As a child, I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to be able to spend time with my grandmother, and hear the stories of her life growing up. She was only thirty five when I was born, having had my mother at age sixteen, 2 weeks shy of her seventeenth birthday; my mother was eighteen when I was born. At any rate, my grandmother was young and busy, and I followed her from task to task, and she told me of times gone by. She was a talker, and I listened avidly.
Julia Marguerite Bailey was born on July 31st, 1907 to Cora LeBeau Bailey (1871-1960) and Grant Nash Bailey (1863-1945). She was the youngest daughter of seven, three boys and four girls. Thanks to my mother’s sisters' interest in geneaology, I learned in the past ten years that Grant Bailey’s mother was Anna Hamilton Jefferson (1832-1896) and there was a possibility that she was related to Thomas Jefferson. Cora LeBeau’s family came from France, the legend that I will write about in another chapter, “They Came From Alsace.”
The story of my grandmother’s birth began that she was born at least six weeks early, weighing a scant three pounds. “Her head fit in a teacup”(Don’t know why or how they found out that fact), and for a bed, first they lined a shoebox and she fit in that, and then graduated to a dresser drawer. She was born at home, on a farm in Kimmswick, Mo.; I realized at a much later age that she was lucky to be alive; having been born early and weighing so little. She was always in excellent health.
Stories of the farm were sketchy. She mainly told me the stories of the people living on it. She never complained about her early life, but even at a young age, I recognized that it must have been hard. She told of only having three dresses. She wore them Monday through Wednesday to school, then started the rotation over. She helped her mother milk the cow, and wash her older brother Raiford’s overalls down by the creek. They would use homemade lye soap and pound them with rocks to get the dirt out. (They washed their clothes in a washtub with a rub board). So the wringer washer described in my birth story was a luxury to her, and later an automatic washer and dryer at the end of her life an unimaginable miracle!
They had no icebox or refrigerator, so Mam-Maw (what I, the first grandchild had named her) was thrilled when she was newly married, and had an icebox (ice was delivered every day to the house; it was literally a box that you put ice in). Later, when I would visit the farm; we picked strawberries from a patch, cherries from a tree, and blackberries and blueberries grew wild by the road. We always had wonderful pies. My great-grandmother still lived in my grandmother’s childhood home when I was young which we visited. My great grandfather had died when I was only two so I did not remember him. Grandma Bailey as I was taught to call her lived with Raiford, her oldest son, whose wife had died tragically young. He worked the farm. I remember him as a pleasant man, always in coveralls, and smelling slightly of the farm animals.. Two of her daughters, Ethel and Mabel lived nearby. My grandmother and her younger brother, George who had moved to Chicago were the only two who had strayed out of state.
Back to my grandmother’s stories; she told me often of her sister, Mercedes, who was the oldest daughter, who married around age twenty when my grandmother was just a young girl, and who developed pneumonia shortly thereafter and died. And of her brother, Eddie, who left home one day at age 15, and was never seen again. Some thought he had run off to join the war effort (WWI) and perhaps had been killed in battle. My heart ached for the young child, my grandmother, who had lost two siblings, a sibling in law (Raiford’s wife who had lived on the farm with them) and her father. Little did I know that eventually I would be telling my grandchildren the same sad stories of the people in my life that were gone that they didn’t know.
Julia met my grandfather, Raymond Alexander Brooks, when she was fourteen, and he was nineteen. He was a friend of her sister, Ethel’s beau, and he told him that he was going to marry my grandmother. My grandmother just said that she would have something to say about that when she was told of it. She was allowed to be courted by him though as long as she was in the company of her sister and her beau. And many nights, he would ride a horse over to see her from his hometown of Des Arc, Mo.
My great aunt Hazel, my grandfather’s sister, told of this courtship in her “Family Tree Stories”: "No sooner had we arrived in Des Arc, having moved from Bismarck, until Raymond was persuaded by a young man, a lifetime friend, to go with him on a date. The friend was seeing a girl who lived two or three miles out of town on a farm. She was a dark brunette beauty, who rode a horse like the wind (Ethel), a real storybook character. She had a younger sister, Julia Bailey, who would be Raymond’s date. Julia could swim and ride a horse also, but there almost any comparison with her sister ended. She was sweet and pretty with blue eyes and brown hair, and more gentle in nature than her sister. With her and Raymond, it was apparently love at first sight. And so it happened on August 12, 1923, just after Julia’s sixteenth birthday, they were married in Julia’s home, and took a house in town.” (Mam-Maw had told me that her mother and father had told her she couldn’t marry until she was sixteen at which time she had known my grandfather two years---it must have been true love as they were married 52 years at the time of his death in 1975).
