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Interview with Mrs. Clara Bell

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Bell, Clara ; Dobandi, Susan


Clara Bell talks about her childhood growing up in Hawleyton, NY on a farm with her family. She discusses the hardship of her parents' declining health and the importance of the church in her life, as well as her experience in college and desire to become a writer and poet.




This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.

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Broome County Oral History Project


32:32 minutes


Broome County Oral History Project

Interview with: Mrs. Clara Bell

Interviewed by: Susan Dobandi

Date of interview: 1 May 1978

Susan: Mrs. Bell, could you tell us, ah, where you were born, something about your parents, and any work experiences that you've had in the community, and any of your recollections of your childhood?

Mrs. Bell: I was born in Hawleyton, just this side of the Pennsylvania line, the seventh child in the family, born to a mother that was really an invalid that shouldn't have borne a child at that time, and we lived on a farm. I was born in ’88—1888, and ah, we were what would be considered poor—people, we really did have hand-me-downs that would help us. One year I had to be kept from school because there wasn't a proper coat, warm coat, for me to wear, and but, it was a kind home but a very poor home, and I think my father and mother tried always to cover up the poorness of it and dwell on the richness of it, and there was a heap of richness there, when you look over other homes today. And I was a unwanted child and a homely little runt of a child and born to people that had some nice-looking children, but very early in life I began to feel the consciousness of God, and I hope nobody misunderstands that, it's nothing freakish at all, but it was the sense of God and the dependence upon Him, and there was really nothing in the home life that would have made me that way, but I was very conscious of it. I still remember the lay of the land and the spring in the pasture lot and to put things, every contour of that place. It seemed as though God was in it with me, and I think that He must have known that I needed Him so much, because I was naturally a sour disposition child and my mother just could not—she could not feel towards me, and that's a mother’s life, and so—love, and so that has made me think that perhaps that had something to do with the queer child that I was, and ah, when I—I went to Sunday school with neighbors and wanted to join the church, and I told my parents that I—that I wanted to join the church, well, they told me that there would be a time when I was old enough but the time wasn't yet for me to join, so that was all right with me—and I can remember reading the Bible and the scorn of my eighteen-year-old brother because I was reading a Bible, because of course he had no use for such a thing. By the way, I did have five sisters and, uh, one very dear to me like a mother and, uh, it was so beautiful that at the time that I joined the church, which doesn't mean becoming a, a Christian at all, but it does to many people’s mind, but not to mine. My mother had the feeling, well, if one of her children joined the church, and I will say if one of my children accepted the Lord—Mother felt that she should, and I as a child was so ashamed that I didn't love her, and I didn't love her and I had no reason to feel that she loved me, but my mother joined the church, but my mother became a Christian, and if nobody else believes in Christianity I would have to for the change that was in my mother, and she and I, over and over again, have thanked the Lord together that he spared her that time and we had that mother-daughter experience. It was beautiful for quite a few years and she meant so much to me.

My people—because of father's failing health, and mother's, of course—had been, we moved to Binghamton when I was sixteen years old and, ah, my, ah, father was a janitor in the school here, not able to do that work at all, and I fought desperately to get work of some kind. I may have had a foolish pride to be ashamed of, but I—I still know the roots of it. I couldn't bring myself to go into one of the shops. It didn't seem as though it belonged some way to me, and so there was a twitter-twitter—well, my sister told me that her husband would lend me the money, if I wanted it, to go through business college, so I did, and very foolishly, which is up to my way of thinking. When the time was up there was no offer made to me to get a job, so I just simply left without interviewing the man who was head of the thing at all.

Well I—one of the women who had gone through girls with the school with me, she said, “If I find a job at all that you can do,” why, she said, “I will let you know.” She did—she found a job in the, ah—ah, bookkeeping branch of the shoe factory here and she let me know, and at the same time she did, my mother said, found out that my sister in Deposit—her husband was bookkeeper at the Outing Publishing Company—she was ill, and my mother said that was my duty to go there and so I went and, ah, then in three months Outing moved to New York and, ah, many people went with it, but I—I came home then and, ah—was engaged to be married at that time, and so by—I took in washings to earn the money for I couldn't get a job and my mother was too ill to leave, and I was married in April and, ah, in three years and about a half, the Lord blessed our home with a little girl who was so very dear and precious to us, and we had her for forty-two years but the Lord has taken her home, and she was the wife of a pastor who established a camp in Michigan, and then, ah, ten years afterwards, I always said that I'd like to have six little girls but I wouldn't want any boys at all, but the Lord sent me a little boy, and oh, I never knew the treasure that had been withheld from me, and I can say it today, he will be fifty-eight tomorrow. He has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. He is pastor of a church in Cincinnatus and he has—I think that we are compatible, let me say. Life looks funny to us, at times ridiculously so, and yet we love the Lord so dearly.

