'Planting watermelon'

I have a vivid memory as a boy of the time my mother’s father showed me a healed wound in his leg. While he was a decorated veteran of the Second World War, with the Purple Heart (among other medals) to show for it, this scar – deep enough for a child probe with a finger – came from a shooting accident when he was not much older than I. The idea that my grandfather had ever been an unruly boy – his childhood inconceivably remote in the early 1970s – fascinated me, and, anyway, boys love the squeamish and the gross: this evidence of time’s passage, long-healed, formed a Proustian memory, sending me back to a hot summer’s day and a moment’s connection with my beloved grandfather.

Somehow I had a sense that the accident occurred on a similar day, a mishap while out shooting with a friend. The climate of Virginia is different from that of New England, however, and the accident, I now learn, occurred two days after Christmas. My great-grandfather’s journal picks up the story, in J. Frank Bell’s laconic voice:

27 December 1915: Fred[1] shot in leg by neighbor. Sent to hospital.

28 December: Sent pig to Louis for service. No good.


11 January: Fred sent home from hospital.

15 February: Water works frozen up – getting water from Experimental Station. Serving on Corporation Court jury.

25 April: Planting Watermelon and Cantaloupe.

28 April: Planting Rambler rose at base of chimney… Estelle,[2] Mrs. Jackson[3] & Frances[4] went to see the Wendels[5] and spend the night.

2 May: Went to Baltimore to attend the Rotary Club meeting.

But who is Neighbor Bell? – not a relation or, it would seem, a friend:

22 May: Ordered neighbor Bell off farm for burning out trees along ditch bank.

12 June: Fred taught Sunday School class.

14 June: Fred graduated from Grammar School.

19 June: Fred went to Ocean View [today part of Norfolk and Virginia Beach] for overnight hike with the boy scouts.

4 July: Raised US flag on front lawn. Estelle, Frances & Fred took [a party of friends] to Beachwood[6] bathing.

13 July: Fred returned from Wallaceton where he had spent several days with Uncle Ad & Aunt Olive [Wendel].

From my grandfather's 1924 Naval Academy yearbook.

15 July: Estelle started to wearing glasses.

19 August: Judge White presented Fred with a lamb.

26 August: Fred rode the horse in town and took buggy back with him.

31 August: Took family to Ocean View after fishing[;] had supper at hotel and came home on the 8:15.

The remainder of the year focuses on the farm’s progress, but in November[7] he notes: “Took trip to New York to attend Hotel Exposition.”

Continued here.


[1] His son Frederick Jackson Bell (1903–1994).

[2] Minnie Estelle Jackson (1876–1935) married J. Frank Bell in 1902.

[3] Mrs. Bell’s mother Rebecca Jane Eggleston (1856–1937) was married to Oliver Dodridge Jackson 1875–1915 and to William E. Waterman in 1924.

[4] Frank and Estelle Bell’s daughter Frances Fairfax Bell (1909–1997).

[5] The Bells’ friends Adam Addison Wendel (1869–1944) and his wife Nancy Olive Durnell (1871–1944), like Estelle Bell natives of Ohio who lived in Wallaceton, Norfolk County.

[6] A section of Virginia Beach.

[7] Entry for 18 November 1916.

Scott C. Steward

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.View all posts by Scott C. Steward