"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages."
--William Shakespear, From As You Like It (II, vii, 139-143)

For the benefit of all who would know me better, this is a listing of the players in my life.

Since the first four people in my list are no more, let us set the tone with Nana Mouskouri and Amazing Grace, a favorite of both maw and paw.
Please listen as you read.

Bessie Florine Timms Beal
September 19, 1911 - Spring 1999. The best friend I ever had.

She was always "maw" to me... not ma, mom, mother, momma... just maw. Her father was Thomas Jefferson Timms (I think) and I don't remember her mother's name. She was born September 19, 1911, probably at home in Felton, the baby of the family. Her siblings were Emma Timms Carnes {married Homer Carnes}, Chester "Chet" Timms, Clarence Timms, Thomas Jefferson "Tommy" Timms, and Myrteel Timms Davis {married Rice Davis}.

She rarely left Felton in her younger days. She was born a naturally kind and jovial person. Her childhood and young adulthood were spent mostly with her family. She went to school, but quit after third grade because she simply wasn't interested. She always told me the only subject she had any interest in was geography (which she called "jogafy"), but there wasn't enough of that to keep her in school. Besides, the family was dirt poor, school cost money, and she was needed at home to help with the work of daily survival - planting, tending, harvesting and canning of the vegetables to get the family through the winters, as well as cooking, cleaning, washing, making and mending clothes, etc.

At some point, probably in her late twenties to early thirties, she began working with the WPA, which meant she walked six or seven miles, one way, every day, to a mill in Buchanan. Throughout her life, maw was one of those back country women of the time who, if never married, were called "old maids". She never had much interest in men and sex. She never "dated" (the term was alien to them) or went to socials. She would have probably remained an old maid except that she decided she really wanted a baby.

There was a guy named Tom Beal, from over in Alabama who had recently gotten out of prison and was doing logging work (with mules and chains) with her brothers Chet and Tommy. She liked him ok and decided she would marry him so she could have her baby. It was a little late in the game for her (she was 39 years old), but in the fall of 1950, she married Tom Beal. He was 50.

For eight years she plodded along in her life and had surely come to despair that she would ever have her baby. Tom already had a family from a previous marriage, and probably had little interest in it any more. I know they did have sex at least once, somewhere in the summer of 1957. She later told me I was the product of her very last ovulation, so in that sense, I am the dregs, the bottom of the barrel. At around 5:30 in the morning (perhaps why I HATE mornings) of March 23rd of the following year, maw finally had her only baby in Polk General Hospital (since has become Polk Medical Center) in Cedartown. From her genes I seem to have inherited my "feminine side," my tendency to be "too good for my own good," the traits of being a listener, kindness, good humor, and a predisposition for obesity.

I knew her for 41 years and in that time, could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I saw her really angry. At her worst, anger-wise, she might tell you she was "gittin' ready to spit red and cuss dammit!" Maw never hit me - not once. Never spanked, slapped, switched or whipped me. She even stood defiantly between my dad and I when I was a teenager and he thought he was going to whip me again - even when he pulled the pocket knife. She laughed a lot, which always made her "Santa" belly go up and down. She was simply the kindest and sweetest-natured person I have ever known. She saw me through measles and mumps, near starvation, field work, school, and finally a marriage. She told me to "always play fair" (because she believed it and didn't know any better), told me "that's ugly," when she caught me under the porch looking up her dress through the cracks when I was five. She always told me and showed me that she loved me and was proud of me ("even when you're sixty years old, you'll still be my baby"), and always gave to me of everything she had to give.

I consider one of the best things I ever did for maw was taking her on a road trip which included Washington, DC, the Statue of Liberty, Pennsylvania Dutch country, the St. Louis Arch, and "J.R. Ewing's" ranch in Dallas. I was so proud maw finally got to see some real jogaphy.

At one point I tried to build maw a little house next to ours in Ariton (which she always called "Arington") but, for various reasons, never finished. Her final years were spent living alone in a Housing Authority apartment in Ozark. I tried to visit at least once a week, usually more. After she had her stroke, and I realized she could no longer live alone safely, and I could not take care of her and had nowhere to put her, she was moved back to Cedartown, into the same nursing home (what a Stephen King character called, "Hell, with a fresh coat of paint") that her sister Myrteel was in. There, she died of a heart attack in 1999.

Though I had seen her death coming for years, there truly is no way one can truly prepare for such a thing. You just kinda play it by ear. By this time I had long been an atheist and did not trust myself at ALL to sit quietly through yet another traditional southern funeral full of lies and damn lies. I decided I would have no part whatever in her funeral, but would simply allow her neices and other relatives to stage the usual production number, as they always did. I did my grieving and said my goodbyes to maw in the chapel of Lester C. Litesey funeral home in Cedartown. I wept the deep and bitter sorrow of one incapable of feeling anything except bitter sorrow and a sense of utter aloneness for about an hour; I held her cold dead hand and kissed her forehead one last time. I knew, of course, that maw was no more. That she had not "passed on," "gone to a better place," that she was simply dead - nonexistant. Then I left the carcass for her kin to do with as they would. I'm sure they buried her body in one of the cemeteries around Felton, though I still don't know which one. I have no particular need nor desire to go and look upon a small patch of ground which contains what's left of the body which once contained my dear mother.

Her favorite song - would that it were so
Will the Circle be Unbroken?
Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon

And Johnny, Roy Acuff, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band