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Interview with Helen Sellers Bell

Bell, Helen Sellers
Sorrell, Courtney
Date of Interview: 
Overcoming Obstacles; Relationships with People and Places; Stories and Storytellers
Helen Bell talks about moving to San Francisco to be near her husband during WWII.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Courtney Sorrell interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
CS (Courtney Sorrell): Um, what kind of story are you going to tell me today?
HB (Helen Sellers Bell): Well, I thought it would be a little bit interesting to tell you about my fabulous trip to California in 1943.
HB: I, uh, I left Durham at 10 a.m. that morning and stopped in Hillsborough to see a fri-, friend, with a friend of mine, and that we were off to San Francisco. A man had worked at, downtown in Durham and he wanted to go to Los Angeles to get into the movies. He had two roommates from when he was in New York and they were now in Hollywood. Shepard Stroggart was one of them and I can't remember the name of the other one, but they had told him that he would have a good chance of getting in the movies since so many of the men out there had been drafted into the, WWII. My husband was a lieutenant in the Air Force, and had hoped that Ann, our 18 month old, daughter could come out as he was flying to the islands and was gone from seven to 15 days at a time, but then he could be with us on his time off between trips. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company was building a huge apartment complex in, in San Francisco and was renting it to Army and Navy officers and their families, so Bob had talked with the USO and the building thing about us getting an apartment there. We were to get one by the middle of September and made our plans accordingly. Bob was to meet us at the bus station in San Francisco at the, at, in San Francisco. We spent the night in, uh, Berkeley, California and called Bob to let him know what time that we would meet him the next day. When I talked to them they said Mr. Bell was on an overseas trip and would be back in ten days. Oh me, well the man I was with asked me then to go on with him to Los Angeles and he would take us all around for a few days and ride back to San Francisco with Ann and me to meet Bob. Told him I'd better not, as Bob had made plans with the USO in San Rafael for us to have a room, uh, a place to stay. So Ann and I took off for our first trip across the Golden great, Gate Bridge from, to go to San Rafael where Bob was stationed at Hamilton Field in Marin County. So we arrived at the USO and they had never heard of us and didn't know what happened. Knowing that Ann and I had no place to go they called around and finally got us a room in an old hotel. Our room was on the third floor, had a sink in the room and one bathroom at the end of the hall for all that were there. Outside our window were cages with all kinds of chickens, on Friday and Saturday nights they rented out the desk counter and all the chairs, and had even taken the ferns out of the front windows and rented a space to soldiers that came into town for a night or two on the town. They let Ann and me stay there at the hotel but we had to change our name every three days. They couldn't let people stay more than three days then. So when Bob came in about ten days later, he was so surprised to see where we were staying. We ate out and everyone was very nice and friendly in that small town and Ann made lots of friends, she liked everybody. Bob's colonel was so upset when he found out where we were staying, and he started getting about us, started helping us get some fabulous places that we could live. I could write a book about the beautiful places. They had swimming pools in the entrance halls and so on and so forth. And we found out, though, that it might be two months to later before we could get an apartment. Bob had to leave to go out again, so I decided to go over to San Francisco by myself and visit with the state housing authority, so here I go back over the se-, se-, bridge and my second try. The lady at the hotel said she would keep Ann, but she was such a wonderful traveler I decided I'd just take her with me. We got in to see the people at the authority and a captain asked me where we were staying, and I hadn't, and I told him that I was staying in the old hotel. He could not believe it and he started holding Ann and talking to her and he said we couldn't live in a place like that and he wanted to see what he could do about it, so he called in some of the men and asked them to see when the next apartment would be available. He sent someone out also to get Ann some ice cream, and they finally got all together and we would have a place within two weeks, they promised. So Bob was so surprised when he came back in. Then he was gone again, and when he came back I had bought furniture and was all settled in a lovely place. When Bob came in I don't know whether he was more thrilled to see us, or to be where he could open the refrigerator and get ice water. We lived there in that apartment 'til Bob got out of the service in November 1945, and we had another daughter, Donna, born while Bob was gone on the T-, Tokyo Invasion in August. We sold our car out there and flew back to Washington, DC, into Durham in November 1945.
