Bell Family Memories
When I left here last year after the committee meeting and was given the assignment, all the way home I kept thinking about what can I say? I thought about it and how little I actually knew myself about the Bell family. We always knew about the Whelchel family and the annual trip to Cordele, but seldom talked about the Bell’s. All I had was stories and basically 2 trips a year to Mississippi. I said to myself this is going to be short and not informative. Basically, I knew very little. Sallie, Betty, Barbara Jean, Patsy, Jimmy Wyatt, and Sylvia Bell Snyder; all of them grew up there; they surely know more about the Mississippi family than I do. Then I got curious myself. Let’s see what I can learn.
My memories of Grandmamma Nina, I called “Me maw” was very limited to what Momma told me and the 2 trips a year for summer vacation and Christmas. I knew momma and daddy got married on December 9, 1945 here in Cordele at Uncle Doc’s home. They were up in age at that time, I almost didn’t make it! A bit of trivia was that Alvin North was not only in their wedding, but some 23 yrs later was best man in Linda and my wedding. He must have had a positive effect; we celebrated 40 years last December 7, of all the days to get married.
Twice a year we set out to Mississippi, a grueling 8+ hour drive. Once there, we always stayed with Grandmamma and Iola, “Sister” to us. We would get there late in the day and after the usual hellos we would sit and catch up on things. They lived almost in the middle of Grenada with a grocery store next door and Police department in front. They had a neat dark red brick home with a big front porch home built before Grandfather Charlie died. We would sit there at night and listen to the music at the community center nearby. In her living room she must have had several hundred photos of the family and local children. Grandmamma could sit there and tell you about everyone and what they did without looking. Grandmamma was already in her late sixties when I can remember her. She would usually have dinner cooking. Not only mamma could cook, but they were all great cooks also. Fried chicken and vegetables was the normal meal when we got there. I remember that while there, every meal was at the dining table, always some meat and vegetables. Very seldom did we have sandwiches of some sort, maybe a hamburger now and then. Neither Grandmamma nor Sister could drive and most nights after supper we would go to the Dairy Delight or something and get an ice cream cone. It was soft like Dairy Queen, had Vanilla and chocolate, and then ride out to the lake and around town.
The next few days were spent visiting for them, for me it was time to find the cousins. I went looking for Barbara Jean, Linda, Freddie and Patsy, Jimmy Wyatt, Betty and Sallie, I would for the next few days be very busy with them while the grownups “caught up”. Fritz Muehlman, who married Pearl, was very interesting. He was from Germany and had a very heavy accent. I loved to hear his stories of Germany. I can still remember the day we got word about Freddie being in an accident and dying. He was one of the cousins I spent a good bit of time with. We would go the “picture show” or movies to the “young crowd”, hang around or just talk. I don’t think any of us really knew or understood the significance of our connection at that time, only that we were cousins. As we got older, the more we learned that Grandmamma Nina and Sallie were sisters and married brothers Charlie and Mitt. That made all us double cousins, something kind of neat. At least I thought it was since I was an only child and not much family in Georgia on my father’s side, but here I had all kinds of kin. While in Grenada I would spend a lot of time with Grandmamma, and not a day went by that we did not play Chinese checkers several times. I think she let me win, but it was fun.
We always spent Christmas in Grenada. That was my sad trip out because I would miss the neighborhood friends on Christmas and what Santa brought them, and was afraid Santa would miss me and not know where I was. But to my surprise he would show up. Grandmamma then would spend the next few days playing with me and the puzzles and other things until we left. While there, we would always go the The Grenada Methodist Church where Grandmamma and Iola were faithful members
I never knew my Grandfather, since he died long before I was born. Only some stories about him. Thanks to Sylvia Bell Snyder, I know more about him than I ever did. She also answered some burning questions I have had. One was “how did 2 brothers from Panola County Mississippi find 2 Sisters from Dawson County Georgia in those days and marry?’ Well Sylvia had the answer. Grandfather Charlie, about 40 years old, went to north Georgia to prospect for gold. That’s where he met Grandmamma Nina and Married. During their married life she always called him “Mr. Bell”. Linda calls me a lot of things, never “Mr. Webb”! Maybe I could send her to Dahlonega and get the proper respect. I understand that he was associated with the Dahlonega Consolidated Gold Mining Company that went out of business in 1906. The timing leads me to believe that they then moved back to Mississippi. I believe the probability is that Sallie might have come to visit Nina and met Mitt and they married in 1908. Grandmamma Nina also did alterations for the dress shops in and around Grenada. I also have been told that after Sallie died that Grandmamma stepped in and helped Mitt to raise the children. She was always there for family.
