The Bells   Leave a comment

BLOGGER’S NOTE:

I found a wonderful website, CHATTOOGA PHOTO HISTORY, while searching for a photograph related to the Taylor Institute.  Here is a link to the Taylor Institute page:  http://chattoogaphotohistory.com/taylor_institute.html.  The  website is worth exploring, as I can attest.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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From Leaves in the Wind, pages 21-24

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“Papa” was John Dodson Taylor, Sr., my great-grandfather.

Nell Taylor was my grandmother and the wife of John Dodson Taylor, Jr.

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Papa was a perfectionist in many ways, one being his exacting ideas regarding education.  He wanted his own to have the best of everything; and when I came along, he began to cast around for a good education for me.  He was obsessed with the idea that the county school board was not consistent in maintaining the necessary standards of education.  One year their actions pleased him very much, while the next twelve months brought a change in this conclusion.  This off-again-on-again habit reminds me of the old colored minister who was talking to his white minister colleague.  When asked by the white minister if he believed in falling from grace, the colored minister replied that he not only believed in it; he practiced it!

Papa felt that the local board too often practiced that falling-from-grace theory in maintaining the educational standards; and determined that his youngest chicken should have the best possible education, Papa decided to start a private school in which he could put into practice everything he thought made up a good school.  This he did and promptly dubbed it “Taylor Institute,” or “T.I.,” as it was called by the students.

Papa obtained the old building which had been vacated by the the local school when it moved into new quarters.  (T.I. was housed on the lot where North Summerville Elementary School now stands.)  His next step was to find the best qualified principal available.  It was, as the result of this search, that Summerville obtained one of the finest families ever to grace any community–the Charles E. Bells.  Papa found him at Peabody College.  I used to call him “Fess,” a name he loved as he did a snake.  He was and always will be my idea of a good teacher, a good man, and a true friend.

The day the Bells arrived in Summerville was another big moment in the history of the town.  Papa told me well in advance of their arrival that I was to be the welcoming committee and to get the old Cole Eight polished and shining.  The day dawned bright and a little warmish.  I was in my place at the depot well ahead of the published time for the train’s arrival.  Pete Woods, the agent, only increased my anxiety by advising me that he had word that the train would be fifteen minutes late.

Finally, the train arrived; and Conductor Summerville (his real name) placed a little step on the ground.  I was standing by, wondering what the Bells would be like.  Papa had tried to describe Mr. Bell, of course; and my imagination had added a few flourishes to that picture.  All of these ideas were wrong, I realized, when I saw a handsome, robust gentleman with happy blue eyes and a big smile, attired in a dapper blue suit, step to the ground.  I figured this was my man and so introduced myself.  This was Charles E. Bell.  A displaced Ohioan, he was well indoctrinated in the ways which mark a real Southern gentleman.  His handshake said much.

By this time, Mrs. Bell was standing on the bottom step.  Mr. Bell turned, and with a little bow, offered his hand to Miss Nellsie, as we learned to call her.  I was properly introduced to her, and then began the parade of all the little Bells.  Wanda was the first off the train, then Harold, and all the others.  They just kept coming, until all six stood on the ground.  They huddled in front of the depot while I briefed them as to the plans for their comfort.  This consisted of my depositing them in the side door of the school house, which was to be their home for a day or two until their house was completely redecorated.  This situation was embarrassing, but labor was not always completed on time, even then.  I do not remember who sat on whom except that Harold sat next to me–in fact–almost on my right leg–and Wanda sat next to him.  I seized this opportunity to learn a few names, ramming Harold with my elbow and asking his name.  I was immediately told,

“Puddinin” Tayne.  Ask me again and I’ll tell you the same!

The dye was cast, and for years after that he was know as “Puddinin” Bell.  This was later changed to “Booby” Bell.

I made another attempt to learn names, asking the name of his sister sitting next to him.

Her name is Wanda.  It is an Indian name,

He informed me.

This enlightening answer made me lean over to see if she bore any resemblance to an Indian.  In so doing, my hand slipped, throwing me over the steering wheel, almost causing me to lose control of the car.  That was the first and only time I ever fell for Wanda.

With my tongue in cheek and my head bowed, I deposited the Bells in the side door of the school house.  You couldn’t call that an outburst of Southern hospitality, and it broke my heart to see Miss Nellsie crying.  However, that didn’t last long for a couple of minutes a determined look appeared on her face.  I had never seen such a look before; but that look seems to be a characteristic of ladies names Nell, for my Nell wears it every time she enters a dime store.  When that look appears, I inevitably say,

I’ll meet you at the front door, Honey.

