200 North Main Street | Bloomington, Illinois | 309-827-0428

Richard and Rose Bell

Brief Biography:

Richard Bell came to Bloomington as a young man. He was a self-taught business man and entrepreneur. He owned an operated an auto body repair shop, as well as an aMuseument park south of Forest Park in Bloomington. Then he bought a farm where he raised hogs, popcorn, and soybeans for many years. He employed a number of young men, white and Black, to who he taught important job skills. Rose Anna Bell's grandparents were from Downs, Illinois. She attended schools in Bloomington. She worked in domestic service throughout her adult life and also kept the books at her husband's auto body repair shop. She later moved with her husband to their farm on Six Points Road and took on all the duties of a farm wife.

Richard Bell's Story

Interviewer: Mildred Pratt | Date: July 27 1988

A

MP Today is July 27, 1988. And I'm talking to Mrs. Rose Anna Bell about her husband, Mr. Richard Bell, and his various businesses. Could you begin by telling me his age roughly, or when he was born if you don't mind.
RB He was born in 1910, April 5.
MP Was he born in Bloomington?
RB No. He was not born in Bloomington. He was born in Louisiana, Missouri. As far as I know-in Missouri.
MP When did he come to Bloomington?
RB He was brought here when he was a young man, a little person, because his mother died. His mother died when he was young. And he had lived in Missouri. He had two brothers, a sister that died when she was young. But he was not raised with his brothers. He was brought to Illinois by Mrs. Molly Green-Miss Molly Price.
MP Would you say he was about nine or ten when he came?
RB Yeah. He must have been. Oh, how would I say this now? She was married to-her name was Molly Thomas. Her name was Molly Thomas. He lived with her. She and Mr. Thomas raised him to a certain extent, you know.
MP Did he graduate from high school?
RB No. (answers softly)
MP What would you say-he attended high school?
RB No, he attended grade school 'cause we were all in the same grade.
MP He attended grade school?
RB in Irving School.
MP That's where you met him, in grade school?
RB Oh yeah. No, he lived right in back of me over on Oakland Avenue. He lived on Mill Street, and I lived on Oakland Avenue.
MP Oh, yes.
RB I can't think of the girl's name. She lives over there next door to the house. You know where Carl Samuels lives?
MP Yes.
RB Well, there's a big house right next to it. That's where my husband lived. That's where my husband lived. And you see next door there the people's name was Rowlette, Mr. and Mrs. [Robert] Rowlette and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Right through that over on Oakland Avenue was the Gaines family, and that's where I was born. The Gaines family had seven children. Four girls and three boys. We all went to school together. Of course, there was no buses then. We walked to Irving School.
MP So when you were a child you knew him?
RB so we knew each other when we were children.
MP So when did you get-did he begin businesses before you were married, or afterwards?
RB After.
MP After you were married?
RB After we were married.
MP So when were you married then?
RB We were married September 26. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. No, I always.
MP That's all right. Don't..
RB August 9, 1926.
MP Was he working then when you got married?
RB Yes, but he wasn't doing anything like-he didn't have a business or anything like that.
MP What kind of work was he doing?
RB Oh, he shined shoes. Just like the regular odd jobs that the boys did around here.
MP It was [19]29 when you got married you said?
RB It was 1926.
MP [19]26. All right. All right. So the economy wasn't the best then.
RB Oh, no. It wasn't, and things were rather rough.
MP So he was doing odd jobs, and were you working?
RB I was working in private families, different families.
MP So, what was his first business venture?
RB Well, he worked for different people. He worked for the Rust family. They had a car business. He washed cars and like that, you know. And he worked in those kind of places.
MP Did he do any mechanical work?
RB I really don't know. Everything he did he taught himself.
MP That's what I'm trying to get at. What other jobs did he have that enabled him to learn things? He worked at this auto place washing cars, right?
RB Yes, and then he worked for Carl's Paint ant Body Shop. He had already taken some correspondence through something. I don't remember what-anyhow to learn different things. And that's where he did the painting. He did the painting for Carl's, Carl's Paint and Body Shop. That's down there on Main Street.
MP It's still there.
RB He worked right in there for years. And then he worked on the corner. That used to be Rust's. And then he worked for-I can't think of the man's name. He was an elderly man. He went with this old man and worked with him doing the same thing.
MP It involved working with cars.
RB It gave him authority to do what-but he was under them, you see. He decided he was going to have his own shop.
MP Oh, my goodness, I don't believe it. (urgent tone momentarily)
RB He was going to have his own shop, you see. So, he opened up a little shop down on Center Street. It was a small place.
MP Where did he get the money to do this?
RB We saved our money.
MP This is what I'm interested in.
RB We saved. He didn't borrow or anything. He didn't get a loan or anything like that. We borrowed [sic] everything. And he had this shop.
MP You had saved your money then?
RB Saved. Fifty-cent pieces and like that because I'm working too, and he's working. And we saved our money, and we didn't do anything foolish or anything like that. Because the first car we ever had was in 1936, and it was a Chevy. But, anyhow he built this shop.
MP So he constructed the building himself?
RB Yes. It's cement block. Course it was 608 and 610 North Center Street down there near-you know where that building is. You know that building where the senior citizens live? You know that building there?
MP Yes. It's a kind of a high-it's Locust Street.
RB Yes.
MP Locust and Center.
RB My husband owned quite a bit from 608 to 610 on that and part of that was that.
MP So he bought-you all bought the property. And then you constructed this building.
RB We bought the property. Then he constructed the building, and he extended it quite large. When he told the people at Farm Bureau, he was going to-he did a little painting for State Farm, too, you know, cars- but when he said that he was going to open up his own shop-I can't remember the man's name, but he told him-he worked-he was one of he head people at Farm Bureau-he told him, "We'll keep you in business,"-Farm Bureau and Prairie Farmer"
MP Prairie Farmer?
RB That was an insurance company, too. Both those people are insurance people-farmers and like that. So anyhow they kept him busy.
MP Now, did he have to get any kind of.
RB Permit?
MP a license or permit?
RB Oh yeah. He had all of that.
MP Do you have any of those?
RB No, I don't.
MP That's all right.
RB Because you see everything-I think I could find them. I don't think I could find them.
MP That's all right. So now.
RB He had to get a permit to do all that, you see. He was very well established. His word was his bond. Gave nobody in writing. If he said he'd do it, he'd do it. If he gave you a price, he would give you that price.
MP Now, did he have anyone working with him, or he worked alone in doing the work?
RB He always had someone working with him. At one time we had ten men working for us. And most of them-I don't know whether you know Buzz Thomas?
MP I know some Thomases.
RB I think you know Buzz Thomas.
MP I know a Thomas called Michael Thomas. Is that his father?
RB Buzz is his father. What Buzz knows in the body business, he learned from Papa. He taught him most everything, and he said if he had the sense to do like Dick had, he'd be this and that. But you see you can't gather the money and put in your pocket. You have to put it so you have your "in go" and your "out go" and things like that. Because what's in your pocket, you're going to spend. But you have to think about your overhead. And you have to buy all your pieces.
MP So he did body work and painting?
RB And painting. There wasn't anything about a car that he didn't know. He could listen to a car and tell you what was wrong with it. And if a car had been in a bad wreck and you was going to buy it, and he looked at it he'd hear it. He'd tell you what was wrong with it and tell you whether it would be wise to fix it or not. Everything he laid his hands to just seemed to turn to gold. He was truly blessed that way.
MP So he had about ten people who worked for him.
RB At one time he did. And he taught himself. At one time he had a certificate in shorthand and typing because he taught himself that.
MP He just bought a book, and he taught himself?
RB He did that. He had gotten a certificate for that.
MP What about his accounting? He kept his own books?