CS: So how long did you live in, did you live in Durham-? You were born in Durham right?
HB: Um, um, no, I was born in Goldsboro.
CS: Oh, you were born in Goldsboro? Oh okay. So how long did you live in Durham?
HB: When we came back out of the service in 1945, we lived there until 1953.
CS: And then you moved to Hickory?
HB: Hickory, uh-huh, we did-.
RECORDING PAUSED THEN RESUMED CS: I loved that story. That was a great story.
HB: I'm glad you liked it. So I said that ah, I thought it was real interesting, what was so amazing-. Are you still, uh, doing it? What was so amazing to me was, ah, going across the Golden Gate Bridge when I had never done anything like that. And after we got, ah, living over there and Ann, we'd go back and forth to the field. We'd take Bob back to the field when he had to go out and then go pick him up when he came in. And, ah, you could buy ah tickets to go across the Golden Gate Bridge , but if you bought them for 30 days you could save a whole lot more. He says 30 dollars for thirty days or something like that. So of course I had just bought a new book and used it one time and we were coming across the Golden Gate Bridge , Ann was standing up on the seat back when children could stand up and didn't have to be in a seat belt. And so Ann picked it up and messed with it and threw it out and we saw it sail over the bay out there and I thought, "Oh Lord, then there's 30 dollars gone up the creek."
CS: Oh my goodness, she threw the ticket book out [laugh].
HB: Um-hmm.
CS: Man. So, so how long-. I know you said Donna was born, so did Donna live, live there with you guys too or did she, \\or did you move?\\
HB: \\She was\\ born on August 11th and we didn't leave until last of September.
CS: Oh, OK.
HB: But see, Bob was gone. He was in the, uh, he was gone, uh, well he made one of the trips down to Tokyo to the, when they, when they took that bomb down there. And then he came back, and then he went back again and was over there, and when Donna was, he was home when Donna was born. He came in on a Thursday and she was born on Saturday night and he went out on Sunday morning to pick up his papers 'cause he was supposed to have a two weeks leave so he could take care of Ann and us, and he got out there and they told him, "No," uh, "leaves had been canceled," that they were going to Tokyo [laugh]. So that's where, he left then. So, I stayed in the hospital-, I was in the hospital two weeks and so the doctor said instead of taking Donna home, just leave her in the nursery because if she had never been taken out of the nursery, she could just stay in the nursery without having to go into the children's units. So that's what, she stayed in there and then I came home after two weeks. I had trouble with my leg and kidney. After I came home on, Friday, Friday I guess it was, uh, went back to get her on the next Friday and I went back in the hospital the next Monday and was in there. They thought I had polio. So I was in there for about, uh, ten, another ten days. So when Bob came home, I had, uh, there was a lady had come from the USO, they had gotten somebody to come help stay with me and also she was still there when Bob came back home. He had, I think Donna was six weeks old when he finally got to come back home. So-.
CS: So here they thought you had polio.
HB: Um-hmm.
CS: Oh my gosh.
HB: I had a temperature of 105, or something like that. But the thing that made it so nice out in a place like that, and that was a gorgeous place, was that, ah, everybody was in the same boat that we were. And like when, ah, Ann, ah, when I had brought Donna home and had to go back, there was a Jewish couple that lived back with us, he was a navigator and he, they had a little girl, one year old, so she took Donna and kept her while I was in the hospital. And, ah, the one that lived across the street and her, and her husband, she worked for the conservatory where they made field glasses and all that stuff. So she took a leave of absence and kept Ann while I was there and then there were two other women that, ah, did not have children and they worked in San Francisco, so they stayed over there that night with us. So, Bob was so surprised when he came back in and know what in the world been going on. All he knew was we had a new baby and he'd just saw her that one, you know, through the window that one time. And so when he came back home she was six weeks old [laugh].
CS: You like that story?
HB: Uh-huh.
CS: Me too. Thank you.
HB: Well really you could write two books about all the fun-.