My mother, Bea Hull (née Bessie Brown) died on June 8, 2000.
I wrote the following note for the funeral program:
Bessie Brown was born deep in the Arkansas Ozarks, just before the so-called Great War. She was the youngest of eight, and remained throughout her long life as close as can be to her family, regardless of how far they fled from ticks and revenuers. She had little education, but she possessed herculean energy and a nagging sense of perfectionism hat informed everything she did. She didnít marry until her late 30s, but when she did, she reinvented herself as Bea Hull, homemaker extraordinare. She raised three children, drove them crazy, but ultimately mellowed down enough to appreciate the fruits of her tireless labors. She enjoyed life immensely, and brought enjoyment to everyone she touched.
Mike Hull wrote and delivered the following eulogy:
They asked me to do the eulogy again, so I wrote a short piece and called it a eulogy for grandma Bessie. I remembered she hated being called that though. Last week when she was in the hosspital a nurse read her wrist band and called her Bessie and blind with a face full of tubes, she still managed to scowl at the woman. Being named Bessie is faring better than her brother Clagge, but I just called it Bea anyway.
Grandma was born in Arkansas in 1913, deep in the Ozarks where horses had better doctors than people and family reunions included everyone in the county. Her story sounds like a personal look at 20th century Americana. From the backwoods to the city, her job as a riveter for Beech during WWII, taking her family to the World's Fair in matching outfits in the 50s, Boy Scout den mother in the 60s, loaning money to her hippy kids in the 70s, making wedding quilts for her young grandchildren in the 80s and cooking cakes and chicken and dumplings for her retired husband through the 90s. A big supporter of Kraft products and the Skip-Bo corporation, she wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
Bea's mother was an orphaned by her father and sent to live with a family who made her work and kept her from going to school. She never learned to read and had to teach herself how to sew when her foster family was gone to town on Saturdays. She swore that if she ever had any daughters she'd teach them to sew, and it was one of the first things grandma learned. Two of grandma's favorite pass times she learned from her mother, sewing and cooking, and got better at both of them with age.
She walked a mile a day to a one room school house when she was a girl, and went to eighth grade when she was 15. She got rheumatic fever when she was 14 and spent over six months in bed. She said she heard the doctor tell her parents she wasn't going to make it, but I have a feeling she was just as stubborn then as when I knew her, so that didn't make a whole lot of difference. When she had tonsilitis she said her neck was ssollen on one side ofrom the infection. Her parents took her to a doctor who pulled a knife out of his pocket and lanced it without any anesthetic. She told me she got medical insurance as soon as she could when she was on her own and kept it paid up every month.
So for a variety of obvious reasons, grandma left Arkansas. Now this is where we enter the mysterious periodof her life, because she never was willing to talk much about the time between when she was in Arkansas and when she married Carl. There were stories about living with Evelyn, but the postcards she sent from New York and Atlantic City were never explained, nor was the off hand comment about living in Illinois at dinner one night. We asked her to go into details more than once, but she was against it every time. I guess you do get to take some things into the grave with you.
So, fast forward through the thirties, and Bea was doing her part for the war effort as a riveter at Beech here in Wichita. She told Steve that Wichita was alive 24 hours a day at that time, because a near equal number of people were working third shift as first, so everything was open all night. Two years after the war, in 1947, she met Carl Hull at a dancing class at Shadowland. After knowing each other for less than a year, they married on June 25th, 1948. They both worked and lived in an apartment until they bought the house on south Main in 1949 for $7,500. The mortage for that house was the only money they borrowed for their entire marriage.
Most of Bea's 7 brothers and sisters moved out of Arkansas around the same time she did, and she had done a good job keeping in touch and keeping the family in touch ever since then. In 1950 she started having a family of her own with the birth of Tom. Steve was both in 1953 and Kathy three years later in 1956 and she had enough to do to take up her overwhelming energy. She cooked and cleaned, made most of the family's clothes, took cake decorating classes, made quilts and took them, with Carl packing and driving, all over the country. They never went anywhere there wasn't relation of some kind, but even with that as a rule it seems like they saw most of the country. The biggest trips were back to Arkansas, though. Tom and Steve tell a story about going back for a funeral in the summer, where it was over 100 degrees and there were hundreds of people in and around a church much smaller than this one. Grandma seemed to know every one of them.