RB I kept them.
MP That's what I was going to get at. How did you help?
RB I didn't know anything about that because I didn't finish high school. So when the CPA-I guess that's what you call him. He said-he asked me how I would do it because he was a close friend of my husband's. And I said, "Well, I would"-I wished I had the book here I would show you 'cause it was a big ledger like that. I said, "I'd put down the boys' names and my income, what I have to pay out and the prices of different things and the boys' wages and different things like that and keep it up yearly, and then I'd add it up each week." I did that each week. And he said, "Do it." And I did that. There was only one time when we had to pay in the taxes-that the IRS said that I was wrong by one cent, and it took me three years to clear that up because, you see, you have to go back and back, and they keep you at it. When you owe them money, you pay it, and if they owe you money, they take their time. That's the way it is.
MP I understand. So you kept the books.
RB I kept the books. I could tell you what they made and all of that sort of stuff, and some of the boys-there's one young man (phone rings). Excuse me. (tape shut off) The young man he died. He worked here, worked for Papa, and he came over to the house. That's when we lived on Miller Street, and he had a letter. He asked me was my husband was home. I said "no" he wasn't because they was all going to come over to the house. We were going to have something there. I told him "no" he wasn't here. I said, "What's you have in your hand. Why did you put it back?" He said, "Well, I wanted Dick to look at this." I said, "Could look at it?"And he says, "No, I want Dick to see it." I just turned to him-unconsciously I told him, "You can't read, can you?" He looked at me, and I said, "It's not a sin not to know how to read. It's just a sin to don't try to do anything about it." I said, "You go ahead. Papa will read it or take care of it."
MP He was a young man who worked for you.
RB Yes. He was one of the best body men you ever seen and didn't know how to read nothing, but he knew how to fix things. He was good. But anybody could talk him into buying things, and he was buying things over in Peoria and like that. So Richard talked him out of it. Anyway he talked to him. Then I told him what I said to him, and he didn't get angry. But you know the general run of people, when a Black man-and I'll say this to anybody, white or Black-if a Black man has something and he's working like the shop-my husband was the only Black person in this town to have a shop like that. And his lot and everything was busy. People going and coming, you know. If a Black man has something, sometimes the Negroes think that what they have, if they've given him a little work, that they have made him.
MP I understand what you are saying.
RB And they want something for nothing. It cost my husband his time, his effort and everything to take care of him, and what they can do is patronize him and take care of him so he can help take care of them. They want something for nothing when he's using his own gray matter. And then they say, "Oh, he wouldn't have this." Like one of them came in my house once before and says-I overheard. They didn't think I heard. "He wouldn't have this if it hadn't been for us." And I told someone else, "They wouldn't have a job if he hadn't given them work." You know what I mean.
MP I understand what you're saying.
RB My husband wasn't the best person in the world, but he was a beautiful man as far as business was concerned.
MP What was the name of his body shop?
RB Dick Bell's Body Repair. And I had a picture back there.
MP Yes. How long did.?
RB Oh, he had that shop for-I can't think.
MP From 19-you said 1936 when he started, right?
RB That's when we bought our car.
MP But when he set up the business, any idea what time it was?
RB I can't think-I thought I would see it back there, but I didn't.
MP Would you say it was shortly after you were married?
RB Oh, it was a long time after we were married.
MB Would you say about ten years? Was it before you got your first car? It was after you got your first car?
RB I think it was after we got the first car because.
MP So maybe it was around 1940, would you say?
RB I wish I could find that picture.
MP Maybe you can at some other point, and then you can tell me. It operated for how long would you say.
RB It operated until-well, he even had a shop out here at Six Points because we used to own Six Points. You know where Six Points is?
MP Let's finish this one now.
RB Okay.
MP That business operated.
RB And then he sold it.
MP He sold it. Do you know why he sold it? And to whom he sold it?
RB He was getting tired. I can't think who he sold it to.
MP But he was getting tired.
RB Yes. And we had bought the farm, see.
MP You bought the farm while he still had the business.
RB Un-huh.
MP All right. Tell me about the farm then. Why did he decide to buy the farm and when?
RB Well, he always wanted to be on a farm, and he had never been on a farm in his life. I spent my summers with my grandparents on the farm, every year right after school because I was the only one of the kids that Mom would send to Downs. It was out in Downs. But, there was a place out on Main Street that he looked at, and he liked it. It had a house and everything like that on it. So he gave me the money to pay on a down payment. I don't know-I must have stopped someplace. (tape stopped for train whistle) But anyhow when I got out there to the place where he told me-it was out on North.
MP That was in Normal?
RB It was in Normal.
MP It was in the rural area?
RB Well, not right in town. It was outside. When I got out there, the man had already taken the down payment from someone else. As fate would have it, that was probably all right. I was sick because I had the money. So I came back home, and I said, "Papa, the man had sold the house." I said, "He had already did it." I said, "I was a little late getting there." He didn't get angry. He says, "Okay." So then he had sent people-we had a playground, you know, out here at Forest Park-not Forest Park-Six Points. We had the playground and the merry-go-round.
MP You have to tell me about that now-how he happened to get that the playground?
RB He liked kids, and he always wanted to have things for the kids, see.
MP So he bought this land?
RB We had the land.
MP You had the land.
RB Because the old man that's living now that I take to the doctor, he knew that maybe somebody would say he wasn't going to sell it to him. So he went along with him, and he put the word in for my husband, and my husband got the land. We had a playground there.
MP So he had everything installed, this aMuseument stuff installed?
RB Oh, yeah. And paid cash for it. The picture is out there. We wanted horses because, you know, children around here had never.
MP And this was at Six Points. I know where that is.
RB He sent, I guess, south-wherever they had these wild Mustangs and like that, and he had Harvey Washington-you know Caribel's son?
MP Yes. I don't know her son, but I know her.
RB Harvey. My husband was a father figure to him because he was always around here. And Johnny Kerz. He was a white boy. Harvey was the only Colored boy with all these other white boys, and he sent them down, and they brought the horses back-these little ponies. And they were not broke. Well, they broke the ponies.
MP These little boys did?
RB They broke the ponies, and my husband did too. So that these kids could ride these horses, ponies. And he had-they'd go around, you know. Of course, my granddaughter she'd get on one and wouldn't want to get off because that was hers. But anyhow, before he had a place for them there, he had them out on South Main Street. Farther out on South Main Street. There was a man out there that knew my husband through the shop. He owned some property out on Six Points Road, you see, him and his sister. Well, there must have been an argument or something between the two of them. He owned the front half. His sister owned the last part half. He owned 120 acres, you see, and he said to Richard, "Dick I got some property you could buy." And he says-well, he wasn't thinking about it right then. He says, "If you want it, we'll see if we can make a deal." In the meantime, he kept talking to him, and then he told him about his sister and he said he would like Richard to have it. So Richard bought 120 acres.
MP Now, he uses the money that he made from the business to make these purchases? All right.
RB Anyhow, you know, it takes ten or fifteen years to pay for some property.
MP Sure.
RB My husband just paid for that.
MP He just paid cash?
RB Not for the whole thing. But it wasn't very long after that because everybody though we'd lose it.
MP Oh, I see.
RB He had built the house-had the house built. There wasn't nothing on there but a silo, an old silo. Everything on there now my husband put on there. Everything that is on there now my husband put on there.
MP This is where-on Six Points Road?
RB Six Points Road. You see the picture of it in there.
MP You're talking about the farm now?
RB I'm talking about the farm. Everything that's on there now, even the bushes and trees and everything like that, my husband put on there because he had a friend that was in that kind of stuff. His name is Howard Hoe,-Howe or whatever you call it. Anyhow he bought all that stuff, and we planted it. We planted. And we had hogs. We had cows. Didn't have any chickens. We didn't need them.
