Old Bell Finds a Lot to be Thankful For

Old Bell has a lot to be thankful for, she says.

She has her false teeth and her daughter and her house and a bit of savings and a husband who works.

She has plants and a shady, comfortable porch and some chewing snuff.

Old Bell is 63. She's lived inside the labor camp's gray mesh fence for 20 years--longer than any of her neighbors.

Her name is really Willie Bell, but everyone calls her Old Bell. She probably wouldn't answer to Willie anyway.

"I might cook an old hen for Thanksgiving," she mused. "Or maybe a duck, if I can get one. I don't know. Or maybe it won't be nothing special."

Oscar--he is 67, her husband--will have to work, if he feels up to it. Wednesday he stayed home from the fields in bed.

Wednesday she got her teeth fixed. She took them out to show her friends. She's had the teeth 12 or 13 years and they work as good as real ones, once you get used to them.

Old Bell has had Joyce six years, since the pigtailed tot was four months old. Joyce was given to her, Old Bell explained. Old Bell calls Joyce her daughter.

The Bell's quiet gray home, Number 21, sits amid perhaps a hundred other small, quiet gray-shingled homes. Old Bell's usually on the porch watching her plants, chewing her snuff, and caring for four neighbor children.

Then there's her savings--a small wad of bills, and a quarter, wrapped in a graying-white handkerchief tucked in the front of her dress. "Enough for a duck, maybe," she said, counting it.

Old Bell remembers other Thanksgivings, holidays when she was "in service to the nicest white woman up in Georgia." There were huge, fancy meals Old Bell cooked for the family.

But that was more than 20 years ago, before Old Bell moved to South Dade and started hoeing tomatoes and picking beans. Field work came to an end a couple seasons ago she explained, rubbing her knees.

Now, Old Bell just sits and thinks and is thankful.

"Lord Jesus, thank you," she mumbled. "I'm a pitiful critter."

(Note: This column first appeared in The Miami Herald on Thanksgiving Day 1965, when I was a staff writer for the paper. Every Thanksgiving since then I've thought about Old Bell and how thankful she was for the little she had. This year, I offer it to you, to help us all remember that we do, indeed, have a lot to be thankful for. Cele Hahn.)

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