By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org
For the first time in her 98-year life, Cleveland resident Nettie Thelma Beasley is slowing down. After suffering a stroke on March 16, Beasley has been sent home with hospice care.
Beasley is the mother of 14 children – eight girls: Joan Mickle, Patricia Gilkey, Leslie Konarske, Vernice Beasley, Carlene Wyrick, Myrlene King, Mary Beasley and Vanessa Reescano, and six boys: twins Paul Glen and Charles Glen, Tommy Glen, Archie Beasley, James Gordon White and Bobby Ray Beasley.
She has outlived all but one of her sons, Tommy, but still has all eight surviving daughters.
Beasley’s legacy includes 37 grandchildren, 84 great-grandchildren, 28 great-great grandchildren and five great-great-great grandchildren and two more on the way. To put that in perspective, some of her great-grandchildren are now grandparents.
She had three short-lived marriages – the last marriage ending in 1953. From that time forward, care of her children was mostly left to her, so Beasley took on whatever jobs she could find, including driving a pulp wood truck and working as a taxi driver.
Beasley followed her twin sister, Mattie Selma Beasley, to Cleveland, Texas, from Waldo, Ark., in 1944, during the height of World War II. She arrived by train and first stepped down in Cleveland at the train depot that was then located near Houston and S. San Jacinto Ave., close to where the back entry into Walgreens is today.
“My auntie had been here in Cleveland a couple of years. I was very close to my auntie’s daughter, who was like a sister to me. When my auntie left, I had cried so much and my cousin cried so much that my auntie brought me here to be with her,” said the eldest daughter, Joan, now 82.
When Mattie showed no signs of sending Joan back to Arkansas, Beasley followed. In the years that followed, Beasley moved her family to a parcel of land on FM 787 across from where the Liberty County annex is today.
Tommy and Joan recall helping their mother with a side job of making telephone poles.
“We would go out in the woods and peel poles for Mr. White’s store in Cleveland. They would use them for telegraph and telephone poles,” Tommy said. “It was hard work peeling the bark from the trees, but we did what we had to do to make a little money for the family.”
The family was poor, but Beasley did whatever she had to do to feed her children, including fishing and growing a garden. The family’s home had no stove, so Beasley fashioned an outside cookstove from bricks and used that to prepare meals for her children.
As the oldest child, Joan was forced to leave school in tenth grade to care for her younger siblings while her mother was at work.
“I watched my mom and did what she told me to do,” Joan said. “My mom is a lovely mother. She raised us up to do the right thing.”
Keeping 14 children clothed was a challenge, but the children say they never went without good, clean clothing. Like many of her generation, Beasley used old feed sacks to create beautiful, hand-stitched clothing for the children. In that era, feed for chickens and other animals was shipped to distributors in brightly-colored cotton bags, which many people used to create clothing and quilts.
“She would take us to the feed store and let us pick out the colors we wanted and that would be our church dresses the next Sunday. The fabric was beautiful and didn’t fade,” Joan said. “My mother could sew. She could draw a picture of a quilt design and then make it using needle and thread.”
All of the daughters claim to have picked up their mother’s cooking skills. One of Beasley’s past jobs was running a small café on FM 787 where her talent was put to use.
Despite their own advanced years, the children say their mom is very much in control of their lives.
“She still controls us. We just got control after she came home after this stroke. We have never made her do anything she didn’t want to do,” said daughter Carlene.
Carlene and her husband of 28 years, Laquincy Shine, live on the property adjacent to Beasley. Carlene laughingly says her mom will still tell her when it is time for her to go home.
“She is very, very, very independent,” Laquincy said. “She is an amazing woman to have accomplished what she has for her children. When you think of all the events that happened in her life, and how her main goal and objective was always to keep her kids together, it’s amazing really. She went without a lot of help.”
Her home on Fenner Street she purchased on her own and with no help, he said.
“If a woman accomplished all of this by herself, imagine what all she would have accomplished had she had a partner in life who was willing to go all in like she did,” Laquincy said.
Her children say they are unaccustomed to seeing her in a vulnerable position because of her health.
“All these years, she has never been sick. She’s never had anything wrong with her really. She was diagnosed with high blood pressure 20 years ago, but she refused to take medication for it and instead took a shot of apple cider vinegar every day,” Laquincy said. “Until three weeks ago, she was living alone, cleaning her own yard and washing her own clothes.”
Beasley’s resolve and perseverance, her children say, might be hereditary. They can trace their family tree back to Beasley’s grandmother, Katherine Askew, who was a slave in Arkansas. Beyond that, their family tree is lost to time. Katherine and Lim Beasley were the parents of Coleman Beasley, the father of Thelma Beasley.
On Oct. 15, 2016, the City of Cleveland proclaimed that day – her birthday – to be Thelma Beasley Day. Her children are hoping she lives to see her 99th birthday this October.
“She may be on hospice but don’t count her out yet,” said Laquincy. “She is a very strong woman.”