Grandma Bessie

On February 26, 1903 in Green Turtle Cay, Pa Wes Curry and Ma Lilla (Carleton) welcomed a baby girl, my paternal grandmother, Bessie Caroline Curry.  Three older sisters – Dora, Edith and Emma -and an older brother Herman completed this Abaconian family.  A month prior to Bessie’s birth, her oldest sibling Eudora ‘Dora’ Isabel (1894-1959) married William Branwell Roberts.

Bahamian Curry roots are speculated to trace back to loyalists of the British Crown.  During the American Revolutionary War, many sought refuge in the colony of the Bahamas.  Curry descendants were known for striking physical features, including jet black hair and a rich complexion.

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Grandma Bessie – seated far right

At the age of ten, Bessie lost her mother to a kidney infection.  Pa Wes welcomed help from the older siblings and a close-knit island community.  In March 1924, Bessie, who had just turned twenty-one, married seaman Howard Lowe.  He was the youngest son of John Aquilla Lowe and Minnie Curry.  Howard worked as first mate aboard the Abaco mail boat Priscilla.  In June 1925, Bessie gave birth to my Dad – John Wesley Lowe.

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Howard Lowe – passport photo circa 1919

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Bessie faced another deep loss three years into her marriage.  Her husband Howard sustained an injury on the mailboat. The infection dealt a fatal blow.  A young widow grieved.  During these uncertain times, Bessie fastened to her faith in God.

Her late husband, Howard, served as the first clerk for the Green Turtle Cay Church of God assembly.  Their cottage stood next to the church building.  Howard’s father, John Aquilla Lowe, first pastored this oldest Church of God assembly outside the United States.

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On the far left is the home of Howard and Bessie Lowe with the GTC Church of God next door.

Dad John penned in his journal…

Mother was a dear Christian lady.  She kept the church building clean.  It was convenient for her since it joined our property.  She also tended to the kerosene lamps.  She made sure they were filled with oil and prepared for the church services.

Soon after Howard’s death, Pa Wes moved into the waterfront cottage to help his widowed daughter raise her son.  He slept in the upstairs bedroom with a dormer window to provide cool evening breezes and a view of the harbour.

Around 1940, Pa Wes’ health started to decline.  He needed advanced medical attention.  Bessie sold the family cottage that her husband Howard built.  With her fifteen-year-old son John and ailing father, she headed to the island capital Nassau.  Here teenager John sought employment to support his mother.

Pa Wes passed away within the year.  During this period, Bessie met a Green Turtle Cay carpenter and widower, Ashbourne Lowe.  His artisan talent and reputation secured jobs in Nassau.  Ashbourne lost his wife Irene, who was a daughter of Jeremiah Gates and Jessie Isabel Lowe.

In February 1942, Bessie and Ashbourne tied the knot at the Epworth House in Nassau.  The newlyweds returned to their Green Turtle Cay roots.  Dad remained in Nassau with step-grandmother, Mildred Pearce Lowe.  He saved his earnings to purchase a parcel of land in the nearby Shirlea subdivision where Grandpa Ashbourne built a modest home.

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Shirlea home built by Grandpa Ashbourne Lowe.  Doreen Lowe (wife of John) standing on the porch.  Grandma Bessie sitting in the rocking chair (c. 1950)

On Green Turtle Cay, Ashbourne built a home for his new bride near the water’s edge.  In 1944, the couple were blessed with their only child, Janet.

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Grandma Bessie holding Janet
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My sister, Paula, in front of Ashbourne and Bessie’s home – currently known as Sunset Cottage (May 2002).

Green Turtle Cay native Estella Curry Lowe recalls…

I remember visiting Bessie’s home when I would play with Janet. We swam off the nearby beach.  I remember Ms. Bessie as a quiet, reserved woman.  She was always cleaning the house or the surrounding areas – a very tidy lady.  She and her husband Mr. Ashbourne were loved by everyone on the Cay.

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Dad, Grandma Bessie and Janet (c. 1944).

My sister, Paula Lowe Higgs Jackson, notes…

Grandma Bessie had a special, godly influence on me.  She lived most of her life on Green Turtle Cay, Abaco.  Grandma did not have all the conveniences that we enjoyed in the city of Nassau.  

After a brief illness at age 64, she went to Heaven in July 1967.  I graduated from high school the prior month and was heartbroken by her sudden death.  She and Grandpa Ashbourne had just moved to Nassau the year prior to her death.  I was excited to build our relationship now that she was nearby – hard to do while living on another island.

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L to R – Janet, Paula, Grandma Bessie and Grandpa Ashbourne (c. 1956).

