Thursday, October 2, 2014

31 Lessons from 31 Women: Miz Bailey

When I was a little girl, I had a babysitter named Elsie.  Elsie and her husband, Cliff, were my parent's good friends.  Their two sons were the same age as my two brothers, and they lived across the road from us beside a little fishing lake, down in what can only be described as a hole, with the steepest driveway you ever saw.

Cliff was retired Air Force man, and he knew a little something about everything.  Elsie was his graceful, and sometimes flustered, wife. Cliff had a commanding presence; Elsie's strength was more gentle, the kind that raises three children with a military husband and a war in Vietnam.  

Cliff fished and fixed stuff.  Elsie kept children in her home.  I remember that they used to take me and Miz Bailey to Hardee's and buy me french fries.  Miz Bailey was Elsie's mother.

I don't know Miz Bailey's real name.  Her brown weathered skin had long since earned her the title 'Miz' like all good southern women of her generation.  She was small and stooped, subtle like her daughter, but also strong.  She had wrinkled and bent hands, capable hands that knew how to make strawberry jam and pat a baby to sleep just right on an aproned lap.  I remember her as joyful, always smiling under her silver glasses.  

When Miz Bailey 'set up housekeeping' during the Great Depression, she had a chair.  It was a maple chair with turned legs and a scalloped backrest.  Simple and pretty, it was smaller than any chairs made today- people were smaller then- but it had a nice wide seat, curved just so to make it comfortable.  It was, by all accounts, a fine chair.

And when Miz Bailey outlived her second husband and moved into a little trailer beside the lake-in-a-hole, she had no place for her fine chair.  So she gave it to me, the little red-haired four year old who played dolls in her daughter's living room.

That chair was my inheritance.  It sat in the corner of our living room while I was growing up.  No one really ever sat on it because it was an antique.  But I did sometimes.  And every once in a while, my mother would tell me the story of how that chair was mine because Miz Bailey had left it to me.

I loved that the chair was mine.  In our rented home where we just got by, this chair was real and solid.  It brought weight and history and craftsmanship into my un-rooted world.  This fine chair was an heirloom.  It had belonged to someone. And that meant that the little girl who sat privileged upon it belonged to someone too.

The lesson here is to never underestimate the legacy we leave for the ones coming up behind us.  Those legacies tell us whose we are.

I wonder what stories that chair could tell, what family history it has witnessed?  Did it entertain little Elsie while she read Hardy Boys novels?  Did it pause for Miz Bailey each morning to sit and slip on her shoes before the day's work?  Did it push up to the table on Thanksgiving day to make room for just one more cousin?  Did it hold the tired or the grieving when life got too heavy, and they needed a rest?  I know that it did all of these things because it is a fine chair.

Now that I have set up housekeeping myself, that chair resides with me.  It sits under the table in our homeschool room and has become the favorite chair of my 10 year old son.  He likes it because the seat is wide and smooth, and he can rest his feet on the floor.  He also likes that it creaks when he wiggles which means that poor chair creaks A LOT!  If it survives 5th grade math, I will leave it for him.  And I will tell him all the stories it has borne so he will know whose he is.

We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and His might, and the wonders that He has done.       Psalm 78:4