Ties That Bind: Honoring a Mentor

Reader Contribution by Laura Lowe
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The photo below was taken on a recent visit to South Central Alabama. Shown left to right is Nadine Bell’s niece Donna Perdue, Laura Lowe, Nadine Bell, and my cousin Viola Sellers.

A mentor is someone who wants you to do well and will help in some way. Mentoring might consist of encouragement or some sort of tutelage. Mentors believe in you. It is amazing just how motivating that is. Mrs. John Bell — Nadine Bell — was this such person in my youth.

My mom was the Bell’s cook for 30 years. My mom was beloved by them. She also loved them. It was not hard for my mom to love people. She seemed to love everyone no matter what race or socio-economic level. How she did this, I don’t know. The times in which they lived in the deep South were often dangerous, and racial segregation was the law. The critically acclaimed movie TheHelp, released in 2011, has a very familiar theme, but I believe my mother’s relationship with her employers was on a different level than those portrayed in the movie in that Mother seemed to always enjoy a respected position with the family as a confidant and friend.

My brother and I spent time with the Bells. The little field work I did was for Mr. John. One summer, my brother and I picked butter beans for him. He would take us with him at lunch time to buy lunch for the other workers. Mr. John’s life was interesting; he had gone to war and was seriously injured in action on August 28, 1944 in France. General Patton personally presented him with the highest honor a soldier can receive: the Purple Heart. According to a history of his life, John Bell was in the 3rd Armored Tank Division and served as a gunner on a medium tank. He lost five tanks before being blown up by a German 88. I remember him fondly. He treated my mother with respect, and even after she retired the Bells remained very close to my mom. When he died in 2002 at the age of 85, I journeyed from Columbus, Georgia to the Fort Deposit, Alabama area to attend the the services at the church and the repast at the home in which my mom had worked fall those years. Time and time again, family members came to me to tell me how much they loved my mom and remembered fondly some dish she prepared.

Nadine Bell impressed me because she seemed to be an independent woman. Yes, she was married, but she still seemed independent to me. She walked and talked proud and confidently. She drove a car — like a man, I thought.When riding with her, I would watch the way she shifted gears and I was so impressed. One of the things I wanted to do when I grew up was to own and drive a car. That was freedom, I thought. Daddy taught me to drive his pickup truck, but it would be years before I owned a car.

Mrs. Bell took an interest in my brother and me. She encouraged us to finish school. She always had uplifting things to say to us. When I think of the things she did for my family, I am grateful. She made sure my mom could one day draw a social security check, which made my mom’s later years more comfortable. She and her husband often visited my mom. They even drove over to Columbus, Georgia to visit my mom just before she died, as she had come to live with me six months hence. At my mom’s funeral, Nadine and her sisters were part of the ceremony. They later served the family at my cousin’s home in Honoraville where the repast was held. We have kept in contact since Mama’s death 21 years ago. I try to visit her sometimes when I am in the area.

To Mrs. Nadine Bell, I want to say thank you. Somehow it seems inadequate, but I hope you accept my belated appreciation and love. I am my mother’s daughter, and I am sure she would approve.

My mom – Lorenzia Rope

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