As a child, I visited her twice on Green Turtle Cay.  My first visit was by sea plane.  The second time was during the summer of 1962.  I will always remember that special trip…

On a Saturday evening in July 1962, my parents, brother and I boarded Captain Sherwin Archer’s boat, Almeta Queen, in Nassau.  We rocked across the shipping lanes of New Providence channel at night, headed to see Grandma Bessie.  As a ten-year-old, I was excited for this summer vacation with a surprise.  Grandma had no idea we were coming!

Other family onboard included cousins Buddy Lowe, Berlin Key and Craig Roberts.  Buddy and Berlin transported two small motor boats on the deck of the Almeta Queen.  These boats were lowered into the water off the Abaco mainland to continue the final league towards New Plymouth, Green Turtle Cay.

I peered out of the porthole in our tiny cabin that night. Mother was anxious as a cargo shift leaned the ship heavily to one side.  She also noted sharks in the water as we disembarked from the dock.   During the overnight ocean passage, Mom was comforted to know that her cousins had brought their personal boats onboard to enjoy during this summer getaway.  

Early the next morning, the crew lowered these boats into the Abaco channel before the Almeta Queen docked.  Craig and Berlin took charge of one boat while Buddy and our family handled the other.  On an early Sunday morning, we headed to Green Turtle Cay shores.  Cool, morning breezes blew on our faces.  

As we neared the shoreline of the New Plymouth, we spotted Grandma on the shoreline rocks.  Here she emptied her pot of fish bones back into the ocean.  Boiled fish and grits was her traditional Sunday morning breakfast.

Grandma’s wooden house was near the ocean.  I loved to climb the stairs to their upstairs and sift through the treasures.  I slept in Aunt Janet’s downstairs bedroom that faced the street.

I was amazed at the narrow streets in this small settlement.  We walked around carefree on the island.  Few cars and trucks were there.  Life was simple yet beautiful.  A rainwater tank collected our drinking water.  The taste was less than desirable.

Rainwater was also used for baths in the upstairs galvanized tub.  Grandma carefully toted kettles of boiling water from the kitchen.  Downstairs was equipped with a porcelain pitcher and basin to wash your hands.  No indoor toilets existed.  Grandpa was in the middle of his latest home improvement project to convert a downstairs bedroom into a bathroom.  For now, we had two options – a pail or the outhouse.  Watch out for the spiders! 

The kitchen’s sink had a bucket underneath to catch the dirty dishwater.  All major cooking and baking occurred in a detached building.  This layout was typical during this era for safety and cooling reasons.

In the yard, I was intrigued with her chicken coops and egg-laying hens. Curly tail lizards ran around every corner and under the house!  Near the rainwater tank I noticed another galvanized tub with a scrub board – Grandma’s washing machine.  The summer sun and cool breezes dried laundry pinned on clothes lines propped up by wooden poles.

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L to R – Paul (my brother),  Grandma Bessie, Paula – Green Turtle Cay (July 1962).

Grandma served cornflakes with evaporated milk and water for breakfast.  Sugar cubes provided flavor.  The island’s small convenience stores sold primarily staples.  Sugar, flour, butter, and cheese, were weighed on scales and sold by the pound.  I fondly remember a visit to Ms. Eva Saunders in a convenience store on Parliament Street.   I also enjoyed a snow cone from Chester Lowe’s store.

During this summer trip, my younger brother and my cousin Craig Roberts celebrated their birthdays.  Cousin Pearl Lowe made a special a homemade jam layered cake to celebrate.  Some of the men of the island gathered whelks along the shoreline.   One day we went out in Grandpa’s dingy and watched him use his grains to strike a turtle for sustenance. 

Grandma usually wore a hair net. When she went to church, she sported a brim hat.  She did not own a swimsuit.  One day as we searched for shells and swam in the clear turquoise waters, Grandma joined us for a swim in her dress. 

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Grandma Bessie and Grandpa Ashbourne with Janet (c. 1956).

In the years that followed, Grandma and Grandpa would visit Nassau for weeks during the summers or Christmas time.  They would stay with my Dad and Mom.

My sister speaks of one particular visit…

When I was six years old, Dad had purchased his first black and white television in a console cabinet. Grandma loved to watch the Art Linkletter show.  At bedtime, she would read to my brother and me from our big Bible Story book. 

Grandma shipped boxes of fruit from Green Turtle Cay to Dad on the mailboat.  A special surprise of cocoa plum preserves was always a treat.  Grandma sent a handmade headband to my sister as a reward for good school grades.

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Grandma Bessie, Paula, Janet (c. 1958).

Grandma Bessie was a skilled baker.  A Green Turtle Cay cousin loved her tasty raisin pies.  Another remembers her zesty lemon pies and guava jam layer cakes with icing.  Bessie and her sister-in-law Mira Lowe Roberts baked cakes and pies and sold them by the slice.  Everyone loved the aroma of her homemade bread.

