[Transcript of interview with Bessy Beaman, recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District's 2010 Big Read. For more information contact the Library at 417-883-5366 or visit us on the web.]

This recording is part of the Springfield Greene County Library District’s 2010 Big Read.  Today’s date is March 2, 2010.

I am sitting here with Bessy Beaman who is 87 years young.  Bessy thank you for granting us an interview.

Q:      Let’s talk about first of all where you were born.

A:      Schuttack, Oklahoma.

Q:      And that would be about 1921, correct?

A:      Yes.

Q:      How long did you live in Oklahoma?

A:      Two years.

Q:      And where did you go from there?

A:      Wellsville, Kansas. (Unsure of town in Kansas)

Q:      Okay.  And how long were you in Kansas?

A:      The rest of my life til we moved to Springfield.

Q:      And when did you move to Springfield about?

A:      1997.

Q:      Okay, let’s talk a minute about your grandparents and parents and where they came from and what brought them to Oklahoma to begin with.  So do you have any recollections about that?

A:      Well, they kept listening to family history.  Um, my grandfather’s name was Joel Riley Nicholson.  And my grandmother was born near Coffeyville, Kansas in the country.  And my grandmother’s name was Julia Warren, and she was born in Kentucky. 

Q:      Where did your grandparents, um, where did their family come from?

A:      My grandfather was Scotch, now I don’t know when they came over to the new country - it is recorded someplace.

Q:      And what was his name? 

A:      Joel Riley Nicholson.

Q:      Nicholson, okay.  Now I had that name down as your father.  Did I write that name down correctly?  Was that your father’s name too?

A:      Nicholson?  His name was Lee Calvin. 

Q:      You were born in 1921.  How many brothers and sisters did you have.

A:      Two sisters, no boys.

Q:      You were pretty young during the depression era, but I would like for you to share some of your experiences if you can remember those, or family stories that they may have shared with you about life on the farm in Kansas and what it was like.  So, what do you have to say about this?

A:      Well, um, my grandfather always was a farmer.  Also, he was a banker back in Missouri, where they came from.  They lived on the farm most all the time and did farming.  They had six boys, no girls.

Q:      What was it like for you during the depression?  You were anywhere from 10 to 14, somewhere around that age.

A:      It wasn’t talked about in the family.  I really didn’t realize that anything serious was going on.  I always had plenty to eat, we lived on a farm.  My daddy had a dairy and we had all we needed to eat.  We had pigs and cows.  Grandpa always had a big farm and we all kind of ran it together.  We lived together quite a bit.

Q:      Do you have any recollections of the dust bowl?

A:      Yes.  When I remember the dust bowl, the first recollection I have, grandpa had a 160 acre farm outside of Ottawa, Kansas.  And there was a big beautiful home in Ottawa, and the builder was George ______ , he was nationally known as a builder.  He built the city hall and courthouse and several other buildings as well as his home, and this was his home he had built for his family.  And so it was ____ in town and like I said we hadn’t wanted for anything as far as, we didn’t have everything we wanted I guess but we always had good clothes to wear and plenty to eat. 

Q:      Did the dust bowl affect that house you were telling me about?

A:      Only that I can remember one of the main things, grandma had these quilts and blankets and hung them in the windows especially upstairs, this was a three story house with a full basement.  And when the dust storms were coming up from Oklahoma, they would all get together and start hanging these quilts and covers to keep the dust out of the house.

Q:      What kind of job did that do?

A:      It did a good job for that time.

Q:      What did you think as a little girl, looking off into the distance and seeing the storm coming in your direction.  Did you have a reaction to that?

A:      Oh, it concerns me but my family, they were not one to sit around and say how terrible it was going to be, they just kind of took it as it came and did what needed to be done.

Q:      So, no panic in the household or anything like that?

A:      No.

Q:      I’m not sure of my date or anything but during the depression there were several drought years in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma.  Do you have any memories about loss of crop or bad news?