She went to visit a lot at this time, but Bea played host just a soften. If anyone who was related in any way came near Wichita and didn't visit, you'd think they spit on her. Stories from relative who lived out of town tend to revolve around coming to Carl and Bea's to eat. Freda's son Ken said "When we would arrive, she would have, of course, cooked a meal -- and always coconut cake for desert -- she would serve everyone (even fix your plate for you), do the dishes and never mention herself or her hard work, but instead she would say "I want to show you what Carl made" or "Tom, show Kenneth what you're working on" or "did Steve tell you about his school" or "Kathy drew this" or "did you see the picture of the kids we took at Christmas?" When we would tell her how good the food was she would laugh and say "oh, it was nothing."
And everybody who knew her has that memory. She was always generous with what she had, even money. I feel safe guessing that almost everybody in here owned her money at some time or another, and you always knew that if you needed to ask again, she'd be there for you. She swore Carl would've never saved a dime if it wasn't for her, but with all of the people who were in hock to her, I sometimes wondered how she did.
The last memory of Bea that I know everybody has is here complete obsession with playing games. Card games, board games, dominoes, she didn't care if she won or lost or who she was playing, if you had thirty minutes and knew how to play spades, she was your best friend. I personally learned dominoes, Mexican dominoes, spades, hearts, Skip-Bo, Uno, Sorry, pinochle and Chinese Checkers from her, and if there wasn't anyone around she'd sit in the front room with a board on her lap and play herself in solitaire. My sister Rachel played hera game of Skip-Bo three weeks ago and I have a feeling she enjoyed it like it was her first game of spades.
Tom told me the church that she grew up in taught the strength of a personal connection to god that didn't need a middle man lilke a priest or pastor. They went to church because they liked to hear preaching, not because they necessarily needed guidance. This leaves belief and interpretation open to discussion, and Tom told me he heard her say more than once that card playing is not a sin. If you bet money on it, then it's a sin, but as long as you're just playing for fun, that's okay. We agreed that her personal theological battles pretty much began and ended there.
Before Bea Hull became known to me as grandma she had established all of these memories and reputations. Everyone knew they could count on her if they needed her. Everyone knew she'd be glad to see them every time and ready to laugh at any story you had. But I gotta tell you guys, I got the best of her. Me and Rachel and Ram and Kirsten. By the time I knew Bea Hull she was a grandma. She was calmer and a little more even tempered. She wasn't as driven and constantly motivated to be doing something. she wasn't guzzling coffee or chain smoking. She was a grandma. but she still had the same love for family, the same decidation, the same generosity, she still knew how to make coconut cake. All of the energy and interest she put into keeping her old family in touch and building her new family she focused completely, on two kids. She used to spoil Rachel and I without shame. I never questioned whether or not my grandma loved me.
When Ram came along it was the same story, new baby. Because he was the new one he got a lot of attention right out of the gate, but she never let Rachel or I question wonder if we were still special. When Kirsten was born i twas the same thing all over again. And as the grand kids got older, she did what she always did: she loaned usmoney. But she never gave us anything with an expec tation of repayment, just a hug.
She spent her life keeping her generation and the ones before her close across long distances and building the ones to come after her. Her methods were questionable at times, but I believe she wanted to see all of us comfortable and happy more than anything else. There are so many people here that I've only seen when we've gotten together at her house, and that's why she did it. This family, especially my immediate family, is what it is today in large part because of her. She had everything she wanted and I believe she was pleased with the way things have worked out.
It's only been a couple of months since Carl died, and I know they weren't easy for her. But she saw the gravestone carved and in place, she enjoyed seeing everyone who came to grandpa's funeral, she saw the fireworks at River Festival that she always loved, she got to play Skip-Bo with Rachel one more time, she got to see me graduate from college, she made the bed and bleached the sinks.
The last week she was in the hospital, she had somebody in the room with her almost the entir etime. She couldn't talk back, but she knew we were there, and we told her we loved her and about all the people that called to wish her well. When she died, Tom and Steve and Kathy were standing around her bed, holding her hands. Kathy was singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and she passed slowly and quietly, like the song. I can't think of a more fitting way for her to go.