St. Francis Episcopal Church in Rutherfordton, NC

The Life Journey of Reba Beasley

Reba BeasleyIt takes a great stretch of the imagination to ponder how and why a very eclectic group of people from near and far away managed to find their way to the hills of Nebraska from the late 1800’s to the beginning of the 20th Century. They included American Indian, Negroid, Swedish, German, and Irish. Even more amazing they joined together in community and marriage and became the ancestors of a lovely and talented lady named Reba Beasley.

Their dispositions were as varied as their backgrounds and included the contemplative and the outgoing, the reserved and the free-spirited. An uncle from Sweden lived a quite nomadic life after migrating to America and earned his living drawing portraits. His five nieces all shared his artistic gift, Reba being one of them.

Reba’s parents personified this diversity with her mother being a quiet, reserved woman and her father a giving, outgoing man with a heart as big as Nebraska. He was a handsome man, a descendant of Negro and American Indian ancestors and used his many skills in helping others. Her mother’s father came from Sweden, his wife was Irish. Reba’s grandfather collected stamps and kept a very detailed account in strong cursive writing of all the birds he encountered. Despite all the differences in this family’s ancestry and personalities, Reba and her siblings acquired a great sense of family and a closeness that lasts to this day.

Life in Nebraska in the 1930’s and 40’s was not easy. The Depression was strongly felt and living on a farm took a lot of hard work just to have the basics. A few necessities were bought in the town of Cofton, but just about everything was made or grown on the farm. Dresses and shirts were made from flour sacks, and even the handmade clothes were passed on from child to child. Being the fifth child of eight, Reba received her first pair of new—never having been worn before--shoes after she was in high school.

The weather was almost as cruel as the depression to these farmers, with severe storms, huge hailstorms and never enough rain. There were invasions of grasshoppers so numerous that they would block the sun, devouring everything in their path.

Despite the hardships, there were some good things about growing up in Nebraska. Reba and her dog spent hours wandering the hills, enjoying each other and the Creation. Hours were spent contemplating the clouds and the great expanse of the sky. Horses, a necessity on the farm, were also a source of pleasure and Reba rode with a cousin on an uncle’s ranch, herding cattle in the summer. She was delighted when a family workhorse was retired from work on the farm and became hers to ride. After school, she would go straight to the barn.

Church was an important part of this family’s life, actually the only social life available. Everybody went to church on Sunday morning, sharing dinner in the basement after morning services and coming back Sunday evening. The children played together in the churchyard. Not going to church was never even considered. It was a part of life, just as the dust storms and grasshoppers were. Still, there were some very good times at church. Reba enjoyed singing and often sang solos, memorized Bible verses and at age 13, she felt a call to go to the altar—to respond to an unspoken, but very felt, call.

Reba loved to read and one of the highlights of Reba’s young life was that the pastor of the church allowed her to go to his study and read some of his many books. The lessons learned from this religious background was that faith was as important as ritual and pattern, that hurtful words and pride were not acceptable, and that everyone should be treated with courtesy and respect.

School was a one-room building that served all the elementary school children and dedicated teachers managed to teach all the age groups together. The only high school was a Roman Catholic School located in Crofton too far away to go every day by wagon (they had no car), so the students had to board with families. For a reason not known, Reba’s parents did not want her to go to this school as her brothers and sisters had, and enrolled her in a high school in Yankston, South Dakota.

Reba lived with a family that was very different from hers. She cleaned and did chores for them to earn her board. It was her first experience with modern facilities such as water faucets, but it was an awkward time for her. Her clothes were “different,” the other kids did not wear the black stockings or plain clothes that she did and she felt very much “out of place.” She also was out of place academically, but struggled through two years.

One of Reba’s saddest memories was to see her father kneel on the farm’s dusty field, lift a hand full of soil, and watch as it blew away in the wind. The look on his face told her that there was no longer a future in this soil or on this farm and there was no choice but to sell the farm. The family moved to Iowa where Reba finished her last two years of high school. Reba spent many evenings milking cows as a bribe for her brother to drive her to school activities.

As a graduation present, Reba’s parents took her back to Nebraska on the train to visit family and friends. During the visit, an old school friend invited her to go for a ride on his wonderful, new motorcycle. The couple had an accident and Reba was thrown from the motorcycle, landed on her back and was knocked unconscious. Her injuries seemed minor at the time, but they would eventually cause many problems because of the injury to the nerves in her spine.

After recovering from the accident, with no money for college, Reba moved to Des Moines to get a job. After working for an insurance company for two years, she knew she needed a new direction. An older sister and her husband helped settle her in at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana before they moved on to Penn State. She briefly worked in the President’s office, then became assistant manager at the Earlham-Indiana University Adult Center, and enrolled as a full-time night student.

Reba attended Quaker meetings held on campus which helped her grow more introspective about her spiritual needs, but often spent Sunday mornings walking through campus woods enjoying the beauty of nature much as she had as a child. After four years she was ready to enroll at Indiana University as a junior, with a full scholarship. Her plans were to major in Social Studies and minor in the Arts. Instead of finishing her degree, she accepted a marriage proposal from a high school drama teacher, who was also a community actor and director.

Over the years, two sons were born and her husband’s career changes took them to live in many different states. Her favorite was four years in Hawaii. The family eventually settled in Fairfax, Virginia. Unfortunately no spiritual or familial closeness developed in the marriage. Reba began nurturing her interest in the creative arts. The dining room with its long table (when not used for entertaining) became her “studio.” She began working in mosaic and collages, moving on to abstract sculpture carved from weathered wood.

After their sons graduated from high school, the marriage ended, but when one door closes, another opens. Reba secured a position at Northern Virginia Community College and once again became a night student taking Art and Art Appreciation classes and continuing Sculpturing.

Life, never very easy, still had a few more difficult punches to deliver to this gentle lady. A car accident aggravated her old injuries, and fibromyalgia began to develop. This forced early retirement and in 1993, Reba moved to Rutherfordton to be near her second son. She can no longer use heavy tools needed for wood sculptures, but works in collages, using dried flora from her woods and garden.

Reba’s son drove her to see a “beautiful stone church” one afternoon, and as she walked through the Lych Gate and into the Sanctuary, she knew she had found a spiritual home at St. Francis Episcopal Church.

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