A:      I can remember when we were starting the year, of course I don’t remember how long it lasted, but my dad’s youngest brother, lived with us and helped daddy take care of the farm, a very small farm.  And so Daddy ran off to Colorado to Denver.  He had two brothers that lived out there, and they worked for a dairy, and so he went out to supplement the income from the farm and worked for the dairy. 

Q:      Did you move along with your dad?

A:      Not right away.  We stayed there and Uncle Earl helped mom take care of the farm and keep things going there.  But we did move out there for a few years, not a great length of time, maybe three or four years and he worked for the dairy then.

Q:      The purpose was to supplement the family income.  So then after your trip and your father living and earning wages in Colorado, you then moved back to the farm?

A:      Yes.

Q:      How did you meet your husband?

A:      Warren was a Texan.  He lived in Athens, Texas, graduated from there.  And his brother, older brother, who was 13 years older than him, was the preacher at our church at Ottawa, the First Christian Church.  And so Robert talked him into coming up. We had a good university, Ottawa University, to go to school, to college after he graduated from high school.  So that is how I met him.  I was working in the office at the church for his brother, so Warren came to visit him there at the church and his brother introduced us.

Q:      And your husband went to college at Ottawa?

A:      Ottawa University, yes.

Q:      What was he majoring in, do you know?

A:      Mathematics.

Q:      Did he graduate?

A:      No.

Q:      He never did graduate?

A:      No, he got married.

Q:      Well that’s good.  So your romance was connected to the church?

A:      Yes.

Q:      How did the romance start?

A:      His brother told him to go up to a certain office and I would be working up there.  So that is where he came up and introduced himself.

Q:      Were you in love at first sight?

A:      Not really.

Q:      It took you a little while?

A:      Yeah.  I had some boyfriends so I had to get rid of them first.

Q:      Well, sure.

A:      Or he had to. 

Q:      He had to run them off?  Well, what was the church?  You said earlier it was…

A:      The First Christian Church Disciples of Christ.  We have one here in Ash Grove and one of these days I’m going to transfer my membership but we’re charter members and we’ve been there 40 years and I need to transfer.  Warren wanted to transfer when we moved here but I just didn’t want to.

Q:      So what year did you get married?

A:      In 1941. 

Q:      Was he affected by the war.

A:      Yes, he was drafted into the…, well he got to select what he wanted to go into and it was the Air Force.  So he was what they call the AACS, Army Airways Communication System.  And he went to England by boat and then after they was there a few months, he was transferred to France, and he was at ____ Air Force base a few years and then he went to Germany and he was there for the rest of the time.  Four years he was overseas.

Q:      So he was there four years?

A:      Yes.

Q:      How did that affect your life as a young mother?

A:      Well, we had two children then and I lived with my parents in the house I was telling you about.

Q:      Still in eastern Kansas?

A:      Yes, and I went to work part time at a gift store just to have something to do and earn a little money cause the $93 a month we got from the government didn’t…..if I hadn’t lived at home with my folks.  I always felt sorry for the folks that didn’t, you know have that convenience but had to support themselves on that little amount of money that we got.

Q:      So he returned somewhere around 1945?

A:      1946.

Q:      How was that reunion after that long absence with you and with the children?  Were there any difficulties there?

A:      No, none at all.  Well he got a special leave to come home when the second girl was born.  I called and left a message for him.  I told him everything was fine, call at grandma’s.  Well he misinterpreted, or he drew his own conclusion about what the message meant.  It meant that I had had the baby and everything was all right, but that wasn’t the truth.  I had not.  So he had to go up to the common’s office and change the story so he could get an extended leave, so he came on home anyway.  I told the doctor what had happened, I said he got himself into trouble and he said well, he said the baby is due anyway so we can take care of that.  But he didn’t have to do anything, it came normally.  But he did come on home and got an extended leave then.

Q:      When Warren got out of the service you settled in eastern Kansas, correct?  What did he do for a living?

A:      Before he went into the service, he started a delivery service, he bought a van and delivered groceries for the stores that didn’t have their own delivery service.  He also worked for CocaCola Company.

Q:      So you are back in Kansas?

A:      Yes, Ottawa.

Q:      And he is doing deliveries?  How long did he do that?

