Little Beauty was a tiny baby born in rural South Carolina — a tiny little baby with tiny little hands. But her grandfather knew she would do something special with them one day.
Beauty was told that when she was born, she was so tiny and had very small hands. Her grandfather said, “those little hands will cook someday.” She shared that her grandfather always called her when he was finished eating, so that she could eat his leftovers. In those days, the chance to eat leftovers was a good thing because it suggested that a person was receiving special attention.
Nearly 100 years later, Beauty Richardson has fixed thousands of meals. She has been the family cook, a caretaker, a matriarch, spiritual beacon and community mother. She has carried out the official roles of dutiful daughter, sibling, wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
In a few weeks, she’ll take on a new title: centenarian. And her family is planning a COVID 19-friendly 100th birthday celebration to honor her 100th birthday on Oct. 10.
Beauty will sit on the porch 1-3 p.m., at 358 Joyous Way in Moncks Corner. Family members are asking guests to remain in their cars while they convey their birthday greetings‚ and not come onto the porch to deliver their congratulations.
People in her community marvel at her excellent health. With no medications, a sharp mind and an able body, Beauty said she “gets around just fine.” And many still heap on the praise over her home-cooked biscuits, which she still prepares routinely.
“You better be glad I remember all this stuff,” she said with a laugh recently, as she sat down to reflect on her life.
Beauty Isabella Manigault Richardson, known to most as Ms. Beauty was born in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, a small community in Berkeley County on Oct. 10. Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States, “talkies” hadn’t come to movie theaters and penicillin was nearly a decade away.
Her mother was in charge of “seeking” at their spiritual home and the home of her school, Anderson Baptist Church.
“Seeking” is an African-American tradition in which a spiritual leader is responsible for leading souls to Jesus Christ. Her father was the head choir singer, charged with lining hymns for the congregation, as he was one of the few worshippers who could read at the time.
She remembers so much about those early years — even the details of a school play she appeared in when she was in elementary school.
“The play was about a little bird singing, and I was the bird singing,” she said, as she began reciting the words to the song:
“Where are you going little bird?
“I am going to my nest.
“What are you doing little bird?
“I lay four little eggs and I have four little birds,”
And she hasn’t forgotten a poem she recited at Anderson Baptist:
“Great wide, wonderful, beautiful world. The wonderful wind is shaking the trees, the wonderful bird is singing, and the wonderful grass is upon your dress — world you are beautifully dressed.”
As a child, Beauty lived in a world that valued a girl who could cook and clean.
She was 9 years old when her parents set her on a herring fish box so she could make corn grits over a big, black wood stove. After her mother taught her to make biscuits, she would stand on the box and watch them, making sure they didn’t burn. Beauty was so proud on the day she overheard her parents discussing her new-found culinary skills.
“Johnny, Beauty fixed my breakfast,” her mother told her father when he came home.
By the time she was 13, she had taken over most of the homemaking duties for the family. The oldest of 12 children, she left school after sixth grade. Her mother was still having children and Beauty was responsible for caring for her younger siblings.
“In those days, women would stay in the bed for nine days when they had children and all the windows had to be closed so that no light could come into the room,” she said. “Only a lamp was used, and the baby remained in the room with the mother so that the mother could breastfeed the baby.”
As it was for many families during that time, her family farmed as the primary resource to feed the family and provide an income. She would get up first — after the house was warm from the fire her father built first thing in the morning — and make breakfast for everyone each morning.
Once she cleaned up the kitchen, Beauty would join her siblings in the field for the day. The children were the family workforce.
At age 14, Beauty was allowed to attend the “night parties,” where people played washboard tubs, harmonicas and guitars.
“Boy, that music sounded good,” Beauty shared, smiling.
Five years later, she married Lewis Richardson, to whom she was married for 59 years. But she continued to care for her parents as they aged. Her father died in her arms in 1980, when he was 84. After he passed, she came out of the room to tell her mother that he was gone.
“You have to be my mother now, because I don’t have a mother,” Beauty said, explaining that her mother meant she would have to be strong enough for both of them.
Beauty said she stayed in the house with her mother until her siblings arrived, and she stayed strong and didn’t cry. She remembered the traditional repass held right after, and all the food people from the community brought to her mother in the following weeks.
Beauty helped care for her mother for many years after her father died, and her mother died at age 99.
Like all centenarians, Beauty has outlived many of the people she loves. Her husband died in 1998 — and she lost her daughter Florence just 10 days later. Her son Archie died in 2009, leaving behind Beauty, her older daughter Janie Louise and her youngest son Richard.
As she turns 100, Beauty is still a mother and a grandmother — she and her husband raised two of her grandchildren so their daughter would have an opportunity to further her education for a better life. Janie Louise obtained her undergraduate and graduate degree and has been Beauty’s primary caregiver for over 20 years. Beauty is also a great-grandmother and a great-great-grandmother. She’s considered the mother of her community, and loved by all.