Stories of my grandparent’s early marriage encompassed the depression beginning in 1929 when they had been married about six years. My grandmother told me of having to stay in bed all day with her two young daughters, my mother, Helen Marguerite, born in 1924 and her sister, Julia Juanita, born in 1926 to stay warm when they didn’t have enough money to heat the house. As long as I knew her, my grandmother washed tin foil and reused it and kept magazines, newspapers, and plastic containers and reused them; a product of her having gone through the depression and doing without. She said there were nights when they went to bed, her stomach growling because she had given her children her food. I know, no matter how hard we think we have it today in the recession we are in; that I will probably never go to bed, hungry and cold, but the stories made a big impact on me; making me forever grateful for what I have.
Grandma Bailey’s house also reflected her bout with the depression. One room was lined with newspapers, the stacks reaching to the wall. She was in her seventies and eighties when I knew her, leaving life at age eighty nine, so I always thought that women in our family were supposed to live into their eighties, living at home, and taking care of themselves as she did (although she did have her son Raiford to take care of the house and land).. I didn’t know her well, only seeing her a few times since we lived in Texas and usually drove to Missouri on vacation, but remember her as a sweet soul, and my grandmother loved her very much. We always had so much fun at the farm, but of course, we were on vacation; there were bushes in front of the house that I played in, making a “playhouse of rooms” in it. We had picnics and the extended family, my mother’s cousins would come. We would climb into the trees and pick cherries, the juice sticky on my face from eating the unwashed fruit. More went into my mouth than the bucket.
When my mother was about four and my aunt about two, my grandfather worked in a saw mill. The lady next door to my grandparents asked the young couple if she could take the children to Sunday School. My grandparents consented, but the next Sunday, my grandfather said it didn’t seem right for someone else to take the children to church while they stayed home, so they started going to church. It was during this time that my grandfather received the “call” to preach, but that is his story that I am going to tell in my next chapter.
Mam-Maw told me of once riding in the car and they came to a bridge over a river that was overflowing due to spring rains. Despite her protests, my grandfather decided to drive through the rushing water. All of a sudden, they were swept into the river, and the water began to rise in the car. My grandmother held her youngest, Rose Alyce, (1935) a baby, up over her head to keep her from drowning while my grandfather got the two youngsters in the back seat out of the car.
She also told me that when I was a baby, we lived with them because my father was stationed somewhere my mother couldn’t go (he was probably training to be a paratrooper). She told me that when my mother could finally go to be with my father, that it broke her heart to have me go. We were to go back and live with them again when I was five, after we moved from Tennessee to Dallas, Texas which is when I remember her telling me most of the stories I am writing about here.
In Dallas, Texas my grandmother took care of the small two bedroom frame house and the flower gardens as well as me and my two siblings; we were five, four, and a baby. My mother and grandfather went to work every day, and my aunt who was thirteen to school. My father was still in Tennessee; my parents had separated. Can you imagine? Seven people in a house about 1,000 sq. ft. My grandmother kept it spotless; beds always made (and put away) since some of us had to sleep on cots and the couch. She did all the laundry and cooking for all of us; I never heard her nag or complain. If I was five years old; that meant she was forty one. Every day, she did her housework in a housedress (I only saw her in pants after my grandfather died). Then about four p.m., before she started or finished cooking dinner, she would take a bath, take down her pincurls which had been in her hair all day while she worked, and sit down at her vanity in her slip.. She would powder her arms and chest profusely (believe me, I was stuck to her side, watching everything…..and learning) and then proceed to put on her face; foundation, rouge and lipstick, no eye make-up). Then she would put on a clean, starched, ironed house dress and comb out her curls. On cue, just as she finished, my grandfather would walk in the door to a fresh, pretty wife and a sit down dinner. She would tiptoe to kiss him quickly (she said she was 5’2” and he was close to 6”; he looked like a young Raymond Burr to me, very handsome, and she looked like a forties movie star; I thought they were very glamorous). I have never been able to accomplish in a day what my grandmother did; taking care of a house and a baby and make-up? She always said what didn’t get done before eight o’clock in the morning when her babies were little just didn’t get done. Maybe that was my problem; I have never been a morning person.
As much as I adored my grandmother, there are three stories that I remember that outline her character in regard to me. First, during the time I described above, one morning, she asked me if I wanted a fried egg for breakfast. This is one of those “snapshot memories” that children have and I have no clue if I had ever had one before or not, but might not have as she warned me, “If I fix it; you have to eat it all.” She might have known that I might not like it? So of course, she put the egg, sunny side up, in front of me. I took one bite, and pushed it away. The runny yellow was too much for me. It was about 7:30 in the morning, and I was at the pull down (hideaway) long narrow table in the small kitchen; she barely had room to move behind me. She looked at me, and reminded me that I had to eat all of it. I stared at the plate, and stared at her. I had gotten my stubbornness from somewhere, but I had met my match; she was as stubborn as I was, or was I as stubborn as she was? Now, surely, I couldn’t tell time at that age, but I can still remember the kitchen clock and I sat there, and sat there, and sat there, and stared at the clock, at my plate, at my grandmother’s back. The clock went from 7:30 to 8:30 to 9:30 to 10:30 and still I sat. Finally, my grandmother turned around from the stove, and told me that that was also….my lunch! At 11:00, I admitted defeat, and ate the egg, the cold congealed yellow and rubbery white sticking in my throat. I never asked for another fried egg and stubborn girl that I am, I have never eaten another to this day! (I have fried them though, for other people).