MP Now, he has the business while he still has the-he bought the farm while he was still operating this automobile business? Did he have anyone to help him on the farm?
RB Oh yes. Some of the boys would come out and help him out. Didn't do too much, but the boys used to run the tractor. He taught them how to run the tractors because we bought our own tractors. And everything we used we owned because when he got ready to sell it, if the price wasn't right he'd bring it back home because he was an astute business man. It cost him, and he wasn't going to give it away. So, anyhow, that's the way that was.
MP Now, this aMuseument park that he set up, how long did that operate?
RB Oh, that operated a number of years, but you see, I don't think the white people liked it because, you see, it was taking the children from the park.
MP Did the white and Black people go there together?
RB Un-huh.
MP And there was no problem?
RB No, there was no problem.
MP What year are we talking about, approximately?
RB Let me go look. It will take me but a minute. (tape is shut off)
MP He owned from Forest Park to Six Points Road.
RB Six Points Road. The oil station is right there because there's a road there. My husband owned all that.
MP That was operating in 1955, and Black and white children went there.
RB Oh, yes. And white people, women too.
MP He must have made quite a bit of money off that.
RB He did.
MP He hired quite a few people then, too, didn't he?
RB Oh yeah. He had to.
MP I'm going to want to make a copy of that if you'd let me.
RB This picture? I don't care.
MP All right.
RB I thought-he had all these horses.
MP That is amazing, and how long-about ten years would you say that operated?
RB Un-huh. He did all of this. All this stuff came from wherever they built it. A ferris wheel, merry-go-round.
MP He's a very imaginative person, right?
RB and a little place where-oh, you can't see the place where you ate your ice cream and stuff. They had the machine right.
MP Concession stand?
RB Yes. People worked in there. And people worked-and the boys worked.
MP Now did he hire whites and Blacks to work there?
RB White and Blacks. Un-huh.
MP And it was not a problem?
RB There couldn't be any problem because he didn't have it. He didn't anything with a problem. That little train was run-I don't know if you've been out to College Hills Mall and seen the little train? My husband had one, but it was run by coal just about like it was running out there. It was old time. It was real.
MP This was the only aMuseument center there was in this area then?
RB That's right-except when the carnival came to town. And you see, there's a lot of people don't want you to have that if you're Black.
MP How did he happen to get the idea to do this? Did you talk about it?
RB He usually told me what he was going to do, and I said, "Okay." I couldn't say.
MP Did you work with that? Did you help with that at all?
RB No.
MP Now, by this time, you were not working, were you?
RB I was.
MP You were continuing to work.
RB Yes ma'am.
MP In service?
RB You know Paxton's Typewriter Company? I raised their three children.
MP Is that right? So now, you bought the aMuseument park before you bought the farm.
RB No, we had the farm before we had the aMuseument park.
MP So you went and moved out to the farm.
RB Yes. I wouldn't have moved out there. My daughter died in 1960, and she died just like that. A week-let's see, was it a week or two weeks? Valentine's Day. You know how kids at school buy little things to send to their friends and all. I was sitting there. My granddaughter was laying there on the floor fixing these cards to send to her friends. She was going to Lincoln School. She was in kindergarten or first grade. I think it must have been kindergarten. I don't know. I don't remember. Anyhow she run out of envelopes. She had to have an envelope. I said, "Okay, Honey." When you work for government-in service for the government and you die, wherever you are if you live on the post, your room is sealed and nothing-everything in there to a penny is written down on there. And then the room is sealed, and whenever anybody comes to get the stuff out of there, they're responsible for everything in there. The government throws up their hands. Then you have to take everything out because they won't be responsible. When we brought those things back from Chicago, I put them in the basement over on Miller Street. That was just one house then. It's a duplex now. And we put them in the basement, and I didn't touch them 'cause I just didn't want to bother myself with those things. And when she wanted those envelopes, I knew her desk was down there with her things on it that I didn't touch. So I went down there, and there was her things sitting there with her letters that she had left there. And I brought them up there. And I'm sitting there with them. I gave her the empty envelopes, you know. And when I was standing there, I seen two letters. One said Mom and Daddy, and th e other one said Rose Anne. That was her daughter.
MP This was several years after her death, right?
RB No. This was-she died-it was right after she died.
MP I see.
RB Because we had to get those things-after we'd taken those things out of up there. See, they called us, and we took two cars and went out there to get the things and brought them back. But anyhow, one letter said Mom and Daddy and the other said Rose Anne. So, I was standing in the kitchen, and I opened the one that said Mom and Dad because it was sealed, and when I read it, I started crying. I never cried when she died. I couldn't because it would have been too much on Rose Anne because she wouldn't have understood because she was with her mother when she died, but she didn't see her. And that's what we were afraid of. We were afraid it would be a trauma on her. So anyhow, I started crying, and he came in the back door, and he said, "Hi Granny. What's wrong?" And I said, "Look at that." And he said, "Oh, a letter from Ida." And I said, "Yeah." He said, "Oh, she didn't get a chance to mail it." I said, "She didn't intend to." I was standing there crying, and he looked at me. I said, "Read it." In it she told me just how she felt, that deep down she loved us very much. He looked at me and said, "Where did you get it?" I said, "Off of those things from downstairs." Because I hadn't touched them, you see. But anyhow it was such a shock to me because the lady across the street knew before I did because her husband was chief of police or whatever and they knew. All my neighbors they just came in. Because I lived around nobody but white.
MP You lived on Miller?
RB I lived on Miller. My neighbors came in and just took over. I didn't have to do a thing. It was Bell this and Bell the other. The woman across the street died some time later on. Her children adopted me. I'm their mother. They wouldn't bury her without me. They call me. They live in DeKalb. Sandy, the oldest girl, she called me last night to see how I was doing and all that stuff, you know.
End Side A
Side B
MP Someone bought the entertainment?
RB I don't remember because he took care of all that. You know I didn't have nothing to do with.
MP Sure I understand. Would you say it was about 1960 when-about how many years did it operate, approximately?
RB In 1960, he probably had it. That's when I moved. I got to the farm. You see he had already built the house out there.
MP You were out on the farm, and this entertainment was still operating.
RB I wasn't at the farm because I didn't move. That's what I was trying to get to. I never moved until after I read that letter because my daughter said, "Mama, Daddy built you a beautiful home out there in the country, I want you to move into it and be happy."
MP And then you moved out there?
RB I didn't do a thing. After I read it-it was on the weekend. It was on a Friday or something like that. I picked up my clothes and put them in my car and drove on out there and hung them in a closet. Then on Sunday, when I had to go to church, I had to go out there and get something to put on. And that's when I moved out there. And he looked at me because he never (inaudible) me.
MP That's when you were really ready to move out.
RB I wasn't ready to move, but I did because I was trying to please her knowing that she was looking down on me and all that sort of stuff. And that's why I moved out there because of what she said in the letter.
MP And you kept the farm then until when? Just recently? That means you lived out there until.?
RB Twenty-five years. I was out there twenty-five years in the country.
MP Now, did you continue to work? You stopped working then.
RB Oh, yes. I come to town and worked. I seen that that kid was on the bus and going to school at Stanford because she went to school at Stanford, and I asked her if.
MP Where is Stanford?
RB Stanford is farther west. It was farther out than the farm. You've heard of Olympia? She was in the Olympia district. She was the only little Black gal out there.
MP Yes, that's what I would figure. So you sold the farm. Do you remember why you sold this farm?
RB Well, because my husband got tired of being on the tractor, and you know, you can ride on the tractor, and you can go to sleep and kill yourself.
MP Yes. So he was still doing that. So he was still actively farming, right? What did he raise?
