Monday, July 18, 2011

Junior & Viola Peters

Even such is time, which takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, and all we have,
And pays us but with age and dust,
Who in the dark and silent grave
When we have wandered all our ways
Shuts up the story of our days,
And from which earth, and grave, and dust
The Lord will raise me up, I trust.
Epitaph by Sir Walter Raleigh
As I stated in the last blog, I enjoy going to old cemeteries, but I must admit I am also fond of another attraction…Old Jails.  In the past, I have written about the first Ozark County Jail that was two stories high and only accessible by a ladder with its' own dungeon. For that story, please go to this link…Sweet Youth, Hot Lead, and Bitter Revenge - Part 3
Furthermore, this is not a detailed history of past Ozark County Jails, but it’s an account that runs much deeper than that.
I was asked this past week to speak back in my hometown of Gainesville, Missouri. While preparing my notes for the lecture, I also wrote a list of things I wanted take on my small trip. One of the first items on my list was a camera because I wanted to take pictures of some of my favorite places. The first subject on my list was the old Ozark County Jail, situated by the old Gainesville City Hall. This place has a small place of affinity in my heart and memory.  How can a jail be a fond memory?

The Old Ozark County Jail
in Gainesville, Missouri.
Well, there’s a small story to this; so, let me digress for just a moment and talk about two people from Gainesville, Junior & Viola Peters. This is not a list of their genealogy; it far more important than that. This is a tribute & small chronicle to the character of two people that made a world of impression on me in the Ozarks. The meaning of the old county jail and other things will all fall together with a brief account about these two people. Though they are not with us today, I believe a brief narrative about these two unassuming and Godly people will draw the strings together and secure a representation of why this old jail holds memories for me.

As a child, my dad or mom would, in the summer, take me to the home of Junior & Viola Peters; Viola would watch me in the summers while my parents worked. Viola was the other lady to babysit me, when my Granny Anderson was unavailable. The Peters lived on T Highway, about 3 miles west of Mammoth, Missouri. They both went to my family church, Mammoth Assembly of God. Moreover, since they went to church there, I figured, they must be family somehow or somewhere near it. For years I called Viola, “Aunt Viola,” as a term of endearment, even though she was not my aunt. As I grew older, I took up the custom of calling her “Sister Viola” at church because that’s how everybody greeted everyone else at church, out of respect, if they were not blood related. It was always “Brother” or “Sister.” Brother Junior & Sister Viola were always faithful to come to church, and they would always sit in the same place, on the right hand side…four rows back.

