By Dalton Bahl
Hunger. It was the reason for all of the illegal things Beatrice Heminson had to do. Beatrice grew up in a rural city (at the time) called Hampton in Virginia. She lived with her 4 younger siblings, Cathrine, Suzanne, Daniel, Michael and mother, Diane. Her mother was forced to take on the role of being the sole care-giver of her 4 children after her husband (Beatrice’s dad) died from pneumonia when Beatrice was around 8 years old. Diane worked as a waitress at a local restaurant in town, and she was always doing miscellaneous side jobs to try to bring in extra money for the family. Diane would bring home thrown out food or just any leftover scraps she could find to try to help feed her 5 children. “Food was always scarce, when momma came home. I made sure my brothers and sisters ate before I did”.
“Prohibition in the United States was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages from 1920 to 1933”(Wiki, 1). When Beatrice turned 13, her mother decided she was old enough to be shown what her “miscellaneous” jobs actually entailed. The 5 kids were never to play/go into the shed in the backyard, or go anywhere near the basement. Diane led Beatrice down the crooked and narrow steps to the basement, where Beatrice was in “complete and utter disbelief”. She said there were tubes, levers, and barrels all over. There was hissing coming from the tubes and smoke coming from the barrels. Beatrice said her mom explained to her that “Dad created all of this, and that she must continue his legacy”. Beatrice was shown how her parents illegally made alcohol in their basement to sell to nearby neighbors and businesses. Diane explained to her the importance of making and selling this alcohol because it helped provide for the family and helped put food on the table. Diane took Beatrice to the shed in their backyard that was always “off-limits” and the children were never to go inside this shed. After Diane opened up the shed doors, Beatrice said the inside of the shed smelled of burnt cigarettes and fresh dirt. There were steps in the shed that lead down a dark, empty tunnel into the ground. Diane showed Beatrice the path she would take to deliver the illegal alcohol that lead to 5 nearby neighboring houses. Diane then explained the importance of not getting caught and asked Beatrice if she could handle this big responsibility, and she responded with “yes I can momma”. Beatrice was scared, but she knew the family depended on her. Beatrice began making the weekly “runs” and fulfilling her promise to her mom. She went to each neighbor weekly and delivered them the booze while she ran the money back to her mom. But, on one trip to her furthest destination the “Williams” house, she made the biggest mistake a bootlegger could make, spilling the alcohol. She was walking through the tunnels leading from her shed to the Williams residence, when she didn’t notice a rock sticking out from the dirt and tripped and fell. The booze spilled, her hands bleeding from landing on the broken glass jars, she ran home crying and thinking of how much trouble she was going to be in. When she arrived home in blood, sweat, and tears, she told her mom what had happened and her mother was irate. Her mother told her the severity of the situation and made sure she knew what the family had just lost. Days past and it’s time for Beatrice’s weekly runs again. Beatrice was extremely nervous because of what had happened last time. Diane walked in the living room where Beatrice was sitting and whispered to her “for the family”. Beatrice just kept repeating those 3 simple words over and over every trip she made from there on out.
The Heminson family had never seen so much money before their eyes. Diane walked into the living room where all 5 kids were playing and she asked them, “who wants to go eat at the diner in town?”. Beatrice couldn’t believe what she had just heard. Beatrice and her siblings were lucky enough if they could scavenge enough food amongst the 5 of them and now their mom was asking if they wanted to spend money on guaranteed food. The kids undoubtedly said yes and to the diner they went. They arrive at the diner, tired from the walk, but bouncing with joy as this was the first time any of the kids had ever seen any kind of restaurant. “I walked into Sherley’s Diner and the smell of sweet apple pie hit my nose so strong that at that moment, I realized how hard momma worked for us.”
The prohibition era in America made people, including Beatrice, do things no matter what the consequences were. Beatrice was forced to do illegal acts to stay alive and provide for her family. She had to do whatever it took to help her mom bring in money to put food on the table for 5 siblings and herself. Hunger and poverty made people do things that would have never contemplated before this era.
Le Roy, Barbara. Personal Interview. 22 Oct. 2019.
Heminson, Beatrice. (Diary). 25 Oct. 2019.
Wikipedia contributors. “Prohibition in the United States.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 7 Nov. 2019. Web.