Bea, Bags, and Books
Bea Cordle is a woman with a mission. Every morning, she wakes up inspired and ready to get going. Right after breakfast, she begins her work, continuing until evening.
Bea is, by the way, ninety-three, an age when she could be excused for doing nothing more than sitting on the porch swing, listening to the birds. Instead, she's brightening the days of children who may need a little lift.
The project that absorbs Bea every day is drawing whimsical characters on brown paper bags for the Kids' Food Basket program, which supplies "sack suppers" to children living at or near the poverty level. These free, balanced evening meals are distributed at the end of each school day and during summer programs at schools where 70% or more of the student population receives free or low-cost lunches.
Volunteers decorate the bags, and that's where Bea applies her talents. Curled up in a comfy armchair in the living room of the home she shares with daughter Sandra Bernard and granddaughter Marquita Bernard, with a rainbow of markers at hand and a pile of coloring books for inspiration, Bea draws her cheerful creations and finishes off each drawing with big "I LOVE YOU" at the bottom.
"I'm so blessed, because this gives me something to look forward to," says Bea. "I think about it before I get out of bed in the morning, and I think about it after I go to bed at night."
For Bea, the project has revived talents that took a backseat while she was raising her five children. In her youth, she enjoyed painting landscapes and cottage scenes. Then, for many years, she turned her creative energy to sewing clothes for her children (including wedding dresses, bridesmaids' dresses, and flower girls' dresses for all the family weddings) and crocheting outfits for the grandchildren that came along later. When she lost sight in one eye six years ago, she could no longer crochet.
"About a year ago, my other daughter brought me a package of the colors and some coloring books and some of the bags and said, 'I want you to try to work on this,' " Bea recalls. "And I said, 'Oh, I can't do that! I wouldn't be able to do that.' "
But she could. And once she got going, she was unstoppable. She estimates she has decorated more than 1,600 bags to date.
A social worker who visited one of the kids who receives sack suppers told Sandra the youngster's room was decorated with Bea's bags. Another little girl who cherishes the bags thanked Bea in person at a Kids Food Basket Halloween party. Sandra and Bea both get misty-eyed recounting the stories.
The bag project isn’t the only creative work underway in the big gray house in the heart of Newaygo. Bea, Sandra and Marquita recently published a children's book, I Am Never Too Me!, and Sandra and Marquita have two more books in the works: Things That Matter and Elton's Tall Tale.
"It's an exciting thing for the three of us," says Sandra, who also writes poetry and prose, in addition to singing and playing guitar professionally.
It was Bea's drawings that inspired Sandra and Marquita to collaborate on the first book and to recruit Bea to do most of the illustrations. Sandra, who used to make up stories about her son's imaginary friend when her children were small, quickly came up with an idea for the book.
"I got up in the middle of the night and wrote the story," she says. "I don't know what it is about writing, but the middle of the night, I wake up and ideas come to me, and I just get overwhelmed. I can't go back to sleep until I write the gist of it down."
The family invested in a computer, and Marquita, who has a background in design and illustration, created the front and back covers, added a few illustrations, and designed the layout.
Colorful and upbeat, the book celebrates diversity and encourages self-acceptance.
"I didn't just want to write a book with a lot of splashy colors. It's got to mean something," says Sandra. "But that's kind of the way I am with everything. If it doesn't have meat and guts to it, I just don't want to be bothered."
For Bea, Sandra and Marquita, working together on creative projects is part of a "spiritual movement" that began when they first started talking about living together.
"We decided, the three of us together, we're going to move in together and be a three-woman powerhouse. We're going to help each other, be there for each other," says Sandra. "And it's worked out really good."
I Am Never Too Me! can be found at Hit The Road Joe Coffee Café in Croton, River Stop Café in Newaygo and Studio 37 Arts & Culture Center in Newaygo and will soon be available on Amazon.
For more about Sandra Bernard's creative spirit and talented family, plus a sample of her poetry, see her April 20, 2016 guest post, Creative Thinkers.
6/6/2018 06:25:06 am
Bea is my new role model! She and her girls are such an inspiration for just doing what you love.
6/6/2018 06:27:17 am
That they are!
6/6/2018 06:46:32 am
Bea, I love that you write "I love you", at the bottom of the bags . I'm sure that this message means a great deal to many of the lonely children. It reminds me of the old song ( by Mac Davis) " whoever finds this, I love you".♡
6/6/2018 07:03:48 am
6/6/2018 07:13:21 am
Love that "three-woman powerhouse" idea. Lovely women, and more power to them.
6/6/2018 07:36:42 am
Individually and collectively, these women are a force of nature.
6/6/2018 07:48:55 am
Kids just want to know they matter and someone cares. This is a lovely story!
6/6/2018 07:56:15 am
Yes, and I love how something like this connects the generations.
6/6/2018 10:02:07 am
I think this is my new favorite HeartWood Blog post. This is SO inspiring, and I wish every older person had Bea's outlook--and her family support. Also, I bet she's inspired at least a handful of children to learn to draw and paint. Thank you for sharing this.
6/6/2018 03:51:22 pm
Lovely read, glad you're back at it, Nan.
6/6/2018 07:01:28 pm
Three women powerhouse full of artistic talent. thanks for sharing their story and it is a wonderful picture of them too... thanks Nan
6/7/2018 06:10:59 am
I'm inspired and delighted to learn more about these powerful women right here in our community. Your trio-some message and example set a stage. My seven year old granddaughter, Zoe, actually read your book to me. When she first read the title, she said, "Wh-a-a-t?' Pause. Then, "Oh, I get it. It means 'I can't be too much of myself!' "
6/7/2018 07:34:38 am
Bea is an inspiration! If I'm still around at 90+, I hope I can follow her example. How wonderful that she has the love and support of her daughter and granddaughter, too.
6/8/2018 06:23:19 am
How wonderful. Such a great idea, and the love they spread makes memories for everyone involved. 3 special ladies, three generations of creative and caring women.
6/8/2018 07:05:04 am
And you certainly know about creative and caring women!
6/8/2018 06:52:21 pm
You ladies are so awesome and inspiring, thanks Nan!
6/9/2018 06:05:50 am
Wow, how fun to learn about people right here in our area. A wonderful post about a wonderful family. Thanks, Nan.
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Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.