RB We raised popcorn for the Cracker Jack people. They would furnish the corn-you know the.
MP Special corn. Yes, yes.
RB They furnished the popcorn.
MP How did he happen to do that?
RB I don't know 'cause he was in with everybody, you know.
MP So he got the grain.
RB He got the grain, and they'd plant it-he'd plant it, but you see you couldn't pick it until they looked it over. And when they looked it over and said it was time to pick, you picked it. They bought it back.
MP Now did he have the combines to harvest it?
RB Oh yes, he had the combine.
MP Or he did it himself? He owned his own combine.
RB He owned his own machinery, all of his own machinery.
MP So that was a pretty lucrative business, wasn't it?
RB He was the only Black farmer around here that had all of this stuff.
MP And so he was doing that, and he just got tired. What else did he raise other than popcorn?
RB Oh, we had corn and soybeans and then, of course, I had my little garden. And at one time, I had an awful lot of strawberries.
MP Did you have people come out and pick strawberries?
RB No, no. I picked my own strawberries.
MP And you canned them. Well, what did you do with the soybeans and corn?
RB We sold those.
MP You put that in one of these-what do you call these, grain elevators and sold them?
RB You see, we had one harvester. You know, one harvester. You buy them and it has "Harvester" on there. Then if you buy another one, it's got your name on it. But we only wanted one.
MP So you owned your own?
RB We owned everything out there. Everything out there. There was only one thing that we.
MP And he taught himself how to operate all of these things?
RB He taught himself. I'm not just saying it because he was my husband.
MP I know. I know you're not.
RB He taught himself. And if you would ever see him write, all you'd have to do is like-it's like if something was wrong with your car out there, you'd run it to him and you'd say-and he'd look it over, and he wouldn't say nothing to you. If you told him you wanted the car fixed, he'd walk around looking and you'd tell him what you thought was wrong. He'd ask you to start it up, and then you'd start it up. He'd listen to I,t and then the next thing you know, he was standing there-he wouldn't have to have no pencil and paper. He would have the pencil and paper and after awhile he would tell you it'd cost you such and such. And if you'd look at him, you'd say how does he know? His mind was just like this (snaps her finger), just like an adding machine. He was good. He was good at mathematics.
MP So he had this-so he sold the farm. The farm was a business, and he sold that, and he had sold the auto shop and the aMuseument park. Did the aMuseument park operate after he sold it?
RB No. We got rid of the stuff. There was one fella got hurt on one of them. It was real odd because you know how people are thinking and the fella-it was the boy's fault, one of the boys that worked there. He was in the hospital-I don't know how it happened because I wasn't there. I always went out to see him. And I went out to the hospital to see him. He was in Saint Joe's before they tore it down. And there was two fellas in there talking to him. Well, I knew right away that they were insurance agents, you see. So they wanted him to sue. When I came in to see him-I can't think what the kid's name is, but if I'd see him, I'd know. Anyhow I walked in and I asked him-I started to say Johnny, but it wasn't Johnny. I says, "How are you?" He says, "I'm all right." I says, "Are you feeling better?" He says, "Yeah." He said, "You tell Dick that they want me to sue, but I'm not going to." And I said, "Okay, but it's up to you." But, see they didn't think Richard had any insurance. He had insurance on everyone-all of his stuff.
MP Yes. I'm sure he wouldn't have operated that thing without insurance being the businessman he was. That's right. He wouldn't have.
RB He had insurance. When I told him, he looked at me-he figured they would be trying to get at him, you know. But you see the reason why-the people in town, some of them, they liked him, but still the business was a little more lucrative than they wanted for a Black man.
MP I understand what you are saying. Yes. Yes.
RB And it was right near the park and most of the kids weren't at the park because nothing at the park.
MP That's right. The exciting activity was there.
RB and they'd go on over there. He had this popcorn, and he had the soft ice cream. Of course, he had the machine to make it. And the root beer. We sold root beer, and it was ice cold. And the glasses were just frosty and every thing. People would come out there. And another thing my husband would have a hog butchered. You know those sausages you see in the stores. He had them all fixed like that. What's her name now? Her last name is Doage, Ralph Doage's wife. She used to come out to the house and buy them from us.
MP So he sold those.
RB At home. Because we had the hogs. At one time we run 300 hogs. The reason why when he was getting tired on the tractor, we had a dog, of course. We've always had a dog. This is the only time I haven't had a dog because I don't like one to be tied. We had a Rusty here in town. We had a Rusty out there, and we had other things, you know. And they were all-they were better than children. They were good to me. They protected me. If Papa was on the tractor if I didn't know where he was, all I would have to do was say,"Rust where's Papa?" He would point exactly where he was, or I would say, "Go get Papa," and he would go down the field.
MP It was very convenient for you out there on the farm.
RB I was afraid he would overextend hisself sometime, and if he'd have got throw'd off that tractor, that tractor would keep on going and.
MP Yes. Absolutely.
RB Because you could get killed on those things, but he was always trying to be careful.
MP So that's only recently that he sold the farm, and then what did he begin to do?
RB Well, he built this place.
MP Go into real estate?
RB For himself, yeah. He did Miller Street. Then he built this. He made [the place on Miller Street] a duplex.
MP He made that a duplex. He did that work himself on Miller Street.
RB Him and the fellas.
MP And then he built this house.
RB I was in the hospital when he started on this. When he brought me home, he brought me by here, but it was cold. "She just got out of the hospital. I don't want her out."
MP So you stayed on the farm until this house was built? And then he had other real estate?
RB No, that was all. That was enough.
MP In the meantime, he had the Miller place, Miller Street. He had sold the property on Locust and Center Street, hadn't he?
RB He had already sold that. You mean the shop. The shop went first.
MP He didn't do any more auto work after that.
RB Except around the house. He always-maybe, check our car. Stuff like that. But, he didn't like to work on cars after so long a time because it got to be nothing but a breeze. Just like if you could do something then for fifteen dollars, after awhile it got to be forty dollars. You know how the prices go. And he said it was just scandalous. Because he thought they was taking people.
MP But by now he was pretty old then.
RB He was the same age I am.
MP He had worked pretty hard though.
RB Mm-huh. He used to laugh at me and ask me why my hair wasn't gray like his. I guess it will get there.
MP Did he ever tell you how he got interested in business? Did he have any relatives in business or did he know very many of his relatives?
RB He didn't know any of his relatives. He wasn't around his brothers until almost after we were married.
MP So, it was just his own idea, but he had a talent for it.
RB I met his father. His father was a nice looking man.
MP Was he in business at all?
RB No, his father was blind when he died.
MP So he just developed this interest in business himself?
RB Yes, that's why they says you can have six and seven children and no ones got the same ideas.
MP They have different talents.
RB Different talents. It has to be tested, you know.
MP That's right. You have to have some opportunity to experience it and see what you can do. Did your husband have any relationship with other businesses? Was he a member of the Chamber of Commerce or anything?
RB No. He didn't go into all that kind of stuff. He wasn't an outgoing person. The fellas liked him. Just like after he died. Well, he sent a card to the fella that he got Taylor Street from because the fella comes every year from Florida to see him, you know. He always comes here. He's got a brother, and then he always stops here. They always sit here and talk all afternoon. So he sent him a card at Christmas. So he knew he was going to come, and his wife hardly ever came, but this time she came and he said-he was down there 'cause I was over at the house working. I happened to look out and see this car, and I thought I don't know who it is. And my head was all tied up because it was dusty over there. So, I walked out and seen who it was, and he put his arms around me and I said, "Did you get a card from me." He says, "No, I didn't." He says, "But I got a card from Dick at Christmas," and he said a friend of his seen him.And he says, "Hey," he says. "How are you?" He says, "Fine." "Well, I'll be going up there myself this year." He says, "Have you heard the latest?" He says, "No, what do you mean the latest." He says, "Dick Bell died." It hurt him and his wife said it was all he could talk about. He had to go to see Dick. He always wore shorts, you know, and he always sat here, and they would sit her and just talk and talk. But Richard had lots of friends.
