A tribute to Cora Lea Gaines Beason
by Betty Jones
Special to The Star
Aug 15, 2013 | 2632 views |  0 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cora Beason’s long, creative life on earth ended on August 2, 2013. But vivid reminders of her will remain. She was born in 1918 in the small Cleburne County settlement of AI, near Hopewell, Alabama. At that time, Woodrow Wilson was U.S. President and World War I was just winding down. It is amazing to consider the number of people whose lives she touched in the 95 years that she lived, or imagine the wealth of memories she left behind!

She was an exceptional person who was successful and influential in her chosen career. She loved her family and supported her friends, while being active in church as well as school and community projects. Most of all, she was considerate and generous with all the people with whom she worked, especially the young women she inspired to follow her in the “hair dressing business.”

She was, above all, a faithful follower of the Christ who sustained her throughout her long productive life. At her funeral, Rev. Phillip Morris told the over-flow crowd attending that God was ready and waiting to welcome Cora Beason into Heaven that fateful afternoon! And by means of that sudden accident, he quickly received her into his kingdom!

Cora Beason might be best described as “a people person.” Her constant cheerfulness, her agreeable disposition and generous spirit made her “good company.” She enjoyed being with people and others found it pleasant to be with her. She loved to talk and she liked hearing what her friends (or whoever she might be with at any given time) had to say! One of her favorite places to eat was Jack’s Restaurant, with friends after church on Sundays or week-days for breakfast. She seldom missed being with her morning “coffee club” there!

A young nephew, (who recently enrolled as a freshman at University of Alabama) told his mother when she asked him what he ate for breakfast, “I have an “Aunt Cora” at Jack’s every morning on the way to class.” He added, “She has always done that so it must be healthy. And she has lived 95 years!”

Cora and her twin sister, Ora, were 18 years old when they moved to Heflin in 1936, with older brother Clarence and their parents, Grady and Myrtle Gaines. Our country was in the midst of the Great Depression! President Franklin Roosevelt had just put men back to work building

public buildings through the Works Progress Administration (WPA). One such project was Heflin’s new brick school building on Willoughby Street. The following year Cora and Ora finished 12th grade there and graduated from high school.

Opportunities were limited for young ladies in 1937, so Cora decided to become a “Beautician”. She received her training at the Vernon Roberts School of Cosmetology in Gadsden and started her career at Dryden’s Barber & Beauty Shop on the west side of Ross Street in Heflin, sharing space with another hair dresser. The beauty shop was located behind the barber shop with its entrance in the rear, facing the courthouse.

Cora enjoyed her work from the beginning. Soon there were other young ladies wanting to follow in her footsteps and she encouraged them by letting them sweep up, wash brushes, straighten up supplies and watch her work on customers. Quickly they began doing manicures, shampoos and cuts. She enjoyed her work and became a master at customer relations. She was also very active in church and communities activities as she continued to advance in her profession.

By 1940, World War II was looming on the horizon. Soon, current news and preparations for war were on everybody’s mind. But, as always, there continued to be a need for hair-dressers and beauticians. She worked long hours and found success and satisfaction in her work. Before long, wedding bells were ringing for her and Maurice Beason.

Like many other “war brides” Cora was soon left “to carry on” as her husband answered the call to defend our country. The bus station (next to J. A. Owens Hardware) became the busiest place in town, with Greyhound Buses full of service men traveling on Highway 78 stopping frequently to eat. The old train depot at the north end of Ross Street was also busy, with troop trains passing constantly.

After his WWII service, Maurice was discharged from the Army. He returned to join Cora in establishing their permanent home in Heflin and soon their first child, Eddie, was born. When his Army Reserve Unit was activated during the Korean War in 1950, Maurice again answered the call to duty and served as a mess sergeant for 2 years in Japan.

After serving in Japan, Maurice was stationed in Germany where Cora and Eddie were able to join him. While living there, their new baby girl, Susan, was born to make their family complete.

Their stay in Germany was one of the happiest periods of Cora’s life. They traveled to scenic areas in Europe, though evidence of recent wartime destruction was all around them.

She always cherished fond memories of those family times and the friends she made while living there. She also cultivated some lasting friendships among the German people – One particular needle crafting friend who taught her the European style of knitting was never forgotten! But as Cora once said, “All good things must come to an end!

They came back to Heflin when Maurice’s enlistment ended and returned to their former lifestyle. Cora picked up where she left off, gladly serving her old customers and welcoming new ones, “Almost as if I’d never gone,” she was fond of saying!

In her shop she worked quickly and efficiently to get every job done and take care of her child care and housekeeping obligations! But she also realized the value of plenty of rest, proper diet and “moderation” in all things. Some of her co-workers have said: “She worked circles around everyone else.” And, “She didn’t do it for show or try to draw attention to herself, that’s just the way she was”. . . “Most of the time she got up and got her housework done and then walked around the lake before the rest of us even had breakfast,” one said! And another said, “Cora always did things in a hurry and she could really turn out the work.”

