Clare County Review & Marion Press

Postcard from the Pines: Remembering Grandma on her 124th Birthday

This week I’m remembering my Grandma Berry, who was born 124 years ago September 24, 1898, on her parents farm in Highland Twp. Born Lola Fern Beebe, she was the sixth of the seven surviving children of Milt and Lillie Beebe, and a granddaughter of Rayme and Jane Beebe, who took their Section 34 homestead in Highland in 1873.
My grandma was a lot of things in her relatively short life. She was the wife of a school teacher and the mother of four. She was a poet, story/feature writer, news writer and columnist for 47 of her 69 years. No matter where she was or what other papers she may have been writing for, her columns appeared in the Marion Press. Even through her long illness, she wrote. Her last columns, Along Our Trails and Garden Notes, appeared in the Marion Press a month before she died. Her last feature story appeared in the Grand Rapids Press on the day of her funeral.
One of the things I’m remembering about my still-missed Grandma this year, on the eve of her 124th birthday, was her love of contests. She entered contests, all kinds of contests with all kinds of prizes. Some required only filling out a coupon and dropping it in the mail. Others required writing skills and these were, of course, right up her alley. She wrote countless glowing testimonies for everything from scouring powders to canned stew to motor oil, in twenty-five words or less. She filled in the blank and waxed poetic when asked to finish sentences like, “My dog likes Pet Pate` because…..” The mail brought her a steady flow of cents-off coupons for her efforts.
Grandma was indeed a winner however. I do not know details other than some of the prizes. My parents toted a radio around during WWII that she won through a contest sponsored by WJR radio in Detroit. As a matter of fact, she won two radios in the contest, entering once under her own name and again for my dad. Jingles must have flowed from her pen that year.
She won an electric can opener, a case of some kind of prepared, boxed food, i.e. mac and cheese, and an electric blanket with dual controls. I know that there were a lot of other everyday kinds of things too. She always had her sights set higher.
For Grandma the holy grail of mail-in contests were those for which the top prize was something fabulous that she was not likely to get for herself. She had a hankering to win a trip to some exotic location like Hawaii or Florida; someplace tropical. As a kid, I always rooted for the trips as I was to be her traveling partner. A trip for four meant more cousins could accompany us. It was as simple as that and easy for her to say. She knew she likely would not win. That did not stop us from making some grand plans.
As for Grandma herself, what she wanted most was a car. She wanted the greater independence it would afford her. She figured her contest entering would bring her one big win sooner or later, and she was banking on a car. Grandma entered every contest in which the top prize was a car. So confident was she that she enrolled in a driver’s ed class at Marion High School. She never learned to drive a car. Fern Berry may have been the oldest student ever to take driver’s ed, and may even have had to obtain permission from the school board.
She passed the book portion of the class with flying colors. Then, at 59 she prepared to hit the road in the driver’s ed car, a stick-shift Ford, with Ralph McCrimmon at her side. My dear, sweet, smart, kind, nature-loving, poetry writing, much beloved grandma was not an exemplary, hands on the steering wheel kind of student. Mr. McCrimmon issued her a learner’s permit, perhaps somewhat in deference to who she was. He also made a beeline for the Sinclair where he told my dad that under no circumstances should she ever drive alone or go for a license. He also said the same to my aunt at the IGA.
Our family was in complete agreement with Mr. McCrimmon.
I remember seeing my grandma behind the wheel during her driver’s ed adventure. Her hands were firmly on the wheel, she was slightly hunched forward, over the steering wheel, and she was white knuckling it down Main Street with Mr. McCrimmon in the Ford at about 9mph.
Grandma gave it her best shot. My mom remained her faithful partner in crime, so to speak, and her faithful chauffeur. Grandma’s contest goal shifted a bit. She wanted to win a car for my mom to drive the two of them about.
This week’s photo is one of Fern Berry about the time she was working in the office at the Marion Press.
Happy Heavenly Birthday, Granny. Thanks for all the great memories.

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