MP But what he did, he really taught a lot of young boys the skills, the ones that he worked with.
RB If they would listen.
MP That was a tremendous thing. And he taught this Thomas man, you say?
RB Oh yes. Buzz Thomas,
MP And he started his own business?
RB He started his own business.
MP Does he still operate that?
RB I guess so. I don't know 'cause Buzz was a scamp.
MP Yes. Yes. What you were saying was that your husband was a frugal person. He believed in saving, investing thoughtfully and wisely. And he did a lot of work himself.
RB Yes, he did most of the work himself. Anybody asks me about this house, and that house over there, and they ask, "Did he have any plans?" He never made plans. He just sat down and said, "Well, I'm going to do so and so."
MP He never had any trouble with the city? Everything checked out?
RB No, everything checked out.
MP He did the carpentry work himself. Did he do the plumbing himself?
RB Most of all it and the electricity, too.
MP That's amazing.
RB I'm going to have a new ceiling put on there in the dining room and the kitchen. If the man doesn't come who's supposed to do it-if he doesn't come I'm going to get someone to do it.
MP What do you have? Do you have?
End Side B

Rose Anna Bell's Story

Interviewer: Mildred Pratt | Date: November 15 1989

A

MP Today is November 15 [1989] and I'm talking with Mrs. Rose Anna Bell at ISU. And now you are going to give me again your father's name, I'm sorry.
RB My father's name was Newton Benjamin Gaines.
MP Newton Benjamin Gaines.
RB Un-huh. I don't remember where he was born, but I think it was out east in Virginia or some place like that.
MP In Virginia. All right. And your mother?
RB My mother's name was Apole Graves.
MP Apole Graves.
RB Un-huh. And she was one of twelve, and her parents lived in Downs, Illinois.
MP And what were their names, do you know?
RB Graves. I don't remember their.
MP That's interesting-they were born in Downs? Downs, Illinois?
RB Downs, Illinois. It's a little country town. That's where I spent my summers-every summer after school. School was out, I was on the day before going to Downs. That's why I never spent any of my summers with my family. I was with my grandparents.
MP Tell me the names of your brothers and sisters.
RB My oldest is Edward Benjamin Gaines, and he was born in, I think, in Normal or Bloomington. The next one was Luther Melvin Gaines. I don't know exactly where he was born. And Walter Benjamin Gaines-I think that was his [middle] name. (voice seems uncertain)
MP Now Walter was the one.
RB He was the baby.
MP who graduated from ISU.
RB ISU. Yes. And there was Mildred Florence, and she was born at Washburn, Illinois. It is out farther west of Bloomington. Then it was me Rose Anna, and I was born at 1207 West Oakland Avenue [in Bloomington]. And I think the other two, Leota and Frances-Leota Mae and Frances Oneada-I think they were born out there on Oakland Avenue, too. We lived at 1207 West Oakland Avenue then. The house has been torn down, and that's where they're going to make that new bridge.
MP Now your mother died when?
RB When my sister was a year old.
MP Now which sister was that?
RB Frances.
MP How old were you?
RB I was five. I was five at the time my mother died.
MP Now, tell me what happened? You said some social worker came in. Was that immediately after your mother's death?"
RB No, it wasn't immediately 'cause Dad got housekeepers. A lot of people liked him, but they didn't want the children. That's the reason why-and he didn't want us kids in the streets or running around the streets. And the social worker she kept an eye on us. I don't know why. We four girls, and we had a dog, too.
MP Your father owned a house? He was a fire knocker?
RB Oh yes. For the railroad-Chicago and Alton Railroad. He had been there for years. The boys helped him in his job. They (inaudible) from him. Walter-we called him Brother all the time-was with us girls at home.
MP So this social worker came out while your father was away? Describe that situation as you did.
RB Well, I just remember we were playing and all at once Mrs. [Florence] Strohmeier [assistant overseer of the poor and assistant secretary for the Bureau of Social Service]-we knew her.
MP What was her name?
RB Strohmeier. Yes, I don't know her first name. I don't remember rather. She came out and, of course, we knew her. Us kids knew her. And she came out in her-I called it a wagon, but it wasn't. It was an automobile. She just took us children.
MP How many children did she take?
RB We four girls and a boy? She took us out here to Normal to Illinois Soldiers and Sailors.
MP So she only took the five of you because the others were not at home. They were older?
RB Yes. Older, and they was with my dad. They was working with my dad. So then she called. Dad got off work around 3:30 [P.M.]. I remember that because we always had dinner after that. After Dad married Mama, we always had our meals around 4:30 or 5:00 o'clock. 'Cause he always come home and cleaned himself up. Anyhow, she called him when he got-there's a little shanty when the fellows get off work on the railroad where the boys, the fellas, undressed and changed their clothing. And Dad's little car-he had a little car. We called it the "the cracker box." We had a horse and buggy a lot of times. Anyhow, she came and got us and took us up to Normal, and he got off work at 3:00. She called the shanty. She called the C and A shops. They put Papa on the phone, and she told him, "Newton, if you want to see your children, come to Illinois Soldiers and Sailors Home. I have brought them here." I don't know her excuse or why she did it. She and him were pretty close friends, you know-she knew Dad. But he didn't want us in a Home, and so then he came right out there from the shops to the Home. When he seen us kids there standing (inaudible), he cried. They didn't know how to take care of us. Of course, the baby, she was in a nursery there. But us older ones we were in Cottage 8. The lady that was head over that cottage-her name was Mrs. Berry. She was a nice lady. When she had a day off-I can't think of the lady's name. She always had a crutch. We learned to darn our socks. We just learned everything. Everybody had their job. There was no difference in color or anything like that because we had the big room where you could go in and shower. You had to explain to them because they would look at you, you know. And you would come out, and you would dry yourself off. Everybody went to bed at the same time. But when we had our meals, we didn't eat in the cottage. We went to the dining room. The big building up there, see. We had good food. Wasn't nothing we wanted.
MP You remembered being well cared of?
RB Oh, we were well cared for. We was clean. Doctors was there. They had a dentist and everything right there on the grounds. You had a toothache, you pulled the tooth out. And that's the reason I have to wear bridges, you see. I just thought that was what you did. You had a toothache, you pulled the tooth out. Get rid of it. Anyhow, we were well taken care of. Nice thing about it during the year there was an organization from town that would take us on picnics because we had picnics every year. They would take us on little outings. But when we were in there, we couldn't go outside the grounds because it was fenced in all the way around. You learned how to do things. I didn't work in the laundry or anything like that. There was a place you got your clothes made. Everybody wore regulation clothes and like that, you know, but they were good to us.
MP Let me ask you approximately what year was that?
RB Oh, Honey. I can't remember. It's been such-so many years ago.
MP So, you were about six years old when you went in?
RB No. Well, maybe I was because I was about nine or ten when Dad married Mama.
MP Oh, when you came out? You were in there then about many years?
RB I would say about four or five years. We were well taken care of and well fed. We had all the milk we wanted to drink.
MP How often did you see your father? Did you go visit him?
RB No. He came to visit us once or twice because he would come and get us. Now, you are going to think this is funny. But we were scared of people outside the Home because we weren't used to them. All these people, and we weren't used to them.
MP That was completely new for you to be in the institution like that.
