Photos by Lori Graham
MONTGOMERY COUNTY-In Mrs. Rubye Scott’s dining room stands a cabinet full of almost 300 bells, each a gift to her as tokens of love and appreciation.
Each special trinket also represents a story of how Scott became such a meaningful part of their lives.
Anyone meeting Mrs. Rubye Scott would never guess her age of 95 years. She drives herself to town and does whatever she sets her mind to do. Her kind eyes and friendly smile invoke a sense of already knowing her, even though you’ve only met for the first time. It must be the natural teacher in her, as she lovingly speaks of the many students she taught at Blacksburg High School. Yet, there’s something else unique about this lady that draws you into her gentle spirit and soft voice as she tells the story of her bell collection.
Born in Grundy, Va., as one of seven children, Scott said she was always too young or too small for everything from the very beginning. She was a premature baby and the oldest of her sisters. Grundy is a very rural, mountainous area in southwest Virginia, and her father worked at the nearby coal mine and was also a farmer. Life was hard and people had to eek out a living the best they could.
One of her prized bells, and one of the oldest, is a cowbell that once hung from the neck of her family’s Jersey cow. In her Grundy community, Scott said, everyone had a cowbell on their milk cow when they would turn them out to graze together.
“When it was 5 o’ clock, it was milking time, you’d go find your cow and bring it home and milk the cow,” Scott said. “You found your cow by the ring; we knew the ring so we could find our cow.”
Scott was fortunate to have parents who always wanted the best education they could get for their children.
“At that time, keep in mind this was 95 years ago, they had a schoolhouse in that community. It was a small community,” Scott said. “They would only give you a teacher if you had 20 students. So, in that community it was hard to get 20 students. It was 1-7 grades. When they could have school, and had 20, the schoolhouse was used.”
Everyone walked to school at that time, and the schoolhouse was close to Scott’s house, so the teachers would board with her family. This also provided the added benefit for Scott to receive special attention from the teachers that resided in her home.
When Scott was about 4-5 years old, the school was struggling to have enough pupils to support a teacher, so she started her elementary education at an early age. After her first year of schooling, Scott would return the next year as a third grader.
“For that reason, I’ve always been too young, younger than the other students. Not because I was smarter,” Scott said. “It was because they started me out young.”
Scott would graduate from high school at the age of 15 years old and then go directly into higher education at Radford College. This was a grand adventure for someone that had rarely ventured outside of her home community.
She would have never imagined the beautiful life that awaited her.
At age 18, she graduated from Radford College, just at the close of World War II. Her first year of teaching was instructing military men who had returned from the war. Some men had been drafted or signed up before they had finished high school. She would then teach a couple of years in Floyd County schools and another year at a small schoolhouse in McCoy, Virginia, where her husband and she settled down and raised a family.
Her husband Leo, affectionately called “Scotty” by Rubye and all who knew him, gifted her bells as well through the years. Scotty and his brother owned a store in the McCoy community which sometimes required travel to parts of the United States to buy things to sell. One bell he purchased was from 1981 after his visit to the western United States.
Bells line her cabinet made of iron, brass, coal, wood, straw, and glass – all part of a collection that has been labeled with the year and name of the giver. As Scott picked each bell up and gave it a shake, she recalled the story of how each chime came to reside in her display cabinet.
There is one from her daughter Patricia Scott Williams, who lives close by, and another from her son Kim Scott, also of Blacksburg. A sheep bell from her neighbor and farmer and here’s her smallest bell, barely the size of the end of your finger. Only two of her bells are alike, one from England and another from Scotland. Rubye Scott’s sister, Lovis, visited England on a trip and brought back one of the bells decorated with delicate lavender flowers. Her sister Lovis passed away recently after battling Alzheimer’s, making the bell even more special to Rubye in her remembrance.
Pastor and Missionary Mike Flinchum also gifted Scott a bell from his time spent in Thailand. Altogether, Scott has bells from eight countries.
There are bells that were also gifted to her from her years of instruction too. Although Scott was primarily a business instructor for 33 years, that first teaching job instructing World War II veterans was remembered as some of the best learning years of her life. She thought she had to teach by the book. Later she would come to understand that teachers were a lot of things to students, especially that could not be learned from a book but had to be felt and experienced from the heart.
One year when Scott was teaching at Blacksburg High School, Principal Alfred Curtis Gray approached her about helping to cover for a teacher who was leaving for an opportunity to study abroad for a year. Scott was reluctant at first, as she enjoyed teaching business courses and was very happy to stay where she was. An agreement was made that she would take on a few additional tasks but remain in her business classes. One of those duties was to provide some guidance to students as needed during her non-instructional class periods.
This was when she met “Tommy”, a young man in a transient home life, with no parents to look after him.
“He was in trouble all the time, in every class. That little boy was sent to my office, I know every day. Tommy was not his real name; I won’t tell you his real name. Here would come Tommy though. He was wasting time, and I didn’t think you should waste time. I would find little things for Tommy to do,” Scott said. “We got to talking and that’s the reason I knew Tommy’s situation and Tommy and I got to be good buddies.”
The time came when the principal told Scott that Tommy needed something different to help with his education. The principal set to work, finding a place for the student to go where he could learn something; a place where he could get a better start in his life. Special education was not part of the public-school curriculum at this time but both Scott and Gray knew that he needed specialized education.
“I hated to see Tommy go but I knew that is what he needed,” Scott said. “Tommy knew that I collected bells, so the day that he was set to leave, he came in my office. He was all dressed up and looked so nice, and he said, ‘Mrs. Scott, I’ve got something for you.’, and he pulled it out and it was this bell. Lord, I knew it was stolen off some desk…I didn’t want him to think I knew that.”
Scott didn’t know what to do at that moment, so she went and hugged him and thanked him.
Scott said to Tommy, “Tommy, I will always keep your bell.”