In memory of Eleanor Beal
by SARAH MORRISON STEPHENS
The name Eleanor is of French and English origin. The meaning of Eleanor is “light.”
I could almost end this right here and now, because for those who knew Eleanor Beal, the above says it all.
Eleanor was a bright, beaming light in my life in a time when I needed it. She was my go-to source for a tight hug, a brilliant smile, lilting laughter, a joke, a lunch date, an adventure, advice and sometimes even a little fun trouble.
I left Jennings 20 years ago, but I never let Eleanor go. You know when you find a friend that is a keeper; and folks I can assure you, Eleanor was a keeper.
There are many who knew her longer, better or talked to her more often. However, she made such an impression on me in those early years in Jennings, making my way first as a reporter and then editor of the Jennings Daily News.
I bet we all have Eleanor stories, but here are some of mine:
One of the first things I was assigned to do when I moved to Jennings in 1990 was head to the Jennings Police Department and meet Chief Carroll Morgan. Eleanor was working in the dispatch office in those days and was the wall you had to get through to make your way through the secured door.
I introduced myself to her. She turned her head to the side, looked me up and down and said, “Awwww, you are the pretty new reporter I have heard about.” I loved her immediately.
Our friendship slowly grew and in time she was a regular lunch date. Sometimes I would surprise her with flowers delivered to her office. She would call me cackling.
“Cher, these flowers have everyone talking. They think I have a new boyfriend. I took the card off and hid it, so now everyone has come to the conclusion it must be some married man. I love it.”
And that was Eleanor. Sweet-looking cherub on the outside, a little bit of devil on the inside.
One evening our paths crossed at the grocery store, and I talked her into coming back to the house to have a beverage. We sat on my front porch when I lived on Division, and took in the smells and sounds of a sultry, summer evening.
“Sarah, if I were 20 years younger, you and I could get in a lot of trouble, you know it?” she told me.
“Ah, heck, Eleanor, we can get into some trouble now, yeah,” I told her. And we did. We took every bit of toilet paper I could find in my house and made our way around to certain city official’s houses and began rolling them. Eleanor had one of those handy dandy police radios and could hear if we were being pursued. The call finally came over that someone was rolling houses and we ended up hiding behind a city councilman’s house until we had the all clear.
We sat in the dark laughing until we cried. And that was Eleanor.
One day at work Eleanor called me crying so hard I could barely understand her. I rushed over to the station and she told me that a worker at the pound had been caught killing puppies and kittens in a very cruel way. With her help getting information that other officials were trying very hard to hide, there was a good ending to the story I was able to write. The bad guy got in trouble, a lot of pets were adopted, and things at the shelter made a big turnaround after that.
Perhaps that is the incident that sealed the deal between me and Eleanor. Her love of animals is legendary. She had found someone who felt the same way and we were a force to be reckoned with.
Right was right and wrong was wrong with Eleanor. But most importantly, life was to be lived. She would tell me, “Anyone can die, Sarah. You have to have courage to live.”
Eleanor lived, believe me. She brought life to any room, laughter to any soul. She was fearless when it came to enjoying life.
On a visit back in town one time, she gathered up me and my friends and scooted us off to Mamou.
“This is the real Mardi Gras, Sarah,” she said. And she was right. We spent the day there having a ball.
At some point I became separated from our group and wandered around trying to find a familiar face. There was this huge group of burly, scary looking bikers in a circle, laughing and carrying on. I got a glimpse of Eleanor in the big middle of them and for a second I thought I was going to have to make a rescue. But as I creeped closer I realized she knew all of them, and they were hugging and carrying on.
That was Eleanor.
One night she took us to D.I.’s to eat and warned us that during Mardi Gras time a group was going to come in, dressed in odd costumes, beating each other with whips. She had to explain the reason of this to me, which all of you understand already. When the crew arrived, Eleanor jumped up and started dancing around the restaurant with them.
That was Eleanor.
When I was dating my husband, Dr. Mel Stephens, and it was pretty evident we were going to get married, I took him to meet Eleanor.
She looked him up and down, fanned herself, and said, “Ooooh, Sarah, you finally found a pretty one.” Then she launched herself into his arms and hugged him tightly. Later on when I was telling her about my wedding plans and making sure she was coming, she said, “I am not only coming, I plan on tripping you on the way down the aisle and taking your place!” That was Eleanor.
But she was so much more. She loved her family ferociously and spoke of them often. She loved her community. She was a faithful friend, even if it wasn’t popular at the time. She had heartache in her life, but she shielded it well. She was light and life and laughter and faithfulness wrapped up into a feisty ball of wonderful. Yes, that was Eleanor. And I loved her.
“So I say good bye to you
And all that I knew
Raise your glass in cheer
And death do not fear “
From the poem “Ode to a Friend” by Robert “Cajun” Landreneau.
Sarah Stephens is a former editor of the Jennings Daily News. Today she lives in Deatsville, Alabama with her husband, Dr. Mel Stephens, and 18-year-old son Charlie Stephens. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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