She never hears it, because she has just executed a perfect “charge of the light brigade.”  But this was about Nell Bell, not about Nell Taylor.

Miss Nellsie clipped out a couple of crisp commands which activated all the Bells; and in no time, the school house became a comfortable, temporary home.  Thus was the Taylor Institute born!

Papa figured that since he was paying all the bills for the school, he could claim the right to edit the catalog.  When he chose, he could wield a mighty pen; and his determination and his superb command of the King’s English brought forth a masterpiece.  He sold customers a “bill of goods” about the growing necessity for a good education.  He convinced them that with Taylor Institute in town, then need look no further, that

one would be able to avail oneself of a very unusual opportunity.

First of all, the teachers–“Fess” and Miss Nellsie–were the best.  Secondly, the building was fine.  Thirdly–and her comes the punch line–nowhere in the whole world would you

find a climate any more salubrious

than right here in Summerville.  Not all the natives knew what “salubrious” meant, and I doubt if they cared; but, if they were living in that kind of climate, it wasn’t hurting them, so what the heck!  The catalog helped; and with Papa and “Fess” out beating the bushes, we opened in September with a full house.

Being of the old school, Papa had gotten his education the hard way, and he was determined that his youngest chicken was going to get his the same way.  We gobbled up a diet of McGuffey’s Readers; Robinson’s Arithmetic, a terrific course in mental arithmetic; Latin, history, and other studies, topping it all off with “Fess’s” course in sightsinging.  He was a good singer, always faithful in leading the singing in our Sunday School.  He never failed to hum the first note with the first word of song.  Perhaps this is the reason that those who put in their birthday offerings on Sunday morning were greeted with the singing of

N-Nappy birthday to you,

instead of

Happy birthday.

Our faculty meant business.  We “got it” or else.  I preferred to “get it.”  We had work in all subjects.  Our teachers made no effort to soft-pedal anything.  We just knew they were killing us, yet we survived!  I later attended a military prep school and college, but I actually received more “book larnin'” at T.I. than anywhere else.

One of the happiest memories I have of “Fess” was born in the arithmetic class one day.  While he was working a problem at the board, he chanced to drop a piece of chalk.  As he stooped to pick it up, his pants naturally pulled tighter.  One eager student on the front row had been idly playing with a piece of window shade.  While “Fess” was retrieving the chalk, the room was suddenly filled with a ripping sound.  Fearful that his middle-age had caused complications:  he jumped up–his face crimson.  As he backed against the board, he emphatically dismissed the class and emptied the room–much to our delight.

We had a well-rounded program of sports, even though that was before the days of football in these parts.  We had basketball and baseball for boys and girls, and our teams were good.  In his own right, “Fess” wasn’t a bad coach!  Papa really went all-out for equipment, especially for the boys’ teams.  I always felt that the girls were treated like proverbial step-daughters, for they inherited the old-fashioned baggy-time bloomers for uniforms.  I lived in horror that at some tense moment of a tame one of the player’s clothes might come to a parting of the ways.  This catastrophe never occurred, for the coach had provided them with dependable what-nots and spare safety pins.  We played all the teams in this area and consistently maintained an exceptionally good record for a small private school.

Public schools continued to grow; and the Institute, having served its purpose, finally closed.  However, many of those who attended T.I. cherish fond memories of happy days spent together, and with “Fess” and all the Bells.

JOHN DODSON TAYLOR, JR.

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HISTORICAL NOTE:

The 1988 history of Summerville Presbyterian Church lists Charles E. Bell, Sr. (died October 22, 1970) and Nell Bell (died July 1, 1963) as  members from June 12, 1921, to March 30, 1941.  Their children were Wanda , Katherine Jean, Marion Frances, Charles Jr., William Carson, and Harold.  Their memberships at Summerville Presbyterian Church began at different dates (from 1920 to 1933) and also terminated on March 30, 1941.  Wanda married O. H. “Sonny” Elgin and returned to Summerville Presbyterian Church as a member on February 17, 1946.  She remained a member there until she died, on November 6, 1973.  Her widower joined the group which left the church in the nasty split of 1982 and formed First Presbyterian Church (Presbyterian Church America).  It was a truly nasty schism, complete with a vandalization of the manse one Sunday afternoon.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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