by Arbutus (Bell) Milholin
I was very small when Grandpa Bell died. I do remember him. A few memories stand out very clear. I see him coming in our kitchen in a full-length fur coat. He had a felt hat on his head, clenched in his teeth was a large, crooked stemmed pipe. The pipe bowl had beautiful carvings on it. He was carrying a gallon pail of oysters – his special contribution to the Christmas dinner. I stood in awe of him. He seemed so tall. I know now that he was short – 5’ 7” when he enlisted in the Civil War. He stood tall and as straight as a ramrod, a trait of all the Bells. The fact the he lost a portion of his left arm in the Civil War impress all of the children. We would cuddle you up on his lap and nudge you in the ribs with his stubbed arm-it really hurt, but we giggled and never let him know that it hurt instead of tickled.
Another memory – the scene is at the dinner table at Grandpa’s house, very soft lighting, they had gas lights. I was privileged to be seated next to Grandpa. We had homemade doughnuts for dessert. He leaned over and whispered in my ear “Don’t eat the doughnut hole, they poison little kids, eat closely around the hole - don’t break it – and then give Grandpa the hole.” I think he was using psychology, as the procedure kept me very quiet for a long time.
Grandpa always brought treats when he came to visit – he had more money than most, due to his Civil War pension. I remember the muskmelons, oranges and bananas, too.
His funeral was held at his own home, his coffin was mahogany, and the first one the people in the area had ever seen. My sister, Grace, was Grandpa’s pet; he lovingly called her “Little Joe”. Grace cried so hard at his funeral, everyone was trying to comfort her. I remember being a little jealous and cut loose with a few loud wails. A lady said, “Poor little dear, she sure loved her Grandpa”.
Grandpa Joe was a strict and stern parent, but putty in the hands of his grandchildren. He was quite bald – high cheekbones and piercing blue eyes. My sister Grace said she always liked bald men, her Grandpa was so special.
He must have been a ladies man as his second wife was eighteen and he was forty-two. His third wife was twenty-four and he was sixty-three. They had a good life; his house was the most modern in the area. Gaslights, steam heat, and a special room for workmen to wash up in.
Grandma Lottie was generous with her cookies but made me sit in a chair while eating one. I thought her very fussy as I roamed the house at home.
In the winter of 1977 I spent an afternoon in Grandpa’s old house. The people who owned it were still using Grandpa’s ornate wood heating stove. I stood by it warming myself and my thoughts rambled a little. I wondered if Grandpa Joe was smiling down on funny little Arbutus, now a middle-aged lady, as she stood by his stove, all choked up with memories.
Grandpa always had good horses – he liked them with lots of spirit. He had one named Dan that he drove to South Branch to meet the mail train. He would have to get out and hold Dan as the train whistles sent him bucking. He once wore a steel hook on his left arm, until the night he got in a argument and hit an man with it. It quickly sobered him up when he realized he could have killed the man. He took the hook off one the way home and threw it into the swamp. He never wore one again.