PROVINCETOWN — The day before Beata Cook drew her last breath, her niece and caregiver asked her, “Auntie, are you getting ready to die?”
To which Cook replied, “I don’t know. I’ve never died before.”
The response was typical of “Auntie Beata,” funny and honest to the end, said Susan Cook, her niece and caregiver.
“She told her parents she was gay when there wasn’t even a closet yet,” said another niece, Cathy Henrique. “She was always up-front about everything. She didn’t hide anything. She’s always been her own person and done everything her own way.”
Perhaps that habitual honesty is what made Beata an engaging storyteller. Whether she was writing about her proper aunt Hilda Patrick, who wanted Beata to attend college and become more of a lady (that plan didn’t get very far), or chicken wings at Pucci’s (now Fanizzi’s), Provincetown, with its disappearing history, is richer for it.
Cook died on May 30, 2021, three days after her last “This, That and the Other” column appeared in the Provincetown Banner, where she was a regular contributor for 10 years. She was 96.
She had had to drag oxygen tanks around with her for years, and her death came as no surprise, since she had been candidly chronicling her declining health for months.
In a March 2020 column, “Returning Home to Face My Eternity,” she pondered what it felt like to be sent home to die. The hospice nurses attended to her medical needs, others kept her house clean, her pain was minimal, and her relatives and friends kept stopping by to talk. She wrote, “If this is called dying, it’s not half bad, folks!”
Her friend and neighbor Joe DeMartino visited her every day. The two met 15 years ago when Beata would drive by DeMartino and his new puppy, Buddy, on her way home from work at a town parking lot. She would stop the car and give Buddy a biscuit. Soon, Buddy knew how to get to Beata’s place and “I couldn’t go for a walk without going to Beata’s house,” DeMartino said.
When she was not home, Beata would leave biscuits outside, and if it was raining, she would leave them in plastic bags, DeMartino said.
When Cape Cod Hospital sent her home with a bowel obstruction in late February 2020, she was told she could no longer eat solid food. She asked DeMartino for a cheeseburger. He cooked her one. She ate it and lived more than a year.
Her dog treats also enamored her to neighbor Mark Bove’s pet. Bove and his husband, Bill Fraher, started helping Beata shovel her driveway and clear her car of snow. And, when storms knocked out power, Bove and Fraher had her over for dinner by their wood stove. One night, she slept over to stay warm. Another time, she insisted on returning to her family’s Pleasant Street house, where she lived until her death. The next morning, Bove called her to make sure she was okay. She told him she stayed up all night wrapped in blankets writing her column.
“She was able to become a writer — that was huge to Beata,” said Henrique. “She was in her 80s when that happened. She took a writing class at the Council on Aging and then she started writing the column.”
Marguerite Cook was born in 1924 in Provincetown’s heavily Portuguese West End, the oldest of five children of John and Nellie Cook. Her siblings Marian, John, Paul, and Sara, their eight children, and those children’s children were the center of her life. She idolized her grandmother Sadie, called “Nanny.”
Beata told stories of the old days of Provincetown when the West End, center, and East End of town had their own cultures. She wrote less about her middle years, when she was an out lesbian, a bartender, and a bullet maker in a Northampton factory during World War II. She moved to Manhattan, where she, like many of her siblings, took up bookkeeping.
“At night, I’d go down to the Village and drink up a storm,” she told Kaimi Rose Lum for a profile in the Independent in 2019. “I was a hard partier. That’s why I’ve lasted to 95. I’m pickled.”
Up to her death, Beata and her nieces, Avis, Susan, Cathy, and Cindy, would often go out to dinner or lunch together at the Mayflower Café. The restaurant opened in 1929.
Co-owner Mike Janoplis said that, whenever Beata came in, “it was always with an entourage of family. It was an event.”
Mike’s cousin, Darin Janoplis, also a co-owner, said seeing them all together for decades was an inspirational example of how the women in families can support each other through anything.
Until Marian’s death in 2019, Beata drove her sister to St. Peter the Apostle Church, which the Cook family has attended since its founding in 1874. Marian was devout; Beata, not so much.
But the Rev. Hugh J. McCullough, “Father Mick,” understood. They were great friends.
“I would go to visit her to lift my spirits,” he said. “Her spirit was naturally optimistic and bouncy. She liked to have fun, and she liked life.”
Most people her age barely have anyone left to attend their funerals, but Beata’s funeral could be packed, said Henrique. It begins with a Mass at St. Peter the Apostle on Wednesday, June 9 at 11 a.m., followed by a fellowship where, Henrique said, “we’ll let everyone tell their stories about Beata.”
The Funeral Mass will be live-streamed on stpeters-ptown.org. Face covering is strongly recommended for those not vaccinated for Covid-19.