What started out as a family research project developed into Hulen's writing a Christian fiction book about her family and the early death of her mother. The book centers on the birth of Mrs. Dunlap's fourth child Sarah Sue and the circumstances that led to the mother's death 10 months later. Sarah Sue was indeed "her final gift."
Hulen was the third child born to Harmon and Eula Berg Dunlap. Her older brothers were Bruce Dunlap and Charles Dunlap, both now deceased, and her baby sister is Sarah Sue Dunlap Crews, of Sheridan.
Hulen, 64, spoke affectionately of her years growing up in Lake City. Her parents were well known and respected in town as merchants on main street, as well as community and church leaders.
"Daddy was a deacon at the First Baptist Church," Hulen said. "My mother was a busy homemaker, with four small children to raise. My book is modeled after my parents and is based on a true love story about their lives together from 1937 to 1955. I learned so much about them while I was doing family research and just felt committed to doing this book.
"Mother got very sick when she was 30 years old," Hulen said. "I was two when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and suffered with it for five years. The only treatment for that type of cancer in 1954 was radical mastectomy. She had been warned against becoming pregnant again. She was undergoing cobalt treatment in Memphis when she discovered she was pregnant. The doctors wanted her to have a medical abortion to save her life, but she refused. Sarah Sue was born in December 1954, and Mom died in October 1955. Sarah Sue was her final gift to us, and we love her dearly. Our family is a very strong Christian family and needless to say we are very anti-abortion.
"Of course Sarah Sue doesn't have any memories of Mother, and I just have a few. The people of Lake City helped my father and us kids through the great loss of our mother. They loved us all our lives, and we feel blessed because of it. We have a very expanded family base."
"The people of Lake City helped raise me," Crews said. "I have always felt so much love here and always enjoy coming back home."
"I recall Linda would go over to a friends house for a while, but come dark she thought she had to be back home with Sarah Sue," school friend Mary Robertson said. "We lived out in the country, so Dad would load her up in the truck and make sure she got home before bedtime."
"We didn't mind if Dad had to go somewhere and left us together at home as teens, but we didn't want to be away from each other," Hulen said. "We have always had a tight bond. We were born and raised in a house behind the old courthouse downtown. I didn't leave Lake City until I was 33 years old. You can only imagine how Sarah Sue and I are enjoying our time here together this week, with our families."
Hulen has five children of her own now, which include Darin Owens, of Black Oak, Devin Owens, of Forrest City, Kerri Owens Hamm, of Colonial Heights, Vir., Delane Hulen, of Fayetteville, N.C., and Amy Hulen Kelley, of Colorado Springs, Colo. Several grandchildren were in attendance at the book signing.
Brenda Hutcheson, Lake City Museum co-curator, encouraged Hulen to do the book signing in her hometown. It was standing room only in the Museum Saturday as friends waited to have Hulen personally autograph her book for them. The appropriate setting was, of course, in the red and white Catfish Room, where high school photographs of her and her sister hung on the walls. On display was a photo of Hulen's parents, a photo of her mother holding baby Sarah Sue, her mother's wristwatch and Bible. Hulen also has her mother's piano.
A reception was hosted by the museum for all those in attendance.
The Lake City Museum retained several autographed copies of Hulen's book for sale for those who were unable to attend the book signing. Wyvern Publishing of Ector, Texas, published the book and the cost is $15.
Sarah Sue Crews and Linda Hulen in the Catfish Room at the Lake City Museum during "Her Final Gift" book signing. (Town Crier photos/Nan Snider)
The Dunlap family group.