Grandparents Charlie and Nina had 6 children. Two boys died early, one at birth and other at 3 years old. They did have four more children.
Iola was born in 1903 and was named after a gold mine. She worked as a bookkeeper and later for a doctor in Grenada until she retired. Iola died in Grenada in 1993 at 90 years old. She lived in the same house that Grandmamma lived in until she died. She was the only child born in Georgia and never married.
Mary Lou, my Mother was born in 1907, but left there and moved to Memphis for several years. She and my father, James, met in Forsyth, as I am told, on a visit to Uncle Glen and Aunt Ula’s when the lived in Forsyth. Momma went to Grenada schools. She told me one year at the end of the school year one of her teachers gave her a bottle of catsup to take home and to “catch up” on her talking before coming back the next year. She never used catsup on anything to the day she died. Must have had some effect. I remember that 1960 was a very bad year for Momma. First Daddy died in March, Then her brother J.D. Died in October and Grandmamma Nina died in December. It was a hard year. As many of you know, Momma did a lot of the typing and art work in the Whelchel book in the earlier years.
J.D. Bell was born in 1904, also graduated Grenada and attended Georgia Tech until Grandfather Charlie had a heart attack. I knew that the building next to the home in Grenada was Grandfather’s workshop, but thanks again to Sylvia I now know more. He opened a steam powered Bell Machine Shop there. He repaired machinery, buggies, wagons sharpened plows, etc. J. D. worked in the shop from an early age. After Grandfathers heart attack, he returned to Grenada to run the machine shop. There were bars on the shop, nothing unusual, except that the bars were old Musket barrels. He was also a gunsmith.
J.D. went on to become a successful lawyer and Judge in Jackson Mississippi. He was married first to Winnie Corley and had a daughter Sylvia. He next married Willie Lott and had a son J. D. Bell Jr. I remember after Sylvia and Tommy Snyder were married they showed up one day in a red convertible at Grand momma’s house. They took us for a ride out by the lake and around town, boy were we in heaven!
Sarah Bell, born in 1909 also grew up in Grenada and Graduated from the school there. She married Rowe Pinkerton and they moved to Poplar Bluff, Missouri where they lived until they died. They had 2 children, Cindy and Jimmy Pinkerton.
Another mystery I have had about the Mississippi Bells was that were they possibly connected to the legend surrounding the “Bell Witch”. Most of you probably have heard of her. Several books have been written about her and the Tennessee Bells. Even a Movie came out several years ago about “Kate, the Bell Witch”. I’m sure many of you have seen the books or the movie. Now I have found out the answer is yes. The Mississippi Bells came from Tennessee. Charles Tate Bell and Mitt Bell’s father was James Miles Drew Bell and mother was Matilda McCraken. Their father was John Bell, Jr., and Grandfather was John Bell Sr. They were born and raised near Adams, Tennessee, They later moved to Panola County Mississippi. The haunting of the Bell family started with their Grandfather John Bell Sr. in 1817 in Adams. John was tormented into the grave in 1820. It was said that she killed him. She then tormented John Jr., their father until 1821 when she told him she would return in 1828. She actually did return in 1828 to John Bell Jr. It is said that he was the only one that did not fear her and would talk back to her. It’s also told that he was the only one that she had great respect for. We have always had stories in the Bell family and Kate, and even today we laugh and say, well Kate's back or Kate’s cutting up when something unusual happens.
So, now I know that my great-great-great grandfather was the John Bell that was haunted by “Kate, the Bell Witch”.
How’s that for an ending of the beginning.