When she drove down the highway, the town of Keene gave her whichever lane she wanted.
April 26, 2013
Keene, TX, isn’t today – nor was it ever – Mayberry, RFD. With a few decades peeled back, however, history suggests there were some parallels. Keene “town characters” also wound up in unlikely “fixes” of their own making.
I’m talking about the kind Andy and Barney faced in weekly TV episodes where the duo usually showed up as “eventual responders.”
Earlier arrival might have made a good plot bad. Arriving late–as they often did—allowed them to tie ribbons on cases that had already solved themselves.
One such Keene figure who invested most of her adult life teaching English at KHS was
Lilah Beth Hopps Creel. If local citizenry could vote on sainthood, she’d win on the first ballot.
She was beloved, an institution unto herself. Widowed at midlife and with no children of her own, she claimed students as hers, too. Her name, even today, is mentioned in hushed tones that drip in reverence.
All this being true, the fact remains that she operated a motor vehicle several years past her prime. Everyone in town recognized her car, and in her twilight years, let her have whichever lane she chose, even on two-lane roads.
Perhaps the best remembered “Lilah Beth” story involved her, a visitor at the nursing home and the Keene Police Department, circa 1990. That day, a “stolen car” and a “found car” puzzle was solved in warp speed.
“I parked there first,” Lilah Beth might have maintained. When she returned to her “honker” of a car – a maroon, 1984 Buick Park Avenue – it was hemmed in by other visitors’ vehicles, one of which was a Toyota.
It is important to mention that the much smaller vehicle was parked behind Lilah Beth’s Buick behemoth.
Always unflappable, the diminutive school marm maneuvered forward and back repeatedly, finally lurching forward for the quarter-mile trip home.
She puttered down Old Betsy Road, taking a right turn onto Fourth Street to her home.
What she didn’t realize is that during one of her back-ups, her rear bumper engaged with the Toyota’s front bumper.
Dennis Laursen, who operated a garage/service station at Old Betsy and Fourth for four decades, dropped a tool when he watched Lilah Beth – Toyota in tow – make the turn.
He wasn’t sure she was the driver – no one ever was, since she was only five feet tall and peered out through the steering wheel.
To complete her homeward trip, she crossed a dip in front of her property. The bumpers disengaged, and the Toyota somehow rolled to a stop in the driveway before the Buick came alongside.
When she spotted the Toyota, Lilah Beth assumed she had a visitor. She “helloed” the place and got no response. So, she called the police about the extra car in her driveway.
A few minutes earlier, the owner of the Toyota had contacted the police to report a stolen car.
Things were righted in a few minutes; no charges were filed.
A few years earlier, when narrow-laned “Old Betsy” was being widened, a young flagman alerted
motorists of caliche being dumped. Alas, Mrs. Creel didn’t see the flagman. She forged on, almost hitting him as she brushed by.
Seconds later, she drove up, over and down one of the caliche piles. Soon, the foreman was giving the young flagman “what for.” The boss wasn’t buying the youngster’s claim that someone had ignored the warning, taken on a pile of caliche and driven on.
A few minutes later, Lilah Beth came back down “Old Betsy.” The boss saw enough caliche dripping from the car’s grill to fill pavement holes in the road of the Johnson County community.
Old-timers with memories run back to the ’50s confirm these accounts.
More important, though, were the many ways she instructed and befriended students, and made her hometown proud. She is remembered for unwavering commitment to teaching, hoping, caring, giving, nurturing and praying.
And if there’s ever a ballot for sainthood in Keene, look for her name at or near the top. She was an institution, this grand educator who logged some 90 years of living–driving (herding?) cars most of the way. (I wouldn’t have had the courage to take the car keys from her, either.)
Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 817-447-3872. Twitter: @donnewbury. Web site: