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For Abray Bell, satisfaction comes in exploring the edges

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Abray’s grandfather’s home, built in the late 1800s, was located between Butler and Buena Vista in Taylor County. Local artist Lorraine Fitts drew this rendition of the family home.


By Anita Rosen

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Photos by Daniel Rosen

Among the gentlemen who stop in to check on Broughton Stancil - highlighted in this series in October - is William Abraham Bell. When Abray, as he is known, invited me to visit his location on Yellow Creek Road, I did not imagine him to be the quintessential Renaissance man.  The fault, I admit, was entirely my own: the evidence is clearly posted on the sign at the corner of his property abutting Yellow Creek Road. It has, over time, advertised everything from bowls to pheasants to hens to fresh produce.

Woodworker
In 1964, Abray bought about 15 acres of land at the intersection of Yellow Creek and Old Federal/Spriggs Road; eight years later he built a house there for his family. With an eye to aesthetics, he lined the approach to the home with spring-blooming plants under a canopy of crape myrtles. Flower beds bloom seasonally around the property.

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  One-of-a-Kind bowls on display – each piece is unique.

Abray’s family is from Taylor County while Peggy, Abray’s wife, hails from the Bowers of Forsyth, Cherokee and Pickens counties.  I was delighted to discover that Peggy is related to Jim Lawson (featured in the September Smoke Signals) through a grandmother who was Jim Lawson’s first cousin.

For 45 years, Abray made his living as a cabinet maker; at one point a staff of six men worked in the blue and white building on Yellow Creek Road. Many a Bell cabinet can be found in Big Canoe homes. And genetics being what they are, Abray’s son, William Jr., is now a master woodworker.  

In February 2010, Abray had the rare experience of joining a team on the TV show Extreme Makeover.  The coach of Woodbury High School in Stone Mountain was the recipient of the show’s beneficence.  Abray, impressed with the organization of the effort, joined in, working 36 hours straight – with periodic rests – to get the job done.  

Farmer
Growing apples, figs, grapes, okra, sunflowers, cucumbers, corn, squash, peas and 120 tomato plants, Abray raises “anything you can get a seed for.”  He preserves heirloom varieties by collecting and drying seeds from selected vegetables, fruits and flowers.  Extra produce is announced for sale on the Yellow Creek sign; many Big Canoers have stopped by for fresh fruits and vegetables.  

Most of the produce, however, is used for family and to supply a church food bank for those in need.  Abray also makes his own wine and has some brandies aged a good 15 years, which he told me - with a smile - were “an old home remedy to stop a cough.”

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Okra pods set to dry for next season’s seeds are a striking testament to Abray’s work preserving heirloom varieties.


Warm weather will find Abray outdoors cultivating his crops, cutting grass at his church, helping family with their gardens and canning home-grown produce alongside Peggy. Cooler temperatures allow the woodworker to emerge.

Retirement
Even after retiring in 2005, the lathe in the woodshop keeps running. Abray discovered a talent for making unique bowls from unusual woods.  His daughter suggested the apt name One-of-a-Kind bowls for this new enterprise.  It’s a lucky person who owns one of these distinctive pieces.

Then there are the honeybee hives Abray maintains with hopes of enlarging the apiary. Some of the Bell property has been leased to a cattleman to run his herd with Abray taking payment in kind.

So what does a man like this do in his quiet time?  Try collecting and cataloguing regional artifacts, studying the area’s past, and, oh yes, refitting a 1942 Ford from the inside out. Abray has totally disassembled the car and is putting it together with all the original parts.

Yellow Creek Road continues to supply a treasure trove of amazing residents, many with family histories that intermingle and provide a strong base for local society. For a Johnny-come-lately, it is a pleasure to meet these folks, to learn more about local history and to share a congenial confab along Yellow Creek Road. 

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