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Friday, December 19, 2014

52 Ancestors # 50: Elizabeth "Bessie" Hudson. my Grandmother Peterson

    My Grandma Peterson, Elizabeth "Bessie Hudson Peterson, was a wonderful woman: sweet, loving, quick to laugh, easy to talk to.  She genuinely liked and welcomed people. She was born on 16 December 1896 in Texarkana, Texas. Her father, Benjamin Melvin Hudson, was a railroad construction and maintenance supervisor and the family moved around a bit but eventually settle in Fort Worth, Texas. She had three older sisters, Edna, Mabel, and Alma. Her mother encouraged them all to get a good education and all four went to College at a time when most women did not.

     As a child, Bessie considered herself to be a "tomboy", perhaps why she majored in Physical Education in College.  I only recall two stories of her as a child, both related to the fact she was well known in her family for walking and talking in her sleep. I know those stories because I had the same tendency as a child. Story #1: One night her parents heard a noise downstairs.  Her father, thinking it was a burglar,  grabbed his gun and started down the stairs to check it out.  Suddenly her mother came running after him, yelling, "Ben, don't shoot! It might be Bessie!". I never heard the outcome of that one!  Story #2:  One night, awakened again by a noise downstairs, her parents came down and found Bessie walking in her sleep.  She was walking on the railing surrounding the front porch.  This porch was quite high off the ground, the house being on a hill.  Her parents were horrified but didn't dare move or make any noise for fear they'd startle and she would lose her balance and fall. So, with bated breath, they watched her walk around the railing and get down without a hitch.

     After graduating from High School in Fort Worth, Bessie attended George Williams in Chicago, Illinois where she majored in Physical Education. Here she met Walter Peterson and they fell in love.  I described their meeting in my blog on him.  Bessie had to overcome her parents doubts about her getting married so young (she was 20) but she won their approval and they were married in her home church. They were Presbyterian and in my research I found that from 1816 when her great grandfather was married in a Presbyterian Church in Canada, every reference to religion in her family was to a Presbyterian Church. According to Walter, she persuaded him to switch to the Presbyterian Church from his familial Lutheran one.  In fact, he became a Presbyterian Minister,

     On 19 Aug 1917, the Fort Worth Star Telegram reported on Bessie and Walter's wedding as so:

"Miss Elizabeth Hudson and Mr. Walter L. Peterson were married Friday evening at 6:30 o'clock in the Hemphill Presbyterian Church...The bride entered on the arm of her father, Mr. B.M. Hudson. She was beautifully gowned in white net satin. an extremely graceful tulle veil was draped over the folds of the skirt, falling from a lace cap of Mexican drawn work and held secure by two white asters on either side. The bridal bouquet was of white asters and tube roses."

     Their first son, Walter (Wally) was born in San Antonio, Texas in 1918 followed by Frances Elizabeth (Betty) in 1920 and John Marshall (Jack) in 1922, both in Fort Worth. Walter's pacifist beliefs kept him from joining the Army in WW I but he did work for the Army in the YMCA.  Bessie made him wear his Army YMCA uniform outside work so that he wouldn't inspire violence in people who didn't want to see a young man who wasn't fighting for his country. Years later their son-in-law, David Dellinger, was one of the most famous pacifists of the 20th Century!

     In the 1930's during the height of the depression, Walter decided that he needed to change professions and become a Minister. So he entered McCormick Presbyterian Seminary. Bessie completely supported him in this decision.  She got a job teaching PE in the Chicago schools and supported the family.  My father told us of being a "latch key kid" during this time, letting himself in after school and waiting for his mother to get home.  Bessie helped drill Walter in Hebrew and Greek and even took some courses herself in religious education. Walter graduated in about 1937 with his first Church being in Bessemer, Michigan.  Here their son, Wally, married Grace Basket and Betty and Jack graduated from High School. Bessie became the consumate Minister's wife running Church women's groups, Bible, Summer School, etc. In 1940 Walter became the Minister of a Church in Seattle, Washington.  Here Betty married Dave and Jack married Margaret.

     In later years Walter became the Director of the Council of Churches in Spokane for ten years and they had churches in Woodlawn and Tacoma, Washington.  In 1957 Walter was an exchange minister in Scotland for a year and they also traveled in Sweden and Europe. In August, 1967, they had a large family celebration of their 50th Wedding Anniversary. They retired in Santa Fe, New Mexico, then San Diego, then again New Mexico, finally settling in Westminster Gardens in Duarte, Claifornia near Pasadena.  Here they celebrated their 60th t 64th wedding anniversaries. They were such a devoted couple that near the end of their lives the people in the retirement home put them in separate rooms so that they would have incentive to get out of bed, get dressed and see each other.  They had lunch together every day. Bessie died on 12 May 1982 with Walter following seven months later on 14 Dec 1982.

     I admire Bessie for her courage in supporting her husband and her belief in him even when it meant personal sacrifice. She was a loving mother and grandmother and always had time for her children and their children.  I remember how much she loved flowers and many hours we spent admiring them in gardens and parks.  She knew their names as she did the trees as well.  A strong woman, independent and individual but also loving and feminine. My husband is also a minister, although not in a full time capacity.  From time to time I am with him at a wedding or other ceremony he performs (more and more these are memorial services). I always get a kick out of being "the Minister's wife" because it reminds me of my grandmother and I try to play the role as well as she did, with something of her grace and graciousness. She set the example for me to follow.

1 comment:

  1. One story I remember Grandma telling about her childhood was that she loved the wildflowers that grew in the area where she grew up. When she got done with her chores at home, she'd grab one of her sisters and they'd run off to see the wildflowers. As you say, that love of flowers continued through her life.

    Regarding our father, Jack, saying he was a "latch key child" in the '30s while his father was in seminary and mother was working, Grandma told me once about the painful decision they made to send their daughter, Betty, to live with her grandparents (Bessie's parents, I think, not Walter's) at that time. Grandma felt the two boys would be safe enough to come home from school and be home alone but didn't feel that was safe for their daughter. Unfortunately, it wasn't clear to Betty why she was being "sent away" (as she experienced it), and she thought her parents didn't love her as much as they did the boys! Oh dear!

    In her role as minister's wife, Bessie often was the one to counsel the women of the congregation they were serving. They didn't feel as comfortable discussing their home problems and concerns with a man, even if he was the minister! I expect they found a sympathetic listener with a loving heart when they talked with her.

    Bessie also played the piano, so she often got pressed into service to play the church organ, as well. Our grandfather (Walter) married our cousin Jill in his church in Tacoma, since she and her intended were living in Portland, OR. I remember Grandma (Bessie) playing the organ for the wedding.