She also dazzled her friends with the variety and amount of needle work she did. She especially enjoyed knitting sweaters, scarves and other pieces by the European method she learned from her German friend. It became her favorite way of knitting. Her daughter, Susan, said, “Mother tried to show me how to do that but I never learned. It seemed backward to me,”

Cora was no ordinary needle crafter. She made beautiful crochet and knitted garments and unique items for the home. And she especially enjoyed stitching clothing for children. One of her nieces still owns two exquisite hand-crocheted dresses Cora made for her and her sister more than 65 years ago. Often she did her hand-work while watching TV or between hair appointments. And she turned out a remarkable number of hand-made items.

She never talked about the good things she did for others. She believed in the old adage, “Never let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.” Over the years, she did a lot of work for people without charging them whenever she felt they couldn’t afford it. She often provided food if a family didn’t have enough to eat! And she assisted needy students anonymously.

When Cleburne County Nursing Home opened, Cora was the first local beautician to volunteer to assist with elderly patient’s hair-care needs, and she encouraged others to follow. She had a special affinity for elderly customers. She had the rare combination of patience and understanding of their needs, long before she attained that distinction herself! And she always gave them respect and made them feel comfortable in her shop. Another little-known service that she provided was “fixing hair” for deceased women. Frequently she would be called upon for this service by the funeral home or a grieving family in preparation for their “viewing.”

When she retired in 1994, she joined the RMC Volunteers program (Pink Ladies) and began driving to Anniston 2 days a week and working 4 hrs. a day. She took pride in being the oldest “Pink Lady” on staff and holder of the “most hours worked” award. A co-worker said she seldom missed her assigned days. The one exception was the Friday she took off to drive herself to her daughter-in-law Sharon’s estate sale in Randolph County, the day of her fatal accident!

She loved to dress up and wear pretty clothes. And she loved the “high heeled” shoes which she wore on Sundays and every other dress-occasion! She continued to wear them until well into her eighties, when her doctor told her to give them up because of a circulatory problem. But she wore sturdy support shoes while working and encouraged others to do so as well.

Cora advised her co-workers to “Eat healthy and walk a lot so your legs will look nice,”- “Put on make-up each morning” and “Wear good shoes.” She also told them, “If you want a good business, be there early and stay late, and always take time for lunch.”

One friend analyzed Cora as being a cross between “Wonder Woman,” “Mother Theresa” and “The Energizer Bunny!” She was strong, compassionate, and durable (she just kept on going and going!) She was also wise and gave good advice when asked. She not only read her Bible, she followed its instructions. One of her favorite passages was:

“Trust The Lord with all your heart; and lean not upon your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

She also loved football and Braves baseball! Almost every night during baseball season she could be found glued to her TV screen, cheering for her team! Chances were that she would also have a half-finished piece of needlework in her lap, with her knitting needles clicking furiously or a crochet needle in her hand.

After school starts in the fall, she has always been found sitting with friends in CCHS stadium during a regular home game. Before the new stadium was constructed, the old “football field” was just a block down the street from her house. Every year since her children were in school she has bought season reserve seats for home football games. Usually, on game night - if it is a home game - she grabs her stadium cushion and flashlight and heads out to the field, then yells as loud as anyone during the game! Indeed there she will be missed!

To some, it might appear that the life of Cora Beason was no different from her contemporaries and in many ways, that is true. She “fit in” wherever she went. She loved to take trips with her senior Church group and was always ready to go, wherever they went. She was an active member of the Diamond Set (for church women) which - with her help - accomplished so much! She was a “main-stay in the Church choir and taught a womens’ Bible class.

Recently she had been helping Pharmacist Gary Wright prepare an illustrated history of all the tenants in Heflin’s early business district (and she could clearly name and describe them all.)

She was never just a small town beautician who lived most of her life here. She was so much more! And that colorful, attractive exterior we always saw on her, and the calm, cheerful disposition that was her trademark, sometimes effectively disguised her innermost feelings!

Cora outlived her parents, her twin sister, her only brother, her husband, her only son, and other close family members. She could vividly understand and sympathize with others experiencing personal loss because she was no stranger to heartache, disappointment, and sadness. She, too, had experienced more than her share of all of these. She was a giver, not a taker! She knew how to sympathize and console those around her, and she did.

The day of her accident was an ordinary day for Cora, except that she had notified the RMC Volunteer coordinator that she would not come to work as usual that Friday.

Instead, she drove herself to an estate sale her daughter-in-law Sharon was having (in rural Randolph County.)

In late afternoon, as she was leaving, she told Sharon, “I’ve had a good time today. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Just minutes after saying “Goodbye,” Cora’s life ended quickly at the busy highway intersection nearby! She was instantly transported to her heavenly home, to be reunited with family members and friends.

And thus began the continuation of her life.
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A tribute to Cora Lea Gaines Beason by Betty Jones
Special to The Star

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