Documenting my family's past for future generations. My family tree includes the Smith/Mansell families of Alabama and Oklahoma, the Castle/Day families of Kentucky and Oklahoma, the Wheat/Ming families of Texas and Oklahoma, and the Bell/Roberts families of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Grandparent #2: Frances (Fannie) Lou Castle

On this date in 1897 my grandmother was born to George T. and Florida (Day) Castle in Morgan County, Kentucky.  She was named for her father’s first wife, Frances Nickell, who had died in childbirth in 1893.  George married Florida, 15 years his junior, in 1896.  Fannie was the oldest of their 8 children.

When she was just a toddler, an incident happened that affected my grandmother all of her life.  Her young mother needed to leave their cabin and go to the spring for fresh water. She tied my grandmother into her high chair, but on her way back to the cabin she saw an awful sight:  Fannie standing on the front porch of the cabin with burning embers in her hair.  She had managed to get free from the chair and fall headfirst into the fireplace.  The burning left scars that she would hide for the rest of her life with bangs and hairpieces.  This disfigurement was much more obvious to Fannie than it was to anyone else, and she hid it well.  I never even realized she had scars until she was in her 90s.

Stacy Fork School--about 1902
Fannie is in the front row, 7th from left
Her brother Forrest is next to her, 4th from right
Half-sister Cora is standing next to the teacher on the left
She clearly remembered her early school days in Kentucky.  The one-room schoolhouse had two exit doors in the back, one for the boys and one for the girls.  If a book was placed in the door on the girls’ side, it meant that a girl was occupying the outhouse; if the book was in the boys’ side, it meant a boy was in the privy.  
This photo of the old schoolhouse taken
by Aunt Georgia Beebe on a trip back to Kentucky
After the family moved to Oklahoma in 1907, Fannie continued her education and graduated from Chandler High School.  After taking the teacher’s exam at age 17, she began teaching in a one-room schoolhouse near Collinsville.  She later completed college at Northeastern State Teachers’ College (now Northeastern State University) in Tahlequah.

She married in 1919 and gave birth to twin boys in 1928.  She taught at Park Elementary and for 30 years at Pleasant Porter Elementary, both in Red Fork.  At age 62 she wasn’t ready to retire, but she did so that she could stay home with me and my brother after our mother died. 

Until I got close to age 60 myself, I hadn’t quite imagined what it would have been like to take on a 3-year-old and a 4-month old at that stage of my life.  It would have been easy for me to miss having a mother, but she filled that role so well that I never really did. She supported everything I wanted to do—including hemming up my miniskirts and attending all my school events.  She was a Cub Scout den mother and climbed up in the bleachers in her 70s to watch my brother play basketball. I remember a couple of summers when she decided I needed to learn how things were done in the old days, so we strung peppers and made grape jam and soap from scratch.     

She wasn’t through raising children.  When I went to work as a teacher in 1977, she took care of my son.  Later, she sent him across the street to school at Park Elementary and took care of him after school until I got home.

She wasn’t always easy because she had high standards and would criticize me if I couldn’t do something with the “Castle lick,” the perfect way in which something should be done—from sweeping the floor to ironing a shirt.  When I rolled out of bed in the morning, she had a list ready of all the things she had done while I was sleeping: breakfast dishes, two loads of laundry, ironing ten of Daddy’s shirts, etc.  She often criticized what I wanted to wear, which she called my “garb.”  She was terribly hard of hearing and drove us all crazy trying to make her understand what we were saying. Once she misunderstood something one of us had said and questioned, “Snow’s on the roof?” (It was summer.)  After that, it was our favorite saying when she didn’t understand something.  After several attempts at making her understand, we’d all yell, “Snow’s on the roof!”  She had absolutely no sense of humor, so we all thought it was pretty funny when she bought a plaque that said “I’m not deaf; I’m just ignoring you” and hung it on the living room wall.

She was still going strong when she turned 90, and we had a big surprise birthday party for her.  As the oldest of George and Florida’s children, she was everybody’s Aunt Fannie, and I even called her Aunty for years before I finally figured out she was the only mother I was ever going to have and started calling her Mom.  I always knew she was a big influence on me, but I don’t think I had realized that so much of what I’m interested in is because of her. Being a teacher, of course. But I also share her love of poetry* (in her 80s she could recite long narrative poems she had learned in 4th grade!), genealogy (she’s the one who wrote down all the brothers and sisters of my ex-husband’s great-grandmother), history and culture (my fascination with Indian mounds, cemeteries, pioneer times, and the settling of Oklahoma.)  Family was always the most important thing in the world to her, and she would love knowing that I’m making connections with the descendants of her kinfolks in Kentucky.

*On any occasion when we were all together (birthdays, Christmas), we would beg her to recite her poems.  I have searched in vain to find copies of them.  My favorite was about a father chopping wood when his little boy falls underneath the axe.  (It begins, “What are ye askin’, stranger, about a lock of hair?” and ends with an affirmation of the Biblical saying, “’the hairs of your head are numbered,’ and sir, I believe it’s so.”) Another was about a little girl and her mother traveling on an immigrant train at Christmas time. The little girl worries that Santa won’t be able to find them, and a man (was he Santa?) gets off the train at one of the stops and buys her presents. Another was about a little boy who steals a watermelon and gets in trouble from his mother because the one he stole wasn’t ripe! I also liked the one about an older sister who "is flustered the whole of the day/And gives the silliest answers to what we may say" because "her beau is coming to see her on Saturday night." All of these poems gave us a glimpse into what life was like when my grandmother was growing up.

Fannie Castle Smith (or Fannie C. Smith, as she signed herself) was a beloved teacher, mother, aunt, and grandmother.  She died on 12 December 1992 and is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  

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