I remember Sister Viola singing at church her favorite songs, such as: “Three Old Rusty Nails,” “In the Garden,” and my favorite, “Little Green Pills.” Viola could always make the best sweet pickles; and for some reason, I remember she always had plenty of cottage cheese for lunch. To this day, every time I eat sweet pickles or cottage cheese, I think of Viola.
Junior Peters was the Chief of Police for Gainesville and always had a distinctively low and raspy voice that was reminiscent of a lumberjack; yet, he was always a kind spoken gentleman. Additionally, he always nervously rattled his keys or coins in his pockets. Brother Junior used this distinct habit of “jingling” while he sang solos at church. He would come up behind the pulpit and apologize that he couldn’t sing that well, but we all knew it was from his heart. He would begin singing one of his old standbys like, “Turn Back My Child;” yet all the while, my Aunt Phyllis Long would be shaking her head at the piano trying to figure out what key it was in. 
Turn back my child
For the way is very steep
The things you'll find out there
You cannot keep
The way is filled with thorns
And the things you'll find are cheap
Turn back my child, come home with me
His songs usually had three verses. By the time he was on the last verse or chorus and almost finished, Aunt Phyllis had finally figured out the key Brother Junior was singing in. We all knew at this point, the song was over, but that’s how things were, and the people were blessed by his sincere heart.  
Eventually, Junior & Viola sold their house on T Highway and moved to Gainesville. Their house in Gainesville was only two block above the town square and situated catty-corner across two old landmarks, the old Gainesville City Hall & the old Ozark County Jail. The city hall was converted into a shirt factory for a while, and my mom worked there.
As a child at their house, Junior would always come home for lunch. After lunch, he would sit in his favorite chair, and I would again ask him to sing “Turn Back My Child.” Sometimes, he would open up his Bible, fumble through the pages for a tattered piece of paper with lyrics, and reciprocate my request.
Junior also played Santa Claus on the square in Gainesville. I remember one time my dad and I were in Don Eslinger’s hardware store on the square,and Junior walked in dressed as Santa. Somehow, behind that beard, he knew my name and gave me a candy cane.  But, it was his voice that gave it all away. When he walked out the door, I turned to my dad and told him that was not really Santa Claus…but Junior Peters. I could tell by his voice.
Since Junior was the Chief of Police, he always joked with me that he could throw the bad criminals into the old county jail because he had the keys. In the afternoons, I would walk barefooted in the Peters’ yard and peer through their chain linked fence at the buildings across the street. The one building that always seemed to beg for exploration was the old vacant county jail.  
The view from the corner of Junior & Viola Peters’ house
overlooking the old Gainesville City Hall &
 the old Ozark County Jail below to the right.
Looking up the hill at the old county jail.
One day Junior took me across the street from his house, put me up on his shoulders, and let me peer through the steel grate placed in the jail house window. He would talk about the hard times for men who were incarcerated in its’ bulwarks , and the men who guarded them. It was also this jail that was in my mind when Junior would talk to me about men who were not just in a physical prison, but they were bound by a prison in their heart. He would give a small cockeyed grin, jingle his keys, and say there was only One who had the real keys to man’s heart...Jesus. He would also joke about having to train for a new job when he arrived in heaven because of the lack of crime that will be there.
Jail window with the steel grate.
So, there you have it. Every time I see sweet pickles or cottage cheese, I think of Aunt Viola. Every time I hear jiggling keys, see a Santa Claus, or spy an old jail, I think of Junior Peters. I grew up always knowing and loving Junior & Viola Peters. Though no books will probably ever be written about them, it was people like this who helped create a haven of rest wherever they trod.
Last night I was sharing with my son about this particular blog, and he stated we don’t find many people or times like that these days. Nevertheless, I believe we still have that same innate capacity inside of every one of us. I believe the “key” to this Ozark generosity & living is still knowing the One who owns the keys to our hearts. So I ask you, Dear Reader, whether you live in the Ozarks or not, why shouldn’t we live with the saving faith toward God, sincerity toward one another, and generosity to all?  I believe in doing so, we once again bring alive the memory of those passed on and sample a part of our Ozarks’ History.
Work Cited:
“A Queer Missouri Jail. How Prisoners Fare When Incarcerated at Gainesville.” Aberdeen Daily Press 4.193 (22 Mar. 1890): 1. New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundation. United States Library of Congress, Washington D.C. 15 Nov. 2009 from
Raleigh, Sir Walter (29 Nov 2004). Epitaph. Poetry X, Edited by Jough Dempsey. Retrieved 18 Jul. 2011 from .

Slaughter, Henry & Hazel (1976). Turn Back My Child. Benson Sound.


Barbara Luna said...

Very good story, Vince. I didn't know Viola, but I remember Junior well since he was always in town as a deputy. He was a good man. It's nice to know more about him.

Misty said...

I was blessed to call these two grandpa and grandma. Your description of them is adquate but only just begins to describe just how amazing they were. Grandma's cooking was beyond comparison.. i believe that her homemade noodles could have cured anything...anything. And her listening skills were the knew that whatever you said to her was in complete confidence and you were going to get honest loving advice no matter the situation. But above and foremost, i was grandpa's girl. At church every sunday in the exact same spot for... well, i don't even know how many years... they did set...i kinda wish that Brother Gale would not allow anyone to sit there..anymore(but that wouldn't really please grandpa) I loved coming to vistit on sundays...i would always squeeze my way inbetween them...i still believe to this day it was the best spot on earth. i loved listening to my grandpa sing his voice was so rumbley but at the same time smooth...gentleness oozed from it. And grandma was so soft and i knew i was loved. They were the very example i am sure that Jesus had in mind when He created His children.

Nicole Rooney said...

Mr. Anderson, we briefly met last week, I was researching Izard County families at the library. These kinds of stories are the reason I love history. Spiritual inheritance. Just wanted to know I was enjoying the blog.

wayne g. sayles said...

Mr. Anderson;

My Wife Doris and I are the current owners of the old Ozark County Jail, as well as the old City Hall adjacent to it. We are committed to the preservation of these buildings and the preservation of Ozark County history. Thank you for sharing this background info.

Wayne and Doris Sayles