HOLLY SPRINGS — Mary Frances Beck’s sister had been dead to her for decades until just recently.
Beck thought Cassie Lehr had died. In 1978, she was told her foster sister had died in a car accident, but on Saturday Beck and Lehr met for the first time in 56 years.
Beck’s youngest sister, Nancy Pruitt, explained that she and her sister came from a family of eight children. At an early age, all of the children went to live with their grandmother. However, they spread apart from there. The children all went in different directions, living with different relatives who took them in.
Aunt Mamie’s was where Beck ended up. The 69-year-old woman said it was there that she became the foster sister of one of Aunt Mamie’s older nieces, Lehr.
“I think she was just too cute,” said Lehr of Aunt Mamie’s reasoning behind taking Beck in.
Life wasn’t easy at Aunt Mamie’s, however. The two women recalled a rough life under the aunt’s watch. The older Lehr, who is now 75, became a mother figure in the life of Beck and another foster sister.
Lehr said that after she graduated as valedictorian of her high school, she got a nursing scholarship. She travelled home from school often at first, but Aunt Mamie grew concerned that Lehr and the younger two children were talking about her and forced Lehr to avoid contact with the two younger girls while visiting.
At the age of 19, Lehr said she took her last trip back to Aunt Mamie’s.
“If I couldn’t see my sisters, why would I go home?” questioned Lehr.
Lehr faded away into her own life as a mother and a nurse, eventually settling in the Pinehurst area. Eventually, Beck grew up and married as well.
The last news Beck heard of Lehr came from her adopted mother, as she lay on her death bed.
“I asked if she wanted to see the other girls,” recalled Beck. “She told me Cassie (Lehr) had died in a car accident.”
That was in 1978. Both women continued to live their lives, but recently Lehr decided she wanted to get back in touch with some of her family.
“I had a bug,” said Lehr, explaining that reading a book forced her to think about her life at Aunt Mamie’s. “I needed to see her.”
When she reached out to another family member, Elsie Rushing, she inquired about the little “freckle-faced” girl she helped to raise at Aunt Mamie’s. When Rushing reached out to Beck, she delivered more news than that for which she had bargained.
It was Rushing’s news of Lehr’s wishes to meet Beck that informed Beck her sister was actually still alive and quite well.
“For the past week I’ve been joking about life as a ghost,” said Lehr. “I was washing dishes and said, ‘A ghost shouldn’t have to do all of this.’”
The ghost, however, shed real tears as she was reunited with Beck.
Pruitt said separation isn’t anything new for the members of her family. She and Beck had been separated for 19 years before they reunited.
The happy ending could only be the result of the work of a higher power, said Pruitt.
“This was God’s doing — putting us all together like this,” explained Pruitt, a sentiment to which Lehr agreed.
While life was tough at Aunt Mamie’s, and the girls were terribly mistreated, Lehr said it was at that home that she and her sisters learned their faith.
Lehr said she’s leaned on her faith throughout her life — through the loss of a husband in Vietnam, a divorce and all of life’s other challenges. Just as He led her through those times, He has led her back into the arms of her sister.
“One thing I’m thankful for is that my faith started there,” added Lehr.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.