100 Birthdays for Mattie
By Kathryn McBroom | Photos by Angelina Bellebuono
Like the train tracks that cut through Fairplay Street, Mattie Lee Williams Bailey is an immovable figure in Rutledge. Upon turning 100 on August 29, the city issued a proclamation in honor of the lifelong Rutledge resident.
The brainchild of Union Springs Baptist Church’s Pastor Robert Terrell Jr., the proclamation declares August 29, 2010 to be Mattie Lee Williams Bailey Day in Rutledge.
Born to the late Lola and George Williams, Mattie married Robert Bailey, with whom she would share eight children and “a heap of grandchildren” until his death in 1995.
Hanging on a wall in her living room, Mattie’s proclamation rattles off the names of her eight children, Dolores, Elizabeth, Mattie, Katie, Carl, Eugene, Robert, and Lewis (the latter two being deceased.)
As was common with many of their Rutledge neighbors back then, Mattie stayed home to take care of the children, while Robert worked as a farm hand at many local farms.
In the little yellow house on the outskirts of the city limits, time has all but stopped. It is the house where Mattie, along with her daughter and caretaker Dolores, has resided for most of her adult life.
As Mattie and her daughter sit in the kitchen of their Fairplay Street residence, it’s the small portrait of Barack Obama hanging on the wall that hints at the changes that have taken place in Bailey’s 100 years.
“She never thought we’d see an African American president in our lifetime,” recollects Dolores. “She said she was glad he got to be president.”
It is this juxtaposition of old and new that adds to the rich story of Mattie’s life in Rutledge. For a woman who didn’t own her own television until well into middle age, now one of the main events of Mattie’s day is catching her favorite programs.
“She watches her stories, game shows, sometimes the news,” said Dolores. She adds that they also watched the inauguration of President Obama.
While the antiquated appliances of yesteryear have given way to the refrigerator, wall oven, and microwave that surround the duo in their kitchen, neither have ever driven a car.
Whenever Dolores or Mattie need to leave the house, they call a relative, usually Dolores’ older sister Elizabeth.
With no form of transportation, it’s the visits from her other children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren that keeps Mattie connected to the Rutledge she once knew. It was these loved ones, along with her church family, that surrounded Mattie on her August 29 birthday celebration.
“We had a celebration. We cooked and ate, and gathered presents,” said Dolores.
Although she only needs a walker to get around, Mattie only ventures out to attend Sunday morning services at Lower Mosley Baptist Church in Rutledge. It is the church she has attended her entire life, and the church where she received her education, via the old Lower Mosley Chapel School.
Mattie has sung her favorite hymn “Amazing Grace” in the aisles of Lower Mosley Baptist Church countless times. Her unwavering faith is known by everyone around her, as evidenced in the proclamation in her name. At the end of the document, it decrees that she has lived her life by the golden rule.
The last line of her favorite scripture, “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Psalm 23,” is an apt description of how Mattie has lived her life, an idea she does not dispute.
“I’ve never gotten into any trouble since I’ve been in the world. I haven’t bothered anybody, and nobody’s bothered me.”
Printed in the October 14, 2010 edition.