What makes us frightened? For some, it’s a good scary movie. (Personally, I have never liked them!) I think a lot of times, we get frightened when we are placed into a situation that we don’t understand, without any context to understand what is going on and what’s going to happen next. We see people in situations that we don’t understand, that might not look like us, and that don’t behave like we expect them to behave and we get frightened.
Little kids live in a world where lots of things frighten them, or at least make them uneasy. There’s so much that is unknown and they are so much not in control of their life and their surroundings. They have to learn that many of the things that initially are frightening are really not so bad, and might even be really good. Were you scared the first time you went down a slide? What about the first time you drove on the freeway? You learn that these things are really not bad at all!
Sometimes, it’s meeting someone that is frightening.
I have only the vaguest of memories of my great-grandmother, Viola Tennison Bailey. I know lots and lots of stories about her and have dozens of photos. But memories that are actually my own are few. Viola was born 19 July 1875 in Winona, Choctaw County (now Montgomery County), Mississippi. She was the first child born to John William Biggers Tennyson and his wife Mary Susan Druscilla Deshazo. By 1880, the family had moved to Pike County, Arkansas. In 1885, when Viola was just nine years old, Bill Tennyson was killed in an accident at the sawmill he ran with his brother, Zenas. Mary remarried to J. Frank Phillips in 1888. By then, Mary and her family were living in Sebastian County.
Viola married Charles Council Bailey on 1 Sep 1895 in Milton, Indian Territory. She and Charles had ten children, starting with Carl Everett in 1896 and ending with my grandmother, Susan Louise , in 1919.
Viola died 19 August 1970 in Fort Smith, Sebastian County, Arkansas. The picture, above, was taken just a year before Viola’s death, along with her daughter, granddaughter, great-granddaughter, and great-great-granddaughter. What a wonderful picture to have!
I was just seven years old when she died It was during the summer after first grade. She was the first family member that I remember dying. I think I only met Great-Grandmother a few times. By the time I came around, she had health problems and was no longer able to live on her own. She lived in a nursing home, which was a frightening place on its own. To a five-year-old (or even younger) child, the smells and sights of a nursing home, especially in those days, were utterly foreign. I can’t remember much about Great-Grandmother. Just that she was very, very old and didn’t seem to interact that much. It’s almost lost in the mist of memory. But I remember that it was sort of frightening to be there and to be around the nursing home and all of the very old people.
Of course, that was hardly a fair picture of the character I have heard about the rest of my life. I have heard nothing but stories of spunk and strength and good humor on the part of my great-grandmother. I wish I had had more of an opportunity to get to know her either earlier in her life or later in my own.
Even though, when I knew her, she was very old and not able to do much for herself, that certainly was not always the case. She lived on the edge of the Indian Territory, sometimes the inside edge and sometimes the outside edge. In any case, she lived in a frontier area and raised her family on a hardscrabble farm. She was married for nearly forty years and then lived alone in her widowhood for another thirty-five years.
I have heard all sorts of stories about Viola. I heard one where she was living alone, in the house (above) when an animal got into the hen house and she effectively and efficiently dispatched it with her shotgun. She had her sons make sure they told folks about how handy she was with that shotgun so she wouldn’t have any trouble, being an elderly widow living alone.
I have Great-Grandmother’s butter paddle. She used it to make butter in a big bowl rather than in a churn. My grandmother assured me that her mother used the paddle to paddle more than just butter!
Once, after Viola was in the nursing home, my grandmother got a call that two men in suits where visiting Viola and the nursing home was concerned about who they were. One man was very old, himself, and the other appeared to be an attorney. Turns out it was an old man of the neighborhood who needed identification and Viola was the only one still alive who could attest to his actual birth.
I am sure that my Dad and all my Bailey cousins could fill the hours with stories of Great-Grandmother Bailey. The moral is that things and people that are frightening are often filled with love and joy and have a whole world to share with us if we have the opportunity and take the time to embrace them and hear what they have to say.