Well in my life, after my husband died and, ah, twelve years ago I had—we had a home in Port Dickinson, and oh, we had a lovely, lovely lot—extra lot, and lovely flowers and shrubs, I had, and I worked until I was too weary to enjoy it and I so I decided to come here to the Fairview Home, and one of the greatest blessings that I have found since being here, and I have found a heap of them, is: I am not afraid anymore. I was born a coward if there ever was one. There were breakings-in all around me when I was home and there was nothing that gave me that sense of security, even though we put on these aluminum screens, I thought nobody could get in—well, people did get in, so I came to Fairview. There is some people that would say they were false in Fairview and, ah, I don't have to acknowledge it so I'm not going too. I have found great blessing in this home. I have found kindness. I have broken my hip, fractured my hip, and I have broken my wrist and the joint in it and I had to be in the infirmary here, which, many people say they would rather die than go into the infirmary, into the—in the infirmary I found more granddaughters and they were just so good to me, and yet today when I see them, there is just that warmth feeling about it, and while I can say that I can see improvements, I couldn't be critical because I have been treated so kindly and the Lord is with me, and I feel that I am one of the most fortunate people in the world and I praise the Lord for it, because he has gone with me through some pretty deep troubled waters, but He has always been there and led me out and on and it's good—it's good.

I can't see the advisability of the Lord leaving me here. I thought when I came here I would be able to go to the infirmary and help and bless some lives there, maybe, and I, now I don't do any of those things, I go with a walker, oh, once in a while I get down there, I love the folks there, but I don't see where there is one particle of use of me taking up the place on the earth that I do. I have thought, now it's so near the time, I would like to wait ’til I was ninety, but after that I don't dare to tell the Lord that I think so, I think it's the time for me to be taken, because I am a useless person, really, as far as being a blessing to anybody else—oh, I wanted to do such things. I wanted to go through college. I wanted to write and I wanted—you see, the Lord couldn't trust me with that—I probably would have gotten very cocky and puffed up and all of that—he had to keep me down—but oh, He has been down with me and He has been up with me. The Lord is to be praised.

Susan: Tell us about the poetry that you write.

Mrs. Bell: About—beg your pardon?

Susan: The poetry.

Mrs. Bell: Oh—well, that was a was a happy outlet even in my childhood, and ah—of writing poetry—and then in Binghamton I was—oh, I had a poem published by Lucia Trent and in her western anthology. I don't know how I ever got the idea of sending there. There must have been something in my head or something that made me send it, and that was accepted, which was a real puff to my vanity, and there was a write-up in our paper and a picture of me and another woman who had two anthology poems, well, that had brought me to the notice of our local poetry class that Miss Herrick, a retired English teacher at high school, was established that, and so I went to that and of course I learned a great deal and awaited to write more properly, perhaps, but it was—it was a great pleasure as long as it—I think it just disbanded if I remember, or for some reason I had to give it up, but it has been a pleasure and a few, well, the course and the class, she sent out our work a good deal to colleges, in their books or whatever they call them, and we had quite a few published in them and then I had, I was very fond of Woody Magazine because both of my children went through school, and I had two poems there and—and some other places, some other, mostly Christian magazines they had been, but I think that my writing has tended to be along the line of nature very much—very much and it hasn't been anything sumptuous, but I shall always feel that if it had been the Lord's will for me to have had an education that I could have written for, I had the feeling I have the in and He's blessed me, perhaps, with an appreciation that they don't all people feel. That's just—just splendid to see who has—has, ah, written and who has arrived and can do it, and so I have been wonderfully blessed by them.

Susan: Could we go back to when you were a little girl, uh, and see the changes in the community, uh, as far as transportation, the way you were brought up?

Mrs. Bell: We lived two miles from the school and we lived up a dirt road and, ah, that was real steep over half of the way there and, so that we—when wintertime, often times it would be with great difficulty that we would get to school, and once in a while we would have a hired man that would come for us when it was impossible to get home, and—ah, we—we learned the reading, writing, and arithmetic, and I had dear teachers that helped me, ah, in my desire for more.

Susan: It was probably a one room schoolhouse, wasn't it?

