 5th grade (earlier, I went to Allen.) Miss Speight was my favorite teacher of all time. One reason I started teaching. It dawned on me later that I really wanted to be an elementary teacher because of Miss Speight. She married Wade Watt Wylie and she moved to Refugio, I think. Miss Speight used to sing Dark Town Stutters Ball. I just loved that song and I can still see her singing it. She was the reason I finally started reading. We would sit outside and she would read Little Orphan Annie and other books. She was a model for magazines and in style shows. I always wanted to go see her. She was an inspiration.

I wanted to be an architect, but life got in the way. I got married. I knew I couldn’t be an architect. I didn’t have time to be one. I had to make a living. I couldn’t type, so I became a teacher. I had Miss Zuremba in the fifth grade. The only ‘F’ I ever made was in her class but I got a B or A when I finally finished fifth. In my class were Barbara Callihan, Nancy Bartsch, Lynda Lomax. There was a chubby boy who said he was in love with me and made me so mad. Also, Jim Bob Cook and Bobby Watson. Linda Lomax and I were always having fights.

In high school, one teacher I remember, Mr. Emory Thompson, was a wonderful person. He never put you down. I went into drama because I was so crazy about him. There were some other good teachers. One, Miss McLain, gave me an ‘S’ in conduct because Janet Sumner and I talked too much. Another great English teacher held court in the portable building behind the band hall. Her name may have been Miss. Harrison. We wrote lots of stories and I made A’s. It is amazing what positive feedback does. Miss Tully was another story. I don’t think she liked teaching girls. Her reaction to my art made me think I didn’t have much talent. I put away my art and 30 years later I am trying again. I won an interscholastic league award as a senior. Mrs. Tully complained the whole time I did the drawing. She sent it in and it won. It won our district, city and then they sent it off to state. I did not win state and that was the only time I ever took art.

There was a driver’s ed teacher who also taught something else and he told us that men from Mars had landed on this house (in all seriousness) and that all left-handed people and all Baptists were going to hell. At the time, I was a Baptist and I was definitely left-handed. I have never forgotten it. Miss McGinty was the Latin teacher, a compassionate lady. Another great teacher was Mrs. Collins, she taught me algebra. It stuck. She knew what she was doing and I knew what I was doing when I got through with algebra. I had more trouble with geometry.

QUESTION: How did you find your place in Wimberley?
My mother and daddy came up once for a church retreat at Blue Hole. It was a popular swimming hole on Cypress Creek. They are trying to sell it now so it may never be open again. It had blue water. The kids would swing from ropes tied to the cypress trees and swim in the clear, cool water. There was no electricity. You came with your tents and cots. You used the central outhouse and bathed in the creek. No motor homes, nothing like that. This was strictly camping. That’s how we first came to Wimberley. Mother and Daddy always loved the place. I got married to a Kyle boy in ’59. When my brother and I started attending college at SWT in ’60, my parents bought the cabin in Wimberley.

QUESTION: In life, what makes you the happiest?
What make’s me happiest are my children and grandchildren. I’m proud of my son who is a lawyer and my daughter who has created a good life for her self without a college education. My daughter has two fine girls. They live right here in Wimberley. I adore painting; I love to write. In fact, I have been told that I should be writing and not painting but I keep on clinging to the painting. I write about my family, sometimes. I’d love to write a history of my family, my mother’s family, because it is so interesting.

QUESTION: What’s so interesting?
Exploring your ancestors is like hunting for a wonderful treasure, your heritage. We spend only a short time on this earth. When you die, you are remembered only as long as the people we have touched live. To search for your ancestors, not only brings them back to life, so the speak, it allows you to see the bigger picture. I may not have done anything spectacular in my life; few of us leave a lasting legacy, even the rich and famous. I may be a minute piece of cosmic dust, but at some place in time that tiny particle known as me may make a huge difference. Besides, it is fun to find out your family hobnobbed with the greats of the Texas Revolution on one side and are descendants of George Washington’s sister on the other.

QUESTION: So what about your future?
I’ve met some interesting people along the way; I think I’ve had a good run. I have a few more good years left. I would really like to do something. I always wanted to have a business but as I get older, I don’t want to put the effort into it. I would like to do something where I could sell my paints or write. I would love to find someone to travel along with me, to visit a few more places: Alaska, France, Egypt. Nova Scotia would be nice. I want to sample exotic cuisines, sleep in a hammock by the ocean and watch the Aurora Borealis. I think I have become so much wiser than when I was at 18. Learning has become important. It wasn’t important even twenty years ago. When my kids were growing up, I was too busy. I worked as a teacher. I was lucky that I lived across the street from the school where I taught the children went there. I worked six days a week from early in the morning until 5 or 6:00 every single day except for Saturday. That was before all this stuff that happens now. It’s really changed. I just think education is the most important thing and it’s still important, as we grow older. We all need to be life-long learners.

Genealogical note:
Shelby County – The Simms (Richard) held several land grants on or along La Bahia Road. His wife was Indian and Spanish, his son, Ignatius’s first wife was Ygncia Y’Barbo. Her father founded Nacogdoches. Daddy was the descendant of Betty or Katherine Washington, sister and niece of Ol’ George [Washington]; they both married Fielding Lewis and had children by him.