RB Yeah, because-everybody set the table and my brother used to help serve the tables. I can remember sometimes I'd be in the hospital, and he'd come by and say, "How do you feel Sis?" And I'd tell him, and he'd say, "Dad will be here." "So tell him I say, 'Hi'." Well, the time he told me once before that he was going to be there, when they went to take my temperature I took the thing out and laid it down on the floor so my temperature would be getting normal. I wouldn't have to be laying there in that bed. But you know I wanted to see my dad so I did that. But I paid for it because they had to carry me back to the hospital. I called it the hospital, but I think now sometimes they call it the infirmary. Anyhow, he told Dad that I was sick. What bothered Dad was they didn't know how to comb us girls' hair. They didn't know how to comb my hair. And they shaved me. My oldest sister's head was shaved three times.
MP They just shaved all the hair?
RB Oh, yeah. Just shaved all the hair. My baby sister, she was a baby and her hair wasn't touched. Mine was cut only once. I don't remember about my sister-the one who's living now-I don't know how many times hers was cut. I know my older sister-it was always thin. Her hair was always thin.
MP How did your father react to all this?
RB Oh, he cried. He just cried. He said he thought they ought to know how to comb my hair or let us mess with it.
MP Do you remember how did the other children there relate to you? Did you have a good relationship with the other children?
RB Yes. Just like any.
MP Were there other Black children there?
RB Yes. I don't remember-I remember in the Home-I don't know if the lady is still living or not-there were two ladies who were there who were deaf. That's how I learned sign language. I used to do that all the time. Because you learn from somebody else, you know, especially in the same setting. You learn from them. A lot of times, I could look at them-and at one time I was slightly deaf, too, after I was out of the Home. Of course, everyone thought I was playing 'cause I played about everything. I was a devil. But I would watch their mouths, and that's the reason why I look at a person all the time. Sometimes I sit if I do like that-because this is the ear, and sometimes the sound goes passed. I was out here having my ears examined, too, and liked it. They got such a kick out of me. We just had a ball. Anyhow this girl-she was married to Jordan Grigsby. She was out here, too. She was older than me. And there were these other two girls that was deaf. One of their names was Mildred. I don't remember the other's name. Anyhow, they were in our cottage. We were just like a big family. We learned how to darn socks. I could darn a pair of socks just like-you know. Just like it's supposed to be, you know. And you don't have no bumps. It would be smooth, you know. We didn't throw nothing away because some of the little ones could use the things that we were darning. But it was an experience.
MP Now, tell me. I understand that the only children who are accepted into those Homes are those whose fathers had served in one of the wars.
RB I don't know whether my father did or not. But we was out here.
MP I suspect he did.
RB We were out here, and he knew that we were getting taken good care of. When he would come and get us and take us home for a day or something like that, we were scared of the people outside. We were at home with the ones at the Home, but we were scared of the people outside. And it was really funny, you know, when I think of it now because that's all we knew. We were our own sisters and brothers, you know.
MP Yes. So now when you learned-when your father got married, how did he tell you about it?
RB Well, he said he was going to take us home to Mama. And you know as usual there's always somebody in the neighborhood or in the area that's going to tell you that you don't have to mind her. "She's not your mother." And they'll build up a-you know, when you're a child you believe a lot of things that aren't true. Maybe it's because.
MP If they are adults who are telling you that, you believe it.
RB I was a-I hate to say it, but I was the devil. A lot of times I'd say, "You ain't my Mama. I don't have to mind you." And sat there. It hurt her, but she never let on.
MP We didn't get her name. What was her name?
RB My stepmother's name?
MP Yes.
RB Belle Kidd.
MP Belle Kidd. And you told me you thought she came from southern Illinois.
RB Southern Illinois-either Saint Louis or further down because when it came to cooking gumbo and all that sort of stuff, she was ace. And she never used a recipe, and that's the way I learned to cook. She taught me. When we were home, we used an awful lot of baked bread. Every Wednesday and every Saturday we baked three loaves of bread and fifty-two rolls.
MP Oh, is that right? So she taught you then how to make rolls?
RB I was-'cause she'd say- well, when she was in the hospital, she says-you know we would buy-there was a store here named My Store. It used to be down there where.
MP What was it called?
RB My Store. M-Y Store. My Store. It used to be down there on-I don't know what's there now. It used to be down there on Center Street. But that used to be My Store before it was Montgomery Wards. A grocery store and everything you wanted to buy.
MP A kind of general store.
RB Yes. Everybody-and just like the West Side Clothing Store you had an account there-not like these things you have a charge card. You just had an account there, and you paid it off. And so we would buy bread there, you know. And so when she got sick and had to go to the hospital, I told her, "I have go to the store and get some bread Mama."And she said, "Can't you make some biscuits." She said, "You watched me enough, you ought to be able to." She gave you confidence that you didn't even think you had. And she said, "Just go ahead and do it like I do."I said, "Okay, Mama." [I thought], "If Mama thinks I can do it, I'm going to do it." And she said, "When you make them, bring me one." Of course, you see Saint Joe's was out west then on Oakland Avenue.
MP And that's where she was?
RB That's where she was. That's a Catholic hospital. See, she's Catholic. She knew everyone of those Sisters just like she knew the palm of her hand, you know. So anyhow I baked biscuits for supper. Nobody said anything about them at the table. And I had to go see Mama every night 'cause we combed Mama's hair. We did little things for her. So I took this to her. Before she touched it she says, "You didn't put any baking soda-baking powder in it." And I says, "Did you do that?" And she says, "Yeah." And I says, "How can you tell?" And she says, "I can tell by looking at it." She had the eye. So then she says, "You go home and put some baking powder in it. You know, the next batch, you know. But I didn't know she had. I just took (laughter drowns out comments). And she taught us to make cakes. You didn't bounce around in the kitchen when you had a cake in the oven. Dad always had to have cake in his bucket. We had to get up at five o'clock in the morning to fix him his-to fix the stove. We had a coal range, but up here it was gas, but we didn't use the gas. We just used the coal. (inaudible sentence) Had a reservoir on this side. We had this thing, a double boiler with-what is it now? Oatmeal or something like that because everybody had oatmeal. And then you'd have your bacon or whatever it was. We always had big slabs of bacon. We never bought anything. Mom never bought anything little.
MP Oh, she bought large amounts?
RB We had our own garden. We had our own chickens. We had a horse and buggy.
MP Oh, you did?
RB Oh, yeah, we had our own garden, and we all worked in the garden. And you had to do that. It was a job. And we canned every year, and we learned how to can. Because in the wintertime our shelves in the basement were fixed like that, you know. And we had tomatoes and green beans. Everything that you would have in a garden, it was there. And we had a peach tree and a cherry tree and a pear tree. And you know I look at that ground now, and I think, "How could that parcel of ground have raised seven kids and have all of that stuff that we canned." Because Mama-Dad always bought potatoes by those big, big bags, you know. We used to buy those big bags to store because we used them, you know. I used to wonder how that parcel of land could handle us kids. And we'd be happy.
MP Now, tell me who did the disciplining? Did your father?
RB Oh, Mama did. And Dad did, too. He had a strap like that. In our dining room, you know. At that end there was a place that held the shoe polish and everything like that, you know. Papa would mend shoes sometimes, you know. But there was a strap, and if you didn't do right, you got that strap.
MP You got that strap.
RB Dad whipped me once in his life. Not with the strap-I thought it was with the whole bush in the neighborhood. (laughter) It wasn't funny because my older sister, you know-"We didn't," she said. Because Mom wasn't able to quit work right away. She quit work after so long a time because, you know, streetcars were running. There was a club my brother belonged to, and it was called the "something" Fellows. Anyhow, my brother belonged to it. And they had this club, and they'd have a party every so often and invite the girls and this and that and the other. So Mildred-that's my oldest sister. Mildred Florence. Boy, she was a "honey." She was going to go, you see. And Mama had told me, "Where Mildred goes, you go, too." Well, you see I believed Mama. So she went?
