By Vincent L. Hall | Texas Metro News
“The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves but how she is treated.”
– Eliza Doolittle, My Fair Lady.
Just as I was gazing at the beautiful sights across the harbor from my hotel in Long Beach, California, last week, I received a call from my sister. She told me that the most beautiful woman I had ever known was now gazing into the eyes of our Lord. Birtie Christine Beard Preston had transitioned, and a voice said to me with clarity and conviction, My Fair Lady. I can’t tell you whether it was Casper the Friendly Ghost or Christ the Holy Ghost, but that was my first impression.
CUT! Explain My Fair Lady.
Before becoming a Broadway box office musical, My Fair Lady was a 1913 play and a 1938 film, Pygmalion, produced by George Bernard Shaw. “Eliza Doolittle” was the lead character. Audrey Hepburn and Julie Andrews were the most famous actresses cast in the several iterations of My Fair Lady. But for today’s purposes, neither Shaw, Andrews, or Hepburn ever knew a more fair or genteel lady than my Birtie Preston.
She was the model and mold of aesthetic and spiritual beauty. She was, in all things, a purist! Paul Beard and his wife, the former Marie Clark, witnessed the birth of their daughter, Birtie Christine Beard, on October 20, 1937. She was born near their home in Arkadelphia, Arkansas (Clark County). Birtie Christine was perfectly beautiful inside and out. After graduating from Peake High School, Birtie met the love of her life, Mr. Vernon L. Preston.
Vernon often noted that Birtie was “the prettiest girl in Arkadelphia.” They married on August 26, 1956, and remained inseparable until Vernon’s passing in December 2021. After moving to Dallas, the young couple, joined the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas’s historic “Bottom District.” She served as a faithful leader of the church usher board and as a deaconess.
Birtie and Vernon deeply invested their time, talent, and treasure in the church. Two children were born to their union, Regenia Dena and Reginald Dewayne. The doting parents poured all of their material, spiritual, and emotional estate into their lives and the subsequent generations.
CUT! Get to the point quickly, this column is 700 words or less.
Birtie Preston became my mother-in-law, and no man deceased, living or yet to be born, could have been more fortunate than me. Birdie loved lavishly and cared deeply about family. No one other than my birth mother could have loved me so much. However, nothing illustrated Birtie’s love better than being in her presence on Christmas morning. The ritual, and I do mean ritual, began in late September. We knew the season was near when she started stashing shopping bags.
Once Thanksgiving was spent, the whole of her house would be transformed. If red and green are the colors of any sorority, she was undoubtedly the president.
Back in the day, when our children were a priority, Birtie encouraged Vernon to join his neighbors in creating a festival of lights. Penguin Street was one of the best in Oak Cliff. The endless offerings of ornaments featured sleighs, Black Santas, talking mechanical minstrels, and other relics of a traditional Winter Wonderland. Drivers sat in long lines during nightly processionals and waited their turn. Bertie enjoyed watching parents and children of all ages leap from the passenger side to take precious snapshots.
These days preceded cell phone photos, which were indeed “Kodak/Polaroid” moments.
CUT! Birtie is displaying her Love Language.
Christmas Morning. We knew the drill. Vernon, their children, grandchildren, and I would sit in our appointed seats. Mrs. Preston would hand you your gift, one by one. The joy of her life was watching with pride as you opened that beautifully wrapped package. Over time she handed me my first London Fog, Bass Weejuns, and monogrammed sweater. You couldn’t fake it either. She could read your expression, and if you weren’t sufficiently “wowed,” she would say, “I have the receipt baby!” But we knew better. She poured love and pride into every choice. All Mr. Preston could do was calculate how much overtime he would need. A Birtie Preston gift was the best, most thoughtful, and most expensive. Birtie Preston respected others and demanded respect. She was no Flower Girl; she was My Fair Lady and a gift in her own right!
Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and an award-winning columnist.