The third presentation in this series.
I pick up Belle’s story as she charges on through the early years of her adulthood: teaching during the school year, looking for work in the summer, living in her family home when work permitted.
Growing up in the parsonage shaped her childhood and her life. It was a happy home, though a poor one. Ella Belle and John were loved and respected by their children. Material things were in short supply, but there was no shortage of fun and laughter. The children were taught to seek a religious faith, to value education, to accept community responsibility, and to work hard. Somehow through all of this they also learned that life was fun, and to be enjoyed.
For most of her career, Belle taught as a kindergarten and elementary teacher. And move she did. Perhaps short contracts were the usual thing in those days – but look at this:
- 1911 Taught at Toad’s Leap School southeast of Atlantic, Iowa.
- 1912 Filled in for part of a year at a country school near Hudson, Iowa. (Remember this one!).
- 1913 Went to 1917 Colo, Iowa.
- 1917 From September to the end of December, taught in Park, an elementary school at Harlan, Iowa.
It was when Belle was at the school near Hudson that she met a young man, Will Thompson. He was home from Canada, to visit his family who farmed a rented farm near Hudson. The local people teased the new teacher, “Just wait till you meet the Thompson’s son. Bet he’ll sweep you off your feet.”
She tried to turn the conversation to something else, but it did make her curious. Living in a farming district where the young men all wore overalls (except for Sundays or weddings), she knew what he would look like. One day a young man in dress pants and a sweater arrived at the school at closing time. The two Thompson youngsters shouted with glee, and ran to greet him, “Will, when did you get here? How long can you stay? Did you bring us anything?”
When he could get a word in edgewise, he turned to Belle. “Sorry, Miss Bamford, they’re excited. It’s a long time between my visits home.” He gathered up the kids, and they took off. Belle was impressed.
Before the winter was over, Will and Belle had become close friends. The courtship continued by mail, and through Will’s winter visits back to Iowa. Somewhere in there, they exchanged pictures.
Eventually he persuaded her to make the biggest change of her life – to marry him and move to Canada. For one who had never made it out of Iowa except with the Chautauqua, it was a decision worthy of her best attention. Love, and her “Let’s give it a try” disposition, won the day. Will returned in the fall of 1917. In late December they made the trip to Harlan Iowa, where the Bamford’s now lived. On January 2nd, 1918, Reverend John Bamford married them in the living room of the manse. A new story began.
The next and final presentation of the series will follow. See how Belle enjoys married life and Canada, and how she handles moving into a totally Danish community. Finally, “Who is Belle?” when she is 85 and facing death.
4 Responses to Who is Belle?
To answer your question after the previous installment of “Who Is Belle?” I think your mother’s bold decision to tour with the Chattaqua was very like my decision to take a production job in theatre. Although the theatre was in the midst of the University of Toronto, family members had misgivings about my being part of an alien world they feared was morally suspect. By the time I had drawn them into helping make properties and give advice on costume sewing, they felt better about the way I was putting myself through university. I was viewed as an adventurer, nonetheless. I worked at a couple of other theatres briefly and at the Stratford Sharkespeare Festival for a season before settling into a career mostly in educational publishing.
Your latest story of how Belle met her husband has peculiar touchstones for me as I married a man from Iowa whose parents had roots in that state going back a generation or more. My immigration to the US after our marriage was another big step away from my family and friends. However, we found our way back to Canada after a few years and he was the one who made the greater adjustments, I think. Although we wonder if congenial Iowa isn’t actually piece of Canada that somehow drifted south!
Laurna – It is always a pleasure for me when a readers react with memories of their own. I know what I wrote, not what another finds in it! Iowa is a pleasant state, with its own established history and characteristics. Remember the beautiful landscape, the huge trees which line the country roads? Imagine moving from that to the wide open beautiful rolling landscape, but not a tree in sight.
Belle loved many things deeply – and Canada was one of them. When in 1956 her beloved Will died, some of her dear Danish friends said; “Will you be moving home, Belle?”, she answered “What do you mean? I am home!” That answered that question. She kept in touch with all her American family and friends, but her home was here.
Well Belle was a women in her own right! And how very fortunate you were to have such a mother.
I love the photo. A beauty too.
Much love to you.
There is a Chinook blowing in Calgary today
Eveline – Yes, she was independent and venturesome. In the era when women married early, she waited until she was 28. It was fun to be with her. Indeed I was fortunate, knowing her from my early childhood until her death at 85. How many have that privilege?