‘Little girl from the Prairie’ turns 100

OKEECHOBEE — Happy 100th birthday Beedie Thomas! Today is Mrs. Beedie Mae Thomas’ 100th birthday, and she has spent every one of those years right here in Okeechobee County.

Beedie May Thomas was honored by the Okeechobee Livestock Market on Feb. 26, as a longstanding customer, with decades of selling cattle at the market. Left to right are Courtney Padgett, Gladys Addison, Debbie Strenth, John Strenth, Randy Thomas, Russell Kilpatrick, Mary Lou Kilpatrick, Grace Ann Thomas, Danny Thomas, R.E. Thomas, Bobby Lanier, Alice McDuffie, Alta Lee Barber, Jeremy Strenth, H.L. Barber, (front) Sara Strenth and Beedie Mae Thomas. Okeechobee News/Katrina Elsken.

Born in Kilpatrick Hammock on what is now the Prairie Reserve State Park, Beedie Mae was the third child in a family of six children. Beedie Mae’s parents, Drayton (Drake) and Alice Kilpatrick met while working for the railroad when the Southern Colonization Company was attempting to build a railroad spur from Kenansville to Prairie Ridge which was about 12 miles north of Basinger.

Alice was working as a cook for the railroad when they met. Both Drake and Alice were about 26 years old when they married, and they soon had a house full of children — two girls and four boys. Beedie said she was named after one of her father’s old girlfriends but her mother never seemed to mind. They never fought, she said. They loved each other very much.

The family moved to Kenansville when Beedie Mae’s older sister, Lucille, began school, and Alice ran a hotel, but by the time Beedie was ready to start school, Drake decided it was time for them to build a house of their own closer to a school, and he began building on Prairie Ridge. They moved to the new home when Beedie was six years old, and she attended school in Basinger where they had a three-room school house. Drake worked as a cowboy and served as an Okeechobee County Commissioner. The family raised chickens and hogs and, of course, kept a garden.

Sadly, they did not get to enjoy their life in the new home for long before tragedy struck when Drake’s appendix ruptured. He sought treatment from a doctor in Okeechobee and then in Fort Pierce, but it was too late. Gangrene had already set in, and he passed away.

Beedie was only nine years old when she lost her father, and her youngest brother was still a baby. Four years later, Alice passed away from cancer and the children were left alone. Lucille was 16 and had just gotten married, and Beedie was only 13 years old, but between them, they managed to take care of the family and keep the children together. Beedie Mae explained she had spent her childhood helping her mother with the cooking and cleaning and when her mother passed away she just did what needed to be done.

Beedie is proud of the fact that all of her brothers grew up to serve in the military — three of them in World War II and one in the Korean War.

Beedie was only able to attend school through the 10th grade because the Basinger school only went through the 10th grade and to continue beyond that, she would have had to board with a family in Okeechobee. Because she was needed at home, there was no way she could leave and go to school. She didn’t mind though, she said. Life was hard back then but she wouldn’t change anything. When asked if she had a favorite decade, she said she really didn’t.

She loved them all. She met and married her husband, Edgar Thomas, in 1935, just two months before her 16th birthday, and together they raised five children — Alice, R.E., Betty Jean, Alta Lee and Debbie — in a home they built at a cost of $300. Beedie Mae lives in that home to this day.

Beedie Mae said one of the biggest differences for young women now is that most of them work outside of the home. That was not very common when she was young. That’s not to say they didn’t work, she said. She worked hard every day of her life. Just washing clothes was very difficult. She had to draw water from the well, heat it and then scrub each item of clothing by hand on a wash board. Then to iron things, she used a flat iron which she heated on a wood stove. She had two of them, she said. You heated one while you used the other.

Edgar and Beedie Mae are pictured with oldest daughter, Betty Jean. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

Beedie Mae and Edgar, her husband.

 

Beedie Mae

Beedie Mae is here surrounded by her children. From left: Alice McDuffie, R.E. Thomas, Beedie Mae, Betty Jean Lanier, Alta Lee Barber and Debbie Strenth. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

Later she was excited to get a gas iron. It had a tank on it that you had to pump up. She thought that was a great improvement over the flat iron, but she joked, “Old Man Sweat said that gas iron was gonna make him go to hell cause he had to work on it so much.”

It wasn’t until 1949 that the Thomases got electricity and were able to get some modern conveniences. Beedie said doing laundry now doesn’t seem at all like work. And of course, her favorite change has been the move from an outhouse to indoor plumbing!

No one else in her family has lived to be 100 so far, but her older sister, Lucille, passed away just before her 99th birthday, and her youngest brother, Dillon, is 91. In her lifetime, Beedie has progressed from having no telephone at all to sitting in a recliner with a Facebook portal beside her so she can chat with her brother Dillon who lives 400 miles away in Sneads, Fla. and also sits in a recliner chatting on a Facebook portal.

Beedie Mae’s beautiful birthday cake showing 100 years is displayed here.

Beedie Mae is not sure why she has lived as long as she has but said she has never been a smoker or a drinker. She does have one vice though. She enjoys her scratch-off lottery tickets, and Gold Rush tickets were her requested birthday gift this year. She does get worn out scratching them though, she joked. She said really she just worked hard her whole life. She did a man’s work, she said. Her husband died in 1970 and she kept things going, but even before that, she worked right alongside him building fences and working in the garden. Her husband did day work for other people to help make ends meet. Sometimes he was gone for weeks at a time, and she had to take care of everything at home. “That’s just how things were back then,” she said.

They always had a big garden said her daughter Alice McDuffie, and they canned everything from vegetables to jams and jellies to fruit. “We even had a pineapple patch,” said Alice. “And then there were the chickens,” said Alice. They always ordered 100 baby chicks at a time from the Sears catalog and raised them for eggs and then they would kill them to fill the freezer.

They remember using a chicken plucker they got from the Sears catalog. “Oh and Noel Chandler and his sister and brother always came to help because they hated being in town,” said Alice.

On Feb. 26, at a special ceremony at the Okeechobee Livestock Market, the Clemons Family presented Beedie May Thomas with a bouquet of flowers and plaque which states “Beedie Mae, Thank you for being the longest, continuous customer of the Okeechobee Livestock Market. We appreciate your patronage.” Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

Beedie considers herself a cattle woman. She has always loved her cattle. She never went on a cattle drive, but she worked the cattle in the pens until she was well up into her 80s. She is the longest continuous customer of the Okeechobee Livestock Market. The market had a special ceremony last week to celebrate her 100-year milestone, and the family celebrated her birthday last weekend with a party and a cake. (They celebrated a week early so the party wouldn’t conflict with the Speckled Perch Festival and Cowtown Rodeo.)

The little girl from the Prairie now has 53 direct descendants. She said she has loved every minute of her life and wouldn’t change a thing.

 

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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