RB Brother asked if we went to the Jolly Fellows-I think it was the Jolly Fellows. All the young men belonged. So they had this party out on East Oakland Avenue. That's across the tracks. And the young man who lived there was Fred Bynum. Kathryn Dean-wait a minute. Her-well, anyhow.
MP Her maiden name is Bynum, right?
RB No her maiden name is Kathryn.? (trying to remember)
MP She was Bynum at one time.
RB I think she was married to him. I'm not sure. Anyhow, we went to his house. We didn't.
MP That's where the party was?
RB That's where the party was. So Mildred said she was going to this party. And Mama said for me to go along, too. So I got ready too. And I went.
MP You were the chaperone for your older sister, right?
RB I was a wild one. I was no chaperone. I was getting into more devilment than she was. So when we first got there, Mildred didn't say anything to Brother, because Brother belonged to this thing. Anyhow when I walked in, the first person I seen was my brother. And he said, "Mama say you could be here?" Mama was still at work see. "Mama say you could be here?" I said, "Mildred said she did." And he said, "Are you sure?" I said, "Mm-huh." Just then the streetcar went by and there was my mama on there. But had she known she'd have got off and got us out of there. But she didn't. She went on home, and she asked Dad where the girls were. And Dad told her-no the little kids, my sisters Leota and Frances. They told her, "They went to the party." Regular Fellows-that's what they were. Regular Fellows. Anyhow, when we go home-it was after mid-night, and the boys brought us home in a car. I'm telling you it was the oddest thing. They said, "There's your father. What's he doing? Is he planting-what's he doing with the shrubs?" Mildred said, "Oh, he must be planting." Well, I knew Dad wasn't planting no shrubs.
MP You knew exactly what.
RB What he was going to do with them. He was going to wear us out. Well, we got in-my sister and I-see this is a big family. My sister and I slept in the front room (inaudible), you know. So I got myself ready to go to bed. And I'll tell you the truth. I was a weakling because whenever I got afraid of anything, my kidneys were weak, and I would wet the bed. And they used to tease me about it, but the more-that's why I say to anybody, who's got a child if they wet the bed, don't hurt them with it. Don't throw it up to them. Because that stays with them, and it makes them afraid to go to sleep. And afraid to do anything because the first thing they did was.
MP Because they're afraid they are going to wet the bed?
RB And then you get punished for it, and you just dread that. And you think everybody in town knows it. Anyhow, I got myself ready to go to bed, and Mildred got herself ready. Mama was sitting there. Mama always hummed, and so Daddy was sitting-he had a big leather chair. I don't think they make them like that anymore. But anyhow, he had this big leather chair, and he was sitting in it, and he called Mildred. He said, "Why did you go to the party?" "Well, I wanted to go," she said. Dad-that was his "pick," see. My oldest brother and my oldest sister. That's why I always say if you have any children, don't have no picks. The other ones feel it, and it hurts. They're not anything. He said, "I told you to stay home, and I'm going to whip you." He took-he had these bushes, and my dad couldn't stand up and whip somebody because he was too heavy and short-winded. So he had to sit down. And Mildred stepped back. Anyhow then he whipped me. He called me in and asked me why I went. After he hit me the second or third time-that was the only time my dad ever hit me-my mama said, "Dad don't touch her. I told her to go where Mildred went." So Dad said, "Okay go on to bed. Mildred come back here?"
MP And she got the brunt of it.
RB And the little kids-they always called them the little kids-they got up. And Mildred said, "I don't care. I had a good time." And Leota said, "Look at all the shrubs." And I didn't say anything. Mildred said, "It didn't hurt me." And really I don't' think it did. She was just that stubborn. She was just like Dad. It bothered me. And Mom.
MP She protected you.
RB Un-huh. She said, "I told you to go."I said, "Mom, she said she'd called you." We didn't have a phone. We had to go in back of us to 1208 West Mill Street. That's where Mrs. Caldwell lived. We could use her phone because she always had a phone. Parties never interested me after that.
? I'm curious how old were you when you went to the party with your sister?
RB I don't know. Old enough to get in trouble. I shouldn't have did it, but I did because Mama had said to go with her.
MP And you remembered that.
RB Oh, yes. Mama taught me so much. I'm the only one in the family-I sew a little. I used to make all my daughter's clothes. But I don't sew like my sister that I have now and the baby sister because they worked in the factories. They can put it out just like that. And when my sister made something for me, all she had to do was look at me. I had two suits that she made me. She made me a velvet-it's not purple. It's a lavender suit. She didn't have to even measure me. It's lined and everything.
MP Now, she learned this from your mother then?
RB Oh, yes. And my old-my sister now-and I have a black (inaudible). She called it-my baby sister called it the black gab. It's a honey. She said, "The only thing I hate about you is you like pockets." And I do. I like pockets. But, see, I always have a lot of Kleenex in my pockets, you know. This is the only thing that don't have-nobody made this. I don't know where I got this.
MP Now where did you go to school?
RB I went to Irving School. And my daughter went to Irving School, too. My husband went to Irving School, too. My daughter went to Irving School, and she was the president of her graduating class. And then she went to high school. She was on the honor roll for four years, and she got a scholarship to Wesleyan.
MP Now, Irving-was that a high school and a grade school?
RB No, that was just a grade school.
MP You went to high school at Bloomington?
RB I went to Bloomington High School-old Bloomington High School. I don't know what they're going to make of it now. And I walked from the station to the high school.
MP Where was the old high school?
RB Right up there across the street from Lafayette Apartments.
MP That now is the junior high, isn't it. And you walked all the way there to school?
RB Oh, yes, I walked school. We didn't have money to ride on the bus. 'Cause we lived by the station, you know. And we walked.
MP You were telling me about your daughter. She graduated from Bloomington High and then went to Illinois Wesleyan?
RB Yes. And she got a scholarship. While she was taking her-well, she didn't-Mr. Goodyear he was the-what do you call it-the superintendent or principal of the. (the 1944 Bloomington High School yearbook lists P. Clifton Kurtz as principal and Dr. Paul Gossard as superintendent)
MP Principal.
RB high school. He interceded for her to get a scholarship. Well, she didn't make it on the first test. Mr. Goodyear said, "Give her a chance. She's nervous and she'll make." And she got it because someone followed her around out there at Wesleyan, but she didn't know it. This man followed her around to each class that she was in. Was doing it for some lady. And I just was going over some papers earlier this morning-I was looking for something. The lady's name that paid her tuition at Wesleyan was Mrs. Melvina Reed. And she lived in Piper City, Illinois. She was an old lady, and she only weighed about ninety pounds and when my daughter used-when she decided to go to Washington, D. C., she took that upon herself-because she spent most of her waking hours from high school down at Second Presbyterian Church with her friends. Because she was friends with Donna Dodge and Mary Jane Grubb (both in 1944 graduating class) and all those girls that were in her class, you see.
MP Now, they were in her class in high school?
RB In high school.
MP You were saying someone followed her around at Illinois Wesleyan. Who was this person?
RB I don't know his name.
MP Why did he follow her around?
RB He followed her around to see how she was doing because this little old lady-she paid her tuition. Every time you turned around there was a check coming from her. So, my daughter-when she decided to go to Washington, D. C. -the old library was on the corner of.
MP Washington?
