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Shirley's Corner - Bootleg Bessie



Bootleg Bessie was my maternal grandmother...she got this title when she distributed bootleg whiskey from under her front porch during prohibition days as she provided for her family during the great Depression. She also cooked and served food at "Sam's Place", a saloon located on Church St. at the railroad..For this she was allowed to bring leftover food home to feed her family. Granny Bessie was only 32 years old when I was born and already she had buried her only son when he was less than a year old.

I was her first grandchild and she spoiled me rotten. I remember sitting at her little dressing table and trying on all her beads and earrings. By this time, Granny was a fruit packer and was a major financial support to her family. She swore, drank whiskey, smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, danced, and told off-color jokes and I adored her. Nobody could hug like Granny, could cook like Granny, or laugh like Granny. Granny bought me my first tube of lipstick when I was in Junior High School and my first wristwatch when I graduated from High School.

Grandpa was a sweet, quiet man. He was a woodcutter during the Depression and with little education was unable to support his family though he worked hard. Therefore, Granny took over and did whatever was necessary to feed and clothe her family. When she became a fruit packer, she got Grandpa a job there at the packing house as a night watchman. She loved him and she took care of him until the day he left this earth. Granny was the dynamo in her family.

When I was in the sixth grade, Granny went into the hospital to have a goiter removed. She had been raised in a Christian home and had a sister who prayed for her to turn from her worldly ways. God heard those prayers and as she lay in the hospital He spoke to her out of a "ball of fire" that appeared at the foot of her hospital bed. He told her that if she would serve Him, she would live through this surgery.

When Granny left that hospital, she left "Bootleg Bessie" behind and a new Bessie appeared on the scene. This Bessie served the Lord at a small Pentecostal church where her sister was a member. Every one laughed and said it wouldn't last, that in no time she would be the same old Bessie. Bessie never looked back and in six months time, Grandpa was at the altar "praying through". She was still the best hugger, the best cook, and had the merriest laugh I ever heard.

Granny headed the Women's Ministry in that small church for many years. She organized suppers to raise money for the missionaries, she crocheted slippers for people in the nursing homes, she had children come out to their camp in the Ocala National Forest for vacation bible school. Once a week, Grandpa would walk the Orange Blossom Trail and leave gospel tracts in all the phone booths in hopes that one of the pimps or prostitutes might read them and repent. They set the bar high in their effort to use everything they had for His glory. What a legacy I received from the two of them.

Granny lived to be 94 so I got to keep her in my life a long time. We spent more than 50 Christmas Eves together. What a blessing "Bootleg Bessie" became when she let her Savior take His rightful place in her life and what a testimony to her three daughters and grandchildren. I can hardly wait for her hugs and laughter when I join her in heaven. What a day of rejoicing that will be!

1 Comment

Her mantle of hospitality and service to others fell on you. You are carrying on by blessing many many women. I'm one who has be blessed. Thanks

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