In October of 1955, a fall festival was held at our local high school. The festival was a fund-raiser and a big event for a small community. People who didn’t actually have a child in school still came to see everyone, play games of chance, and find out who would win the competition between the girls representing each class to become festival queen.
That night, a dark-haired 16-year-old girl wearing a red, strapless prom dress was crowned queen. Also in attendance was a tall, handsome, blue-eyed former Air Force sergeant who had recently returned home from Germany.
After the festival, the two drove to a little town in Tennessee where they were married. The next August I was born.
While I considered the story of their elopement romantic, my mother didn’t like to talk about it.
“I’d marry your dad again in a heartbeat,” she’d say, “but I wish I’d waited until I was older.”
Regardless of how and when they said “I do,” they obviously meant it because their marriage persevered until Mom’s death from colon cancer in 1990. Dad died five years later of a heart attack.
For years after their deaths, I tried to think of an appropriate way to honor their memory. Mom was a teacher who loved children and her family. Every October, she took us children and later her grandchildren to the orchard to pick apples and choose a pumpkin to carve. Dad was a farmer and tractor salesman who loved to grow crops and help other farmers achieve their dreams.
About a year ago, it occurred to me that one way would be to establish an orchard near the high school, at a spot very close to where their story began.
So far, five apple and five pear trees have been planted in their memory. My plan is to add two trees, one for each of them, every October. The agriculture teachers and students have graciously agreed to take care of the orchard and use it as an outdoor classroom.
The John and Shirley D. Bell Orchard is a living memorial that serves as a representation of their love of the land and of their children.