RB Yes, and they always had things on the bulletin board about different colleges and like that. She could either go to New York, Washington, D. C., or Ohio. Well, she decided-this was her own idea-I didn't know what she was doing, but anyhow she wrote to Washington D. C. and she was accepted at Saint Elizabeth's Hospital. That's a government hospital. When she had gotten this check from Mrs. Reed-the lady must have called or something-anyhow she decided she would go return it, the check. So when she called her and told her she would be up to see her because I hadn't met her before. She said, "Okay." Of course, I was with her. The little lady politely told me, she didn't want to see me, she wanted to see my daughter. She said, "You go on and do anything you want." Ida told her, "I'm bringing you back this check for my schooling because I'm going to Washington, D. C. I'm going to be a nurse." And the little old lady, she was sitting on a high stool because she was a little, small lady, and she was rich. She had plenty of money. Her home wasn't any more-it was just like mine. Her son lived with her. She says to Ida, "Don't you want my money?" And Ida said, "Yes, I need your money, but you have helped me so far, and I would rather that you give it to somebody else and help someone else because I'm going to Washington, D. C. and be at Saint Elizabeth's Hospital." And the lady says, "I want you to keep it." And Ida said, "I can't, because I'll be working for the government." I don't know what happened because I wasn't-I didn't hear it. Anyhow, I came across this little notation, "Melvina Reed, Piper City" and her birthday was such and such, but the writing was so small.
MP You saw this just recently?
RB This morning. Early this morning because I was trying to find an envelope that I was going to mail out to somebody. And I couldn't find it. I generally save everything. And anyhow Ida went to Washington, D. C. Course she had, I think, either two and a half or something like that years at Wesleyan. At this Saint Elizabeth's Hospital they had Negro help. They had kitchen help, laundry, and caretakers. But they'd never had a Black nurse-Black person before there.
MP As a student?
RB As a student. So when we took her there-see, her daddy and I didn't want her to go-she had never been away from us, and I asked her why she wanted to go. And she says, "I'm going there because it's too far to come back in a day, and that way I'll have to make up my mind of whether to stay there or not." So her father and I decided to take her. I had already decided that if she is going to go, we'll take her. When we got there, men were only allowed in the front place. So I took her suitcase-her steamer trunk-you know that little thing that you buy. Not a steamer trunk.
MP Footlocker.
RB Footlocker. That's exactly what it was. She had bought it and-before that she had worked at Roland's operating the outside elevator, and she had saved her own money. So she was pretty thrifty. So I went back with her and one of the ladies came in that was working there. I know she was a helper or something there because she had on a blue uniform, and she asked Ida, "Why are you taking your clothes out of your suitcase? You don't know whether you are going to stay here or not?" You see they wasn't used to her. My daughter turned and looked at her and says, "I'm going to be here. Whether you believe it or not, I'm going to be here." She took all of her things out of the footlocker and put them in the drawer. Picked out-you know, in each room they have two beds, two desks and everything. So she stayed, and one of the girls that was in her class wanted her to-see, her window's on the ground floor. She could get out, in and out, see. Wanted her to-if she went out that night, she could come in. But she said, "If I do that I would be defeating my purpose." (Inaudible) If you're not in by curfew, that's it because they watched over you like a hawk. But those girls, to this day I still hear from them. One of them-she and her husband have a jewelry store in California. And one is in Alaska and all like that. But anyhow Ida stayed there, and she graduated cum laude. She sang-well, there was another girl that joined the group, too, but I don't know whether she ever stayed or not. But Ida sang "The Lord's Prayer"-no, wait a minute-"The Holy City" at the (inaudible).
MP She sang with the choir. Did she sing with the choir at Wesleyan?
RB Yes. No, she didn't sing with the choir. She was in band. She was in the concert band and the pep band or whatever you called it. She played the saxophone, and she played the piano.
MP Do you play the piano?
RB Not very much. I just taught myself. I love music. But anyhow, she sang "The Holy City" at the (audible). You know the Capitol. You know Washington D.C. is made so funny. It's made around a circle, you know. And you can get lost. And we were on our way. Papa and I was in town. I forget what hotel we were staying at. But she was to sing, and we got lost.
MP Oh, you were going to hear her?
RB Absolutely, we went to the (inaudible), and we went to her graduation, too. Because we had to be there.
MP And you missed hearing her sing?
RB Oh, no. We walked in when she was singing 'cause the girls-all the kids were sitting up there just on needles and pins, you know. "Where's your parents?" And when she got up to sing "The Holy City" at the (inaudible) we walked in. And all the kids went "Whew." They loved her, you know. She was such a loveable person. So then at her graduation, she sang the "Lord's Prayer." She said there is nothing in the world that can help you with your voice except an organ, and everybody in that hospital grounds-they just gathered her in their arms, you know. They called her "the baby." She was written up in the paper. And, of course, I still have that stuff. And I heard about all that, and then when she died, I heard from all them, too. Dr. Frisch-I don't know whether you know him. He's a surgeon here-he was in her graduating class at grade school. She and him both went to Wesleyan in pre-med. He was a doctor. I had to go to him-I didn't have to go to him, but I said, "I know Dr. Frisch." I had to be operated on. I said, "I'll have him. But I don't know where he is or what his name is." They said, "Well, there's a John Frisch." I said, "No. We called him Jack. He was a West Side boy, you know. So I was sitting there talking to the nurse. Pretty soon she went out, and I was sitting there like that and she went out, and pretty soon he came in. He said, "Mrs. Bell, I'm Jack." And he says, "You know, when Ida died, I wanted so much to say something to you, but you don't know what it meant to me, or to all of us who knew her, because we all loved her." She was such a beautiful person. Not just because she was my daughter, but she really was. She never gave me an ounce of trouble, and she was always so good to me. I worked like I did at private families, you know, and she rode a bicycle. Sometimes she would bring me up town on her bicycle on the handlebars because she rode a boy's bicycle. Because she liked the boy's bike. People would laugh. I'd jump off, you know, and then get on the bus because she'd go on to Wesleyan, and I'd be going out east to work.
MP How did this woman learn about her?
RB I don't know how. You mean Mrs....
MP The woman who was from Piper City, you say, who provided pay for her education at Wesleyan.
RB I don't know how. It must have been through the high school.
MP Maybe through Bloomington High School?
RBI You know, I was thinking about that the other day when I happened to be going over these letters, and I looked on this blue thing-"Melvina Reed, Piper City." That's when it all came back to me. But you see the lady politely told me, "I don't talk to you. I talk to her." I was nothing as far as she was concerned. I didn't have anything to do with it. She wanted to do that herself-go on to that nursing.
MP I wanted to ask you how you happened to start writing poetry and when you started?
RB Oh, I don't know how I did that. It's just that sometimes.
MP Do you remember if you wrote as a child?
RB No. I don't remember. I just remember writing after I was married. I was always ready to rhyme something. Papa used to say something, tease me about it, you know. Anyhow, I feel there's a lot of things-sometimes when you just sit down and when you're by yourself, and I've been by myself a lot of times. And you know being on the farm for twenty-five years, you see, and my main companion was the dog. And I could go any place-and a lot of people wondered-of, course my dad taught us not to be afraid. Especially when we had a dog with us, and that dog was my buddy. My granddaughter used to ask me, "Why do you say something to the dog? Can he understand you?" I said, "He understands me." And if I was going to town, I said, "I'm going to tie you up, but I'll let you loose as soon as I come back." You know I didn't want him running, but I don't like to see a dog tied. I could just tell him to do something. "You go over there and lay down." And he knew when I was afraid of anything. I had two Rustys-a Silky and two Rustys. And both the Rustys were Airedales. And they have an awful lot of sense. They are just so marvelous.
MP Do you have one now?
RB No. Because, you see, in town you have to keep them tied. And I don't want to. And every time I look on the television and there is something about a dog, I think I ought to have one. They keep you so much company. (remainder of interview contains personal family information. Dr. Pratt soon stopped recording)
End Side A