Mother was born
Bethel Leah Kessinger, July 18, 1916
at Willow Bend, W. Va. to Oma and
Zella Kessinger. Mother had an older sister, Evelyn, and a younger
one, Oleva. She was a
graduate of Greenville High School and graduated from Martz Beauty
School, in Huntington, W. Va. She opened her first
shop in Union W. Va.
Beth Kessinger at age 16. Right: First shop in Union. (Click on photos
for larger view)
At an early age she learned to play
guitar and with her sister Evelyn (also guitar) and her father Oma,
(fiddle) played various social events.
It was about 13 miles from Willow
Greenville High School, so she boarded in Greenville during the school
year because she had no transportation.
How mother came to Alderson is an interesting
story and below is the account in her own words.
"I descended on the town of Alderson, W. Va.
in December 1940. I was a beautician and
had a "not too successful" business of my own in Union, W. Va. The
state inspector of Barbers and Beauticians advised me there was a
real need for a beautician in Alderson, a little town of 1500
population and partly located in two counties divided by the
beautiful Greenbrier River.
I'll never forget when the president of the
First National Bank, who owned the building, took me to see the
place I was to rent and live in for the next fourteen years. He
unlocked the door at the street level and I looked up a flight of
the steepest steps I ever saw. Aside from the W. P. A. sowing room
across the hall, the upstairs had been unoccupied for years. But
being over the town's only drug store and in the main part of the
town I considered it a good "location". With the cobwebs hanging
from the 15 foot ceiling and the bathroom was the only public one in
town, I signed a lease. The town welcomed me with open arms and I
hardly had time to get opened before I was head over heels in
I can't imagine that mother was the
first beautician that Alderson ever had, but I guess it's possible.
She could have been the first licensed beautician. Ladies had to fix
their hair somehow, be it from friends or do it themselves. The fact
was she must have been the only one when she got to Alderson.
Adel Feamster and mother. Adel was the first beauty
operator mother hired after she came to Alderson. Mother and
Adel were BFFs years before there was an abbreviation of "best
mother's Shop Opening Certificate from the state of W. Va.
(Click on photos for larger view)
many friends in Alderson. After all, she
most likely, at one time, worked on every lady in
town, and got to know everyone. That's
was one of the great thing about
Alderson. We knew everyone and they knew
mentioned previously, Adel Feamster was
mother's best friend. Another very good
friend was Marjorie Flint. Marge use to
help out in the beauty shop and the
three of them seemed to be together all
the time. One time after the shop closed
for the day, I came in and all three
were smoking. Mother didn't smoke but
Adel and Marge did. I was surprised to
see mother smoking and I protested. I
never saw her smoke again.
With the steps to the upstairs
very steep I remember elderly ladies
struggling to make the climb to have
their hair fixed. This was probably one
of the reasons to move to a ground level
location. (Left: Top floor, the beauty
shop and residents.
starting her time in Alderson with a
divorce from my father, Gene Worrell, most the 14 years over the drug
store were good years with her business
growing and making new friends. In 1945
she married Howard Fields, and in
1954 we moved to the corner of Maple
Ave. and Lee Street on the Greenbrier
side of Alderson where they build a new home of
the stone that Howard harvested from his
quarry. The area that was supposed to be
for the garage was built into a large room
for mother's beauty shop.
picture at the left. The ladies will most likely recognize
it, but if you don't, it's called a
permanent wave machine. Ladies who didn't have wavy hair and
wanted it, could have it, providing the risk of being
attached to this machine. I use to watch mother roll the
customer's wet hair up in curlers and apply a certain
solution. Then the customer would move over to the chair
under the machine and, one by one, each curl would be attached to each clip,
which had a heating element. Like baking in an oven, the
customer would sit there for a predetermined time and the
heating elements would dry the hair into a wavy or curly form. The whole process
took hours. While we were still over the drugstore, mother
won one of these machine in a contest. It was of the latest
design and, gold plated! I'm not sure how long she use it,
I only know it went with us to the house on Maple Ave.
such as this would not be allowed today for it would
definitely be classified as a shock and fire hazard.
Home often called on Mother to fix the hair of ladies that had
passed away. She never talked about this, and I wasn't aware of it
for a long time.
She loved to
square dance and she and Howard use to go dancing all the time.
Howard had a little building on the farm that looked as if it was,
at one time, used as a home. He cleared it out and they had square
dances there and they were well attended. I went with them a few
times to operate the record player and played the same recording
over and over until I fell asleep on a pile of roofing shingles.
Mother and Howard were part of a group that was invited to the
Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs to give instructions in
square dancing to the people who were vacationing there. Although
the Greenbrier was a famous hotel, it had clientele who had never
seen square dancing. Today I wonder how mother found the energy to
dance for hours after standing on her feet in the beauty shop for
many hours before.
In 1963-64, she completed a 36 week course "Education
201" "Psychology of Human Development", from Concord College's Extension
Department that was held at the Federal Prison for Women in Alderson. This was something
she was very proud of. She also took and passed the Civil Service
Exam, several times. We thought she was getting tired of being a beautician and was
possibly looking for something else to do.
1966, wanting to get the shop out of the residents, mother build a
separate building on Lee Street, behind Ralph McClung, and across
the street from Bud Ballard.
After about 40 years of being a
beautician, mother retired, but only from the occupation of a
beautician. She worked as a volunteer at Greenbrier Valley Medical
Center, Fairlea, for 19 years. She was a member of the Ladies Circle
and was active for many years in various church activities and
organizations. She was a member of the Woman's Club of Alderson for
more than 40 years.
away April 25, 2006, just three months shy of her 90th birthday.
That was 8 years ago and I think it was about time I wrote this
I realize this
isn't much of a biography for someone who lived for 90 years. But
I'm sure there are a lot of you that knew mother and would share
your comments below.
Thank you so for you kind words and comments that have already been
posted. Your memories of her have given me such joy and you have
blessed my heart....Barry