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Carrboro Stories: A Few Moments with Beulah

By Taylor Sisk
Staff Writer

Beulah Hobby eloped.

You see, she’d been busy all summer and hadn’t yet told her mother about that boy, Bryant Hackney. She’d forever kept busy; so busy, in fact, through high school – what with being captain of the basketball team and all – that she’d had no time to take notice of the boy himself till that May – May of ’35.

“I didn’t date him till we finished high school in May,” Beulah Hackney recalls today, sitting in the living room of her Oak Street home, three days shy of her 90th birthday.

She grew up on Andrews Store Road, seven or eight miles south of town; he grew up outside of Pittsboro.

“We graduated in the same class. But I never dated him or had anything to do with him until right after we graduated. Oh, I knew him. But I was doing other things, I had no time for him.”

We’re looking at a photo of the Class of ’35. She’s middle left; almost smiling; cherubic.

“Do I look the same?” she asks, and she does.

He’s seated front, arms crossed; certain of his future – but little did he know.

“My friend invited me to go to White Lake with her, and he was in the group that went.

“So that’s the first time I’d ever dated him. But after I dated him – that was it. We started dating in May and got married in September. We ran away and got married.”

To Halifax, Virginia, and back. Back to the homes of their respective parents, who were as yet unaware of the courtship that had blossomed that summer.

At the end of the summer, Bryant Hackney went off to Louisburg College on a baseball scholarship.

“He was a baseball pitcher,” Ms. Hackney says. But not for long. “He stayed one week, and he came home, and he didn’t tell me why he came home.

“But my son asked him one day, years later. David was real curious and wanted to know why he didn’t stay and finish school. And he told him, ‘Well, there was a little blonde that lived up in Chatham County …’

“He couldn’t stay away.”

And they married.

She laughs now good, at that memory, back on that ride from Halifax.

They kept the marriage secret for a time; returned home like nothing had happened.

“When you’re that young. I don’t know why.”

Whatever the notion

Beulah Hackney lives in the moment. She’s a morning person. Her day begins with “whatever I take a notion to do.
“I do a lot of crafts. That’s one thing I enjoy doing; and that’s one thing that keeps me busy.

“But I don’t plan days unless I have a doctor’s appointment or hair appointment, or if I do something for one of the children. But just kind of do what I feel like doing.

“I like to read; I read right much. The newspaper, for one thing; to find out what’s going on. And I read a few books and articles in magazines.

“And then if my daughter needs me to do something for her, or some of the children need me to do something, I’ll be glad to do that. I used to babysit a lot, but of course I don’t care much about doing that anymore,” she laughs, and adds, “I’ve been there and done that.”

If she’s needed in a pinch, though, with the greats, or the great-greats, “I’ll be glad to. But that’s just not my thing anymore.”

“There aren’t enough hours in the day for Mom,” says her daughter Jean Ward. Jean lives just behind her on Cheek St.; their backyards abut. “She’s 90, and she’s till maintaining her home, lives alone, gets in her car and goes where she wants.”

“I just don’t like to depend on other people to do everything for me,” Ms. Hackney says, “and I hope to be like that as long as I live.”

“She’s involved in a crafts group,” says her daughter, “a lady’s group that meets once a month, with a different project each month.”

She makes jewelry, paints, and has weaved countless baskets. She used to make wedding cakes – and “was quite talented at that,” says her daughter. Tendonitis brought an end to it. But not to much else.

It’s the wood-carving notion that’s most likely to strike these days.

“I started carving before my husband died, so that’s been 17 years. I don’t sell them. I just do them for myself or leave them for my family.”

She began with Santas, and still does some of those today. A beatific Moses, a beautiful seal; birds; flowers; more. Precision work. A spoon and a small dog are currently in production on her worktable in the den, which captures the afternoon light.

The afternoon, though, is naptime. But only to recharge.

“Mom’s quite a good card player,” Jean Ward says. She’s learning bridge and plays Rook and Spread. Board games too: Rummy Cube, Tripoly. “She’s really sharp with these things; she’s the winner most of the time.

“She’s also hooked on sudoku. She’s exhausted about every book of those.”

And then there’s warm-water exercise at Meadowmont. Ms. Hackney’s in pretty good health.

Making a home

“There was not too much they could do or say about it,” Beulah Hackney says, about her family’s view of her eloping. “Of course, you know, they didn’t like it. Because my mother wanted me to go to nursing school. But, course, she couldn’t send me because she didn’t have the money.”

Bryant Hackney stuck though; was deemed a fine choice: “My mother thought a lot of him, always.

“But, anyway, we had a good life. And had five children, and kept him busy working and kept me busy working too.”

The Hackney’s moved to Carrboro in 1941.

“My husband went into the flooring business. He had worked in Durham for a couple of years for the Dixon Floor Finishing company and Mr. Dixon talked him into coming into business in Chapel Hill, because at that time people were putting hardwood floors in their homes.”

Mr. Hackney became active in local politics, in the Democratic Party. He was elected to the Carrboro Board of Alderman in 1964 and served as mayor in ’67 and ’68.

Their first home was at the corner of Weaver and Center streets, and they moved several times before settling in the house on Oak Street, which Mr. Hackney built mostly himself.

Jean Ward remembers buying a cookie for a penny at Hardee’s Grocery, where Cliff’s Market is today.

“It was a very small town,” Ms. Hackney recalls, “and you knew everybody that lived in the town, just about. We really enjoyed living here. Of course, we joined the Carrboro Methodist Church.”

Her husband died in January 1990.

“He worked in the floor-sanding business until his health got real bad. He had a heart attack, and he couldn’t lift the heavy machines. And so he started working with the court system.

“He retired from that job in November, the last part of November, and he died January the 20th. So we didn’t get to do any of the things that he planned to do after he retired. I’ve lived here alone ever since.”

She’s seen the town change quite a bit, and considers it in sum a mixed blessing. She expects to see quite a bit more.
“Well, if our water holds out, I guess it’ll keep growing,” she says. “As long as they have any space.

“It seems that a lot of people that are coming here enjoy this small town … and I try and go along with the changing and be satisfied with it. But you still think about the small town, and how you knew most of the people.”

Steppin out

On a recent night, Ms. Hackney went downtown with her daughter.

“I could not believe all the people downtown.… I was amazed. I could not believe all those people.

“And no place to park.”

Back when the post office was in the triangle where Weaver Street splits from Main – where the Spotted Dog is today – and the Baptists, of course, still had a church downtown, Carrboro “was dead at night,” says Beulah Hackney, “everything was closed up. What there was was closed.”

But that was then – and it ain’t so bad now. The Century Center is “a nice place now to have a party” – it hosted her 90th, and quite a crowd came. And on a slow day there, she can sometimes scare up a game of dominoes.

But sometimes, says her daughter Jean, she prefers being with younger folks, away from the potential for talk of aches and pains and adjustments in medication.

“She enjoys continuing the learning process,” Jean says. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.

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