I know that I don’t have the writer’s gift that my aunt Linda Ridener Dickson has, nor that of my grandmother Susan Louise Bailey Dickson. The two of them set a high bar that I can only aspire to.
Susan Louise Bailey was born in October of 1919 in Hackett, Sebastian County, Arkansas. She was the youngest of Charles Council Bailey and Viola Tennison’s ten children. The farm where she was born and grew up had been in the family since 1840, purchased by Charles’ grandfather Francis Baker Bailey.
(I am convinced, though I have not yet proved, that the family was in Arkansas just prior to statehood. It appears that some of Francis’ sons claim to have been born in Arkansas with dates of birth that predate statehood, but the census is never a great source. Another post for another day.)
I think things were often tough on the farm. Through the Depression, I find lots of cases, especially after Charles died, where the farm was always under a lien for back taxes. Money appeared to be really tight. It wasn’t a big place and could never do more than scratch out a living on it. No one was going to get rich there.
With a rural and difficult childhood, you might be surprised to see Susan not only go to college, but also to get a Masters degree, so that she could grow in her career as a teacher and help take care of her family.
Grandmother was a teacher for a number of years in Southside High School in Fort Smith, Arkansas, teaching Math the whole time. She was a special teacher to many students, taking time with them and helping them to understand the concepts that often seemed beyond their grasp. So appreciated was she that she was recognized as Teacher of the Year.
I think she could be a tough teacher, expecting a lot of her students in terms of academics and in terms of behavior. But she could also be a lot of fun. She was always willing to go out of her way to support her students, attending football and basketball games and helping out with various activities.
And she could be an enforcer in class. She would growl at her students. It was a low, rumbly growl like an aggravated bear. They knew to behave when they heard her growl! But if that didn’t work, she kept a bullwhip on her desk! I don’t think she ever had to use it. Somehow, I think both of these are pedagogical techniques not commonly used in the classroom today.
But back to the gift for writing. Dad shared a brief essay that Grandmother wrote for a class at her funeral. This must have been in a freshman English class, based on the date – January 1938. The class was English 103a.
In an assignment on Appearance, Mechanics, Style, and Content, the students were asked to address the question of whether you would rather be a live pig or a dead Socrates. Here is Susan Louise Bailey’s classic answer to that question:
January 13, 1938
Appearance, Mechanics, Style, Content
Swinehood vs. Socrates
I must confess that to be either a live pig or a dead Socrates would not be very desirable to me; however, being a swine might have some merits. In a discussion of the subject a short while ago, a person said “at least Socrates is dead.” This statement cannot be disputed; but, dead though he is, I am sure that Socrates is unable to sleep peacefully because of the beratings of harassed students struggling with his philosophy and teachings. After an unhappy existence on earth, troubled with a scolding, brawling wife and stupid children, as well as many scornful enemies, to be troubled even in death by the chiding of one’s victims would be absolutely unbearable.
The swine, on the other hand, has few troubles in life and none in death if he has been a well-behaved swine. He has nothing to do but doze in the warm sunshine. If the sunshine becomes too warm, he has only to go to the shade to doze. He does not have to go to school because there is nothing which he needs to learn. It is unnecessary for him to work because he is provided with food and shelter. This lucky swine has no diet to be observed religiously because obesity holds no terrors for him; in fact, the more obese he is, the more admiration he receives. Most people, in considering the choice of a pig’s life, raise their hands in holy horror at the thought of the food given to swine. Of course, such food is very repulsive to human beings; but we must remember that the swine does not know anything about our mode of living and is, therefore, content with his lot. Some might object to the fact that the pig will soon be killed for food. Since this is true, the choice is not between being a live pig or a dead Socrates, but a choice between being a dead pig or a dead Socrates. After the pig is dead he is appreciated more than while he is alive, because people enjoy eating the pork roast and ham sandwiches into which he is transformed. Instead of cursing him for having ever lived, people think kindly of him and his spirit rests peacefully.
As I said before, neither idea appeals to me; but if I were forced to make such a choice, I would rather be a live pig who lives in indolent contentment and by his death brings pleasure to human beings. I hope that, after my death, I will be as kindly remembered as the swine is.