Bena Mae Seivers, my sister, wrote her final column for this newspaper last week. It was also her shortest column because she had to hurry to finish the last of a three-part series of stories before being taken to the hospital. There, last Thursday, July 14, she passed away due to complications from leukemia. She was 89 years of age and had written the column for this newspaper for 25 years.
She and I had talked about and were planning a big twenty-fifth year celebration of her column “Simple Pleasures” in August. It was in that month in 1991 when she contacted me and said we needed a column devoted to women readers. I agreed and she volunteered to write it but with one stipulation, that is, she did not want her name to be attached to it because she wasn’t sure our readers would like it. After three months, and many inquiries about who was writing the column, I told her our readers loved it and I wanted to give her credit for it. She agreed. For that matter she and I agreed on any subject whether it was politics, religion, TV shows, music, or you name it, we had similar opinions.
Bena Mae said, “I never thought of myself as a writer. But after reading the book “If you can Talk, You can Write,” the former at which I was quite adept, I plunged into writing a weekly newspaper column, never considering it more than a chat with a friendly neighbor. To my surprise…and delight, I found that readers of the column felt the same way. Thus began a beautiful friendship that has been most rewarding.”
The letters and phone calls came pouring in and we knew we had a popular columnist. So popular in fact that in 1995 we published a book, at the urging of many readers, that included many of her favorite stories and recipes. The 4,000 copies of the book went quickly. Even today we still get calls for the book. I’ve seen copies of it for sale on the Internet for as much as $65.00.
Bena Mae had a beautiful writing style. She may have developed it from her reading habits. She was an avid reader, whether it was books or newspapers, she was constantly reading. Hundreds of times I was told how much our readers liked my sister’s column. She regularly received letters from our local subscribers, as well as those in places like Florida, California, Ohio and others.
She loved to write the column. She often told me how much it helped her to cope with the nine years she suffered with leukemia. At times she was so ill she could barely get out of bed, but wanting to write the column gave her the will to do so.
I’m not one to talk very long on the telephone, but our weekly conversations would often last an hour or more. I would never know if she felt bad or not because she was so cheerful. It was uplifting to hear her voice. She and I loved to talk about grandchildren. She especially loved her grandson Sam.
When I was a young boy, before she married, I loved Bena Mae so much because she would bring home cases of those little six ounce bottles of Grapette from the plant in south Corbin where she worked. I couldn’t get enough of that little drink.
As a teenager I looked forward to the many weekends when she and her husband Raymond made the trip, first from Oak Ridge and later from Clinton, to visit our mother and father in Corbin. We would have big family get togethers.
My wife Judy and I went on our first vacation in Florida with her and Raymond. We also teamed on other vacations and would visit them often.
Bena Mae was a great cook and decorator. Our readers would regularly call and ask to speak with Bena Mae to ask about a recipe she had written in her column. Her decorative skills won her a trip to England on the QE-2 Cruise Ship in Country Living magazine. The pictures of her house the magazine featured were published in several editions of the magazine.
A couple of weeks ago Bena Mae called me to tell me how much I had meant to her and how much joy her column had brought into her life. She knew the battle she was fighting with leukemia was about to take its toll. I expressed to her how much she meant to me and how much our readers had enjoyed her column.
Our readers however will still get to enjoy her writings because Trent Knuckles and I have talked about going back through the files and publishing some of her earlier columns.
Visitation is scheduled this Wednesday at the Holley-Gamble Funeral Home in Clinton from 5 to 7p.m.