Wednesday, June 7, 2017

We Feel We Knew Them

We probably all have a family member who passed away before we were born and yet we feel we knew them well through memories shared by others. That is the case with my paternal grandmother.

Meet my grandmother 'Belle'
Arabelle Nancy Covert Barnett

The headline read " Three Brothers serving in the Armed Forces". The mother of those three brothers was my grandmother, Belle Covert Barnett. Her children would sometimes refer to 'mom's nerves'. The experience of having three of her six children fighting in a war; knowing they were in harm's way; must have added to the stresses of her life.

Her given name was Arabelle Nancy but soon after her birth in 1884 she was called 'Belle'.

According to family oral history, in 1891 Belle's father became ill and while walking home from work he collapsed and died. This left her mother with seven children at home ranging from age twenty to age two. 

With the older ones out on their own, Belle, her mother and youngest sister Mayme were enumerated in 1900 as employees of a hotel/boarding house the Bowman Hotel.  Sometime after Jake's death, Belle's mother had taken a job as a cook.  With two young daughters still as home she may have made special arrangements with the hotel proprietor to keep them close by. Belle was listed as a domestic and Mayme as a servant. 

Shortly after 1900 Belle met a certain red haired young man, William 'Will' H. Barnett who came to Butler from Riner, Virginia seeking work as a carpenter in the nearby mills. Their wedding took place in 1903 at the home of the bride's mother.

The 1906 Butler City Directory lists Belle and Will living at 326 Spring Ave, Butler and they had become parents for the first time that year too. That area of the city was called Springdale and was described in the 1895 Butler County History.
Springdale... presents a neat and thrifty appearance, and contains some of the pleasantest homes in Butler. Its aspect and character are creditable both to the projector and the residents of the little village.
According to Will's WWI registration in 1918 they were living outside the city and renting a turn of the century farm house which several decades later was the first home purchased by this researcher and her husband.

By 1920 they had built their own home on land formerly owned by a neighboring farmer, James Barr, 'Jimmie', who became a lifelong friend and family mentor. Will and Belle and their family had a small truck farm at a separate location nearby where they raised various berries and sold them in the city for income.

Belle and Will went on to raise their children, four sons and two daughters, through the Great Depression and WWII. Family stories indicate that they were a lively bunch and created many, many memories which Belle and her children loved to share with family and friends.

A few that come to mind involve a black snake which lived in a stone wall outside the home that the children were instructed to leave alone since it took care of mice; the occasional liquor bottle that Belle felt compelled to pour down the drain; horses, mules and trips to and from town in a wagon with a fringed cover. As time went on and her son's grew older there were tales of cars and trucks and working as a team with neighbors to clear the unpaved road of snow with hand shovels.

During this period Belle was baptized and became a member of St. John's Reformed Church where she remained active for the remainder of her life; laying a foundation of faith for her children. She also kept close ties with the members of her extended family and over the years reunions were held and enjoyed by all.

Covert Reunion - circa 1925

In the 1930s Belle and several of family members and a longtime friend Margaret Sanders took a trip to Virginia to visit Belle's husband Will's family. They drove two vehicles, theirs and Margaret's. Tales of the challenge of driving through the Appalachian Mountains were often told. The visit was a lifelong highlight and many more stories and memories became a part of family gatherings in later years.

Thankfully following WWII Belle and her family were blessed to welcome home all three sons.

In early 1949 Belle contracted pneumonia. It was a short illness. Her family encouraged her to go to the hospital but she declined and was treated at home by the family doctor who made house calls at that time. She died on January 25, 1949.

There was an old wives' tale that Belle had quoted. The tale was that in the case of twins, one often did not have children.  Unfortunately she died before the tale was proven wrong. Her daughter had given birth to a daughter in 1947 which would have meant that perhaps that her twin brother would not have had children. Ironically this researcher was the first child born to he and his wife in 1949. And even more ironically I was born in the same month as my grandmother Belle and inherited her opal birthstone ring.  She had designated that should a granddaughter be born in October the ring was to be hers. Even though I never knew her I always felt a connection with her because of that ring.

'Belle' and Will

In her life of just over sixty four years Belle made and left many happy memories and a great sense of family which her children shared with those born after her death. She and Will had been married forty-six years. Her husband and mate for life died two years later on January 15th, 1951.

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