Grandma Bessie’s daughter, Janet, noted her mother’s cleaning…

Momma scrubbed the floor down on her knees using dried turbot skins and a bucket of water.  We toted pails of white sand from the beach to give the yard a fresh, clean look.

Grandma’s dresses were handmade – a talented seamstress.  Dad recounted Grandma sewed his boyhood shirts from flour sacks.   She loved to craft quilts from fabric scraps.  Quilting was a favorite pastime of the ladies on Green Turtle Cay.  Grandma crafted shell sea treasures into beautiful necklaces to sell to island visitors.

Around 1965, Grandma and Grandpa moved to Nassau permanently.  Daughter Janet secured a job with Johnson Brothers on Bay Street.  The three Abaconians rented an upstairs dwelling in Nassau’s Sears Addition.

In May 1965, Grandma headed to Miami for surgery.  She battled thyroid issues.  Family friend and minister, Earle Weech joined the family and provided transportation and comfort.  While Grandma was in the hospital, Pastor Weech coordinated excursions to Miami’s Sea Aquarium and Crandon Park Zoo.

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L to R – Paula, Janet, Grandma Bessie, Grandpa Ashbourne, Paul (May 1965).
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L to R – Paul, Mom, Jonathan in (stroller), Paula, Earle Weech, Janet, Grandpa Ashbourne – Crandon Park Zoo (1965).

Two years later, Bessie and Ashbourne travelled to Titusville, Florida to visit with Ruth Pinder Tedder.  Ruth is Bessie’s niece, her sister Emmie’s daughter.  On the return boat trip to Nassau, someone noted that Bessie’s eyes looked yellow.  She was soon admitted to the Rassin Hospital under the reputable care of Dr. Meyer Rassin, former Surgeon General for the Royal Air Force.  After a few weeks of local hospitalization, Dr. Rassin recommended advanced treatment in Miami, Florida.

While on the operating table in Miami, the doctors determined a terminal diagnosis.  Her life expectancy was a short month.  She returned to Nassau where they had relocated to a Centerville home owned by nephew Anthony Roberts.  Grandma Bessie passed away a few days later on July 27, 1967 at the age of 64.

Cousin Iva Lowe Scholtka recalls…

At the Cay, they lived next door to us.  I would help Bessie clean the lamps on the wall at the church.  She always had a smile on her face.  She kept her house clean enough to eat off the floor.

In Nassau, I went to see her in the hospital.  She had cancer of the liver.  Her skin was as yellow as a pumpkin.  I will never forget that.  She took my hand and said “I’m going” and then she requested, “Please be a friend to my Janet.”

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Grandma Bessie and Grandpa Ashbourne (circa 1966).

Grandma passed away two years before I was born.  Despite the trials that she faced throughout her life, her resilience, generosity and love witnessed by those who knew her pointed to her faith in God.   

5 thoughts on “Grandma Bessie

  1. A fitting tribute to your Grandmother Bessie. Thank you for the introduction to another special Green Turtle Cay lady. I have had the privilege to meet her two children and some of her grandchildren whose lives speak to her honor.

  2. On this Leap Year day, 2016, I study your photos in this article. With the help of Iris Lowe Powers, I know the location of the July 1962 photo of Paul, grandma Bessie, Paula—on the narrow road outside grandma Bessie’s house on their right. Now named ‘Sunset Cottage’, I believe the street wears the name tag ‘Key West’ today. The house behind them in the photo was razed and a new house built by Ruby Lowe and Johnny Pinder for their retirement. This house belongs to Gloria Sawyer & David Chiodo today. Appropriately named ‘On the Rocks’, its perch above the lapping sea is unique. I’ve enjoyed renting ‘On the Rocks’, so close to the sea. The steps on the right of the photo lead to the house that Bessie’s older sister, Edie Curry and Robbie Saunders and family owned. This house has been restored by owners Brian & Caroline Woodson Sawyer, proprietors of ‘Sundowners Tavern’. We see the Abaco mainland in the background. Sunset Cottage now belongs to Nassau residents, Jim and Margaret French.

    A comment on the photo of the narrow stairway to the upstairs open room that the new owner allowed you to climb. In 1949, my parents rented this house beside the Church of God for a two-week GTC visit. Dad’s cousin, Meredith Sawyer & Beulah Saunders, owned it at that time—they had moved to Nassau for employment. My younger sister and I climbed those stairs and looked out of the dormer window at the creek. No window screens. Open, the planned windows brought sea breeze ventilation—silence with salt air. Still my preference to invite, rather than a/c noise to restrict and shut out… This may have been my first Abaco visit. Many times drawn back since then.

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