When I was around eight, my grandmother came over to take me to the movies. We lived about ten very long city blocks from my grandparents, and my grandmother didn’t drive, so after walking from her house to mine; we would walk the three long city blocks to the movies, then back, then she would walk home. Someone had given me change for treats; can’t remember if it was her or my mother who was at work. But I bought something and had a nickel change. I was going to go back and get something else, but I had dropped my nickel and couldn’t find it. My grandmother told me I shouldn’t have lost it and I would just have to do without. Even at that young age, I thought her awfully strict; after all, I hadn’t intended to lose it! She and my grandfather were very frugal and I think she hoped to instill those values in me. The lesson was lost on me, and I’m not sure it taught me anything except that I thought she was “mean” not to give me another nickel, and that I always hold my grandchildren’s money for them because children lose things.
My grandmother had just called and said she was on the way to pick up my brother and myself and she was going to take us to the Dallas State Fair! It was the free day we were given from school to go, and we had free tickets. I was so excited, but she had told me to make sure we were clean and dressed. So I got ready and got my seven year old brother into the bathtub. I kept going in and telling him to hurry, but he just kept splashing in the water! My grandmother arrived, and when she saw him not ready, just pursed her lips and said to me, come on, let’s go. My heart sank; I really wanted my brother to go, but I knew better than to voice an opinion. I looked back at him, and he was just grinning at us....so cute. So we went, and all day long I was sad; it spoiled my enjoyment of the Fair; to think of my brother at home. (I hope there was someone there to take care of him as my mother was at work….surely). As I said, my grandmother was loving but strict. I suppose the lesson for my brother was to be punctual, but I’m not sure he got that either.
She was always fair to us though, and we even got “unbirthday” presents. When it was one of the other siblings birthdays, we got something. It might be as simple as a box of crayons, but we got something, so I did learn from that to be generous, and my grandchildren always get unbirthday presents. The presents from my grandparents were always the most eagerly awaited as they seemed to give me exactly what I wanted. My grandmother also worked diligently at getting the family together for holidays; that is a legacy I have embraced. I learned a lot of things from her, and she continued to give advice when I was grown, sage bits of wisdom about child rearing. Of course, some things I did not heed; such as when she told me I could no longer wear mini-skirts after my first child was born. She told me I was a “matron” now and had to lengthen my skirts. I was only nineteen, for heaven’s sake; I didn’t feel like a matron!
When I was thirteen, I became very ill with pneumonia. The doctor told my mother that I had to have constant nursing care (I honestly don’t know if there was hospitalization insurance back then, but if there was, we didn’t have it, and I know we didn’t have the money for the hospital). My grandparents lived about a 3 hour drive from Dallas in Lone Star, Texas. They came to pick me up; made me a bed in the back seat, and drove me to their house. My grandmother put me in the guest room bed with it’s pristine white sheets (not so at our house) and fed me the five meals a day of the type of food that the doctor said I needed. I felt like I was in a very fancy hospital, and loved all the good food, and got well.
Mam-maw was devastated when Grandaddy died in 1975. He was diagnosed with leukemia in the summer and died 6 months later. She had never lived alone. She was 68. Prior to his death, even though she had never worked outside the home; once he retired; she started baby-sitting. They lived in a semi affluent suburb of Dallas, and she had many clients. She was quite professional about it; had her set times, and appointments and minimum that she would leave home for. She was proud of her “business”. Fortunately, she had learned to drive in the early 1950’s when my grandfather was drafted (he was in the Army Reserves) into the Korean War. Realizing she would be left behind without transportation, she learned to drive in her forties. She never felt comfortable with it though and would not drive on freeways or out of her neighborhood.
A couple of years after my grandfather died, Mam-Maw developed cancer of the colon, and died FIVE YEARS TO THE DAY after my grandfather died. The day she died, I was at the hospital with her, and as she started going, the doctor rushed into the room. We had been told she had about a week. The doctor knew it was the anniversary of my grandfather’s death. He asked me if anyone had told her what day it was, and I replied no. No matter, she knew what day it was. December 17, 1980; she was 73, the same age my grandfather was when he died. Not a day goes by that I don't think of her.