Nickole Brown

Peter Conners writes about Jesse Fowler Conners, known as Bema

Her name was Jesse Fowler Conners (we called her Bema, everyone else called her Jess). The toughest bird I’ve ever known. Born 1899 in a little coal mining town in PA… the doctor who delivered her came on a bicycle and she was so premature they thought she’d die. The doctor fashioned an incubator out of bricks that they had to keep warm around her and against the odds, she made it. She snuck away and married my grandfather when they were in their teens and then they just went back home to their own houses and didn’t tell anyone they’d done it. So many great stories that reflect the times and what a tough woman she was – one of the first women to work the railroad when the men went off to fight in WWI (including my grandfather who went to Canada to enlist cause he was still too young for US military)… she had to keep a pistol with her in the switch house to ward off hobos. That sort of stuff. I kept thinking about certain words of hers too esp. wursh for wash etc. Saving cans of fat to cook with. Her trick for spelling Mississippi (M I-double S- I-double S-I-pp-I) sung like a song. Even the water at her house that looked and tasted disgusting to me but she swore was just fine (it wasn’t). My father got a full academic scholarship to St. Lawrence (ended up getting his Ph.D. in Michigan), but they didn’t want him to go to college ‘cause it might make him uppity…  All those stories…

Woe to those who don’t have tough old bird grandmas. Bema had a soft spot for frosties from Wendys too. Show up with some Wendys and you were good to go. Otherwise Sunday dinner with creamed corn, green beans cooked in mushroom soup and orange pop… then some Wild Kingdom on tv. Bepa (her husband) was about 5’6”, 260lbs, and ended up police chief of his town. Everything fried in grease and topped off with constant cigars. He used to light one up at night, take a few puffs, then put it out in the ashtray next to his bed – he liked the way that seasoned it overnight, so it tasted just right when he lit it up the next morning. They got in a horrible car accident visiting my dad at his uppity college in St. Lawrence and Bema was “a cripple” after that. “All crippled up.” More stitches across her body than you could count and I never in my life saw her without a walker. And she’d still kick ass.