The myriad miracles of Carles Beckett
For The Madera Tribune
It was four in the morning, July 17, 1954, when the woman crumpled to the floor. Her sobbing woke her four children. In an instant they joined her, brokenhearted and weeping uncontrollably.
The policeman standing over them watched helplessly. He had just told the Beckett family that their father and husband would not be coming home. He had been killed earlier that day in an automobile crash.
The grieving, young mother was no stranger to the difficult realities of life. She was born to a single mother who gave her up when she was 10-years-old. She never knew her father who went to prison when she was a child.
Violet Mae Dunn went to live with distant relatives, the Nash family, in 1938. By that time, she had been able to finish the third grade. That would be the end of her formal education. The Nash family had several small children, and Violet became a surrogate mother to them.
Then she met Jesse Carles Beckett, better known as J.C. They were both just 16-years-old when they got married. The next year, in 1945, Jesse and Violet became parents when their first child, a son, was born. She named him Junior Carles Beckett. He would not always carry that name; later it was changed to just Carles. He was followed by two sisters, Virginia and Kay, in quick succession. All three were born at home.
In time, Jesse decided to leave the cotton fields of Arkansas for those of Arizona. He moved first, and the children and their mother followed on a bus a short time later.
At first, they lived in a tent, which as part of a cotton camp had no bathroom. They shared an outside toilet.
Later, the Becketts were able to move into a house trailer. Just when it appeared their lives might be on the way to improvement, on Christmas Day in 1951, their home caught fire and burned all their belongings. A year later, Alice, the fourth Beckett child was born.
Always on the lookout to improve life for his family, Jesse landed a job in a service station in Petaluma. He sent for Violet and the children who once again boarded a bus to join him. Their new home was a chicken coup, and their neighbors on both sides were chickens.
With the move to Petaluma, Violet continued to raise her children in the church. They saw her faith first-hand, and there she taught them the first of three lessons that would be pivotal in their lives: the significance of Jesus Christ. At that point, young Carles, fell in love with the Holy Scriptures. He began to memorize whole chapters of the Bible. Hebrews 13:8 became one of his favorites: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Soon a large part of his life centered around Christ and the Bible.
Then came that fateful night in 1954 when in a heartbeat, Carles became the man of the house. Three months later, their distant cousins, King and Craig Nash convinced Violet to move to Madera.
They went to Petaluma with a truck and a car, loaded up all of the Beckett’s belongings, and brought them to Madera. Carles, who would one day become a revered educator with Madera Unified, rode to his new home in the back of the truck, all alone.
The Becketts moved into a house at 514 Vineyard Street, and it was there that Violet used their surroundings to teach her children the second life lesson she had for them: never allow skin color to affect how you treat people.
Their neighborhood was a veritable potpourri of races and ethnicities. On one side of the Becketts lived the Spratts, an African-American family with four children. On the other side lived the Delarosas, a Portuguese family, and further down was the Ramirez family with their two children. In addition, the Maggiorinis, an Italian family, and a Russian family lived on that same multiracial block.
It was there on Vineyard Street that Carles absorbed the ethos of equality as the kids in his neighborhood played together and often spent the night in each other’s homes.
Carles was in the fourth grade when his family moved to Madera on Vineyard Street. He enrolled in Pershing School, and his teacher was Lula Lewis who made a big change in his life; she changed his name.
Ms. Lewis looked at his legal name, the one on his birth certificate — Junior Carles Beckett. She declared that she had never had a student named Junior and wasn’t going to start then. She dropped the Junior from his name, and from that time on Madera knew him only as Carles Beckett.
Carles finished the fourth grade at Pershing School, and in the fifth and sixth grades went to Sierra Vista. Meanwhile, the community wrapped its arms around Violet and her four children. It made sure she had food to feed her children.
Violet, however, was not one to sit back and do nothing to help herself. She had worked hard all of her life. She knew how to pick cotton, so she found work in the Dixieland district picking cotton and decided to take Carles with her.
Violet didn’t drive, so she and Carles had to find rides to Dixieland and back home each day. It was hard work, but they did it, and Carles was able to pick 100 pounds of cotton per day, which earned him $3, 10 percent of which he put in the offering plate at church.
Working beside his mother pulling those huge sacks down the rows of cotton, Carles learned a third life lesson from Violet.
His mother had taught him the power of her faith in Jesus of Nazareth, and he had established his own relationship with Christ.
She had taught him the beauty of embracing every child of God, no matter what their race or color, and now she taught him first-hand the sanctity of hard work.
Carles finished sixth grade at Sierra Vista School and then seventh and eighth grades at Thomas Jefferson.
In 1963, he graduated from from Madera High School, the first Beckett to earn a high School diploma. All things considered, this in itself was the culmination of 18 years of miracles that God had performed in his life, but actually the Almighty was just beginning with Carles Beckett.
Next week we will share more of Carles Beckett’s miracles.