Mrs. Bell: Yes, uh huh, and, ah, so that one teacher very kindly offered to stay on in the school and teach tenth grade, which she didn't have to do, and she did and I was, I had my certificate for having passed that, and then that is the formal education that this poor soul has had, but in Heaven I'm going to be one of the smartest women there, and we did have a—a yoke of oxen in my childhood and, ah, they were larger than any of the others that I saw at the time—very large red steers, I called them red and, ah, but they, my, ah, they seemed to adore my father, and I think he did them, and they'd be so obedient to him, but he would leave me to—to ride them—to sit by them while he went for an errand or to get a drink, and I would be so frightened I can feel it yet, those great oxen would no more have paid attention to that peeping weaning voice than anything under the sun, and most of our neighbors, I think, had more of this world’s goods than we did, but I do think much of our—I can't say “poverty,” because we were not poverty people at all, because there was too much within and people coming and living in our home and coming—coming to us so much, but—there was peace and goodness and joy in our home, and I lost my train of thought that I was on, and that's what ninety years old does to you.

Susan: Well, you're doing very well.

Mrs. Bell: And, ah, so that, ah, we had—we had such a desire for a, what they call a platform wagon, that was a good size larger than a carriage and, ah, but we never had the money to get it, so if we had to be, a need for something like that, we had to use a lumber wagon and, ah, I know that a ride in that lumber wagon and look down on those horses scared the liver right out of me as a kid. It seemed as though I was up as high as Heaven and they were elephants or something, and ah, that was the way we were then, and finally my people were able to get a horse, one horse, and in time my brother came back home and they got two more horses, and things moved more swiftly, but not better—not better at all, I think it was a leading of what was coming to town, and my brother-in-laws got a gramophone—gramophone, I think it was called. Oh, we just swarmed that house, every night we'd go, and we were so thrilled with that, it was so wonderful, and then another brother became affluent enough to, ah, buy a Ford car and that was just—just immense to us. In—I was—I had been a member of Calvary Church for nearly sixty years and through those years from the time I was sixteen until, oh, maybe—maybe I better say ten years ago, don't think it was that long—I taught Sunday school and from every grade onward. I even caught—taught a college choir—class, ignorant as I am, and enjoyed them, and ah, there was so many things in the church you can do and love to do and people to love, and I—that was a dear church and is a dear church, but there is difference in the church I was in, things progress. I learn, everything progresses, but old women, ninety years old, they don't progress, but it's good—it's good. I have no feeling of regret. I had such a desire to be good looking, and I was such a homely child and always had been, and I had some beautiful sisters but it just didn't happen to Mother, the seventh child they tell about as favorite, but this one wasn't much in health, and to think—to think I had so much to thwart my growing up and my strength, and I'm the only one of those other children who are living, and the husbands and wives are gone too. Even now the nieces and nephews are going, some, and still the Lord is having me stay on here. It's His will and His will is good, must be. I would never quite dare to ask him, “Lord, please take me out of my body and take me home.” I just don't quite think it's the thing to do. He has got the program He knows and it's very wise that He doesn't let us know.

Susan: No, it would be very difficult to get through from one day to the next if we knew what was ahead of us.

Mrs. Bell: It surely would—it surely would. I do pray to the Lord, if it's His will, that I shall never have any more broken bones. They are difficult in a way, but you know, the way the Lord went with me through those hard yields is just unbelievable, and even now this sounds boastful, too, dear, but this is the Lord I'm boasting—in the, when I was in this insumary [sic]—infirmary, the—the nurses did praise the progress that I made, they thought it was remarkable and, ah, once in a while a dear one just doesn't try, and that is too bad.

Susan: Well thank you very much, Mrs. Bell, for taking the time to talk with us. Is there anything more that you would like to add to this interview?

Mrs: Bell: No, I don't think so. Only if I may add this—I wish that everyone who might ever hear this would love the Lord and depend on Him as much as He's caused me to depend on Him.

Susan: Thank you.

Date of Interview



Dobandi, Susan


Bell, Clara


32:32 minutes

Date of Digitization



Broome County Oral History Project

Subject LCSH

Bell, Clara -- Interviews; Broome County (N.Y.) -- History; Authors -- Interviews; Hawleyton (N.Y.); Cavalry Church; Poetry

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This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.


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The Broome County Oral History Project was conceived and administered by the Senior Services Unit of the Office for the Aging. Funding for this project was provided by the Broome County Office of Employment and Training (C.E.T.A.), with additional funding from the Senior Service Unit of the National Council on Aging and Broome… More

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