A:      About three years.

Q:      Well it looks like to me, in putting together your history here, you lived in eastern Kansas all your life. 

A:      Yes, I was almost two when we moved there.

Q:      And then you don’t move away until you were in your mid seventies.

A:      Well, no, I moved before that because we had three girls. We moved to Springfield, Mo to the Ozarks, and we bought a little acreage out east of town and Warren decided to start building so we built a new house on it.  Then he went into the home building business, started his own business, started his own business.  And then operated Beaman Electric which was in operation here in Springfield and our son operates it now. 

Q:      So your husband operated Beaman Electric?  I remember that as a young boy myself.  I remember seeing trucks with Beaman Electric on it, so that is interesting.  When did you move to Ash Grove?

A:      Well, we moved down to Springfield.  The company Warren worked for was Butler Paper Company, this was a wholesale paper company, he traveled for them, over five states.  And they wanted to transfer him to Wichita, and I didn’t want to move to Wichita.  So they said they had a warehouse in Springfield, MO and we could go there, so we went down and looked it over.  And while we were down there, we looked for places to live or buy, and so we moved down to Springfield, MO then.  Then we moved to Ash Grove. Warren developed heart problems.  He was very young when he started the electric company and built it up to a good company.  Our son was in high school  at Rogersville and they had a program where the seniors could work for someone at the company and he got permission to work for his dad, our son Lee.  So Warren kept on going until he had that heart attack and had eight bypass surgeries so he had to slow down a little bit.  Lee had worked for his dad long enough that he graduated that year from high school and took over the business then and he still has it. 

Q:      Let’s jump back a little further and talk.  Do you have any favorite stories about growing up in eastern Kansas?  Any that sticks out in your mind that was unusual or fun?

A:      Well, one thing I went to one room schoolhouse that had eight grades in it.  While we were living in eastern Kansas, the teacher, usually it was a woman and in this case it happened to be a woman named Dorothy Kramer, and so she lived with us for about three or four years and this brother of Dottie’s, as boys will be ornery you know, so he told me, he said now, Dorothy lives with us so he said  that you know you don’t have to do everything she tells you to do, and you know that got me into trouble.  So one of the first things was she told me to quit talking.  Well, I didn’t do it and we had a stage in this little schoolhouse, so she had me go up on the stage and face the corner.  I was so upset I could hardly wait until I got home and when I got home I really lit into Uncle Earl and told him he didn’t know what he was talking about because I said I got into trouble and she made me stand on the stage with my face towards the corner.  That is just one of the things I remember.

Q:      So this teacher that was living with you, why did she leave?  Did she get married?

A:      Yes, I can’t remember how but any way but she became friends and we knew her until she died, of course she was older than I was but she was a nice person and so we became friends with the family.

Q:      So how many years were you friends? 

A:      Probably 12 years.  We had moved – Evergreen was the name of the school outside of Wellsville, and we had moved from there to Ottawa, so it was probably 12 or 15 years that we had known the family then.

Q:      Well, Bessy, we have to end this interview.  It has been a delightful conversation and I enjoyed talking to you.  You have had a wonderful life. 

A:      I have had.

Q:      You are a very lucky woman.

A:      I lost my husband  a year ago in May.  He had been in the hospital six times with his heart, and the one surgery, the doctor’s name was Stimata (?), they brought him in from Texas, Warren thought he was perfect, and he was, he was an excellent heart doctor.  And so we sing a song, Victory in Jesus, and the preacher at the church, he would visit Warren numerous times, and so he came home one time after visiting, and he said you know that song that we sing, that is Warren’s favorite song, and I am dedicating that song to him today.  So we sing an awful lot of it.

Q:      How long were you married?

A:      66 years.

Q:      That is just remarkable.

A:      The 22nd of June would have been our anniversary. 

Q:      Well thank you, Bessy, for your time.   I need to end this interview, so thank you very much.  It was a joy talking to you.

[Transcript of interview with Bessy Beaman, recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District's 2010 Big Read. For more information contact the Library at 417-883-5366 or visit us on the web.]