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Belle Banks: A mother-in-law like no other

By Dale Basinger
Special to the Salisbury Post
ěThe worst person I know, mother-in-law, mother-in-law. She worries me so, mother-in-law, mother-in-law.î
These are the opening lyrics to a song that may describe many mothers-in-law out there. However, they do not describe my mother-in-law because I consider her to be unique.
My first meeting with my future mother-in-law was less than spectacular. She did not impress me and Iím sure I did not impress her.
Margaret Banks and I started dating in August of 1969, her first year teaching at Knox Jr. High and my fourth. We enjoyed each otherís company and found that we had similar interests and beliefs. By October she had met my parents and now it was my time to meet hers.
Margaret had told me that she grew up in an old house built in 1831 and that it had historical significance. I must not have been paying good attention, perhaps thinking about who should be starting in the defensive backfield for the Knox Trojans. Or maybe I was thinking about my next weekís lesson plans for my civics and world geography classes.
Traveling down to Huntersville in my í66 GTO, I felt a bit uneasy at the prospect of meeting Belle and Dick Banks. What would I say? How to make it interesting? Would they approve of me?
All of this apprehension went away immediately when I entered their home called ěCedar Groveî and saw them both dressed in short shorts and paint splattered shirts while standing on top of tall ladders in their living room. They were in the process of painting this room with 13-feet high ceilings and were not about to be interrupted to come down to greet me. Our first conversation was about what I could do to help them out by handing them the tools and paint they needed.
After being exasperated by their nonchalance, I asked them why they were painting this room. Belle replied, ěWeíre getting it ready for a wedding reception.î Little did I know that it would be mine.
Margaret Belle Pierce Banks has always been known as Belle in the North Mecklenburg community. I had been informed that she could be dogmatic, strong in her beliefs, and very competitive. Her daughter had told me when we were dating that when her little brother, Torrance, had been cut from his Little League team after try-outs, Belle organized another league so that he would have a team to play on.
After my marriage, I found that she could be patient in some cases and still be very competitive. She was patient while teaching all five of her grandchildren to play Scrabble and even allowed them to win when they were beginners. But when our son Robert beat her one time in Scrabble and then laughed at her, she became angry and threw the tiles at him. Needless to say, Robert learned a lesson in sportsmanship that day.
One of the highlights of the year was our annual trip to Crescent Beach for a weekís vacation in the summer. Dick and Belle loved to swim in the ocean and both loved to body surf time after time. Soon it turned competitive and each tried to go a longer distance than the other, sometimes one accusing the other of cheating. Our two sons and their cousins became quite fond of riding the waves without a float after watching their grandparents year after year.
Dick Banks was a music and drama critic for The Charlotte Observer for a number of years and both he and Belle loved to sing. In 1977 they organized the North Mecklenburg Community Chorus which this year is celebrating 34 years of community entertainment. Although Belle is now 92 years of age, she still loves to go and hear the Chorus and stands up proudly when recognized.
After her two children were old enough, Belle went to work writing for the Mecklenburg Gazette. Never one to back down from a controversial issue, she was outspoken about topics ranging from school integration to Davidson basketball. Belle was so outraged about the condition of the Mecklenburg Countyís parks that she wrote about it and was selected for the Parks and Recreation Committee. Belle gained her love for college basketball while working for the Gazette and took her family to see all the games in the Southern Conference Tournament for years. While working in Davidson, she became friends with Coach Lefty Drisell and told anyone who would listen that she needed to be at the games in case Lefty needed her advice.
Not only was Belle an avid basketball fan of the Davidson Wildcats and later the Carolina Tar Heels, but she became a great fan of the Carolina Panthers pro football team when they came to Charlotte. Every Sunday afternoon, she was glued to the television to see her beloved Panthers and if you tried to call her she would simply refuse to answer the phone.
In the fall of 2004 when Belle was 86 years old, I took a chance and wrote Jerry Richardson, the owner of the Panthers. I told him what a great fan Belle was and how she had never seen the Panthers play in person. Thinking nothing would come of it, I was greatly surprised when I received a letter from Mr. Richardson a couple of weeks later. Not only did he include two of his personal game tickets but the tickets were for a Luxury Suite of the 400 Club Level along with a parking pass near the stadium. Although the Panthers would lose to the Michael Vick led Atlanta Falcons, we both enjoyed the endless supply of food on the buffet line along with any drink that you might want. Belle will not hear of anyone criticizing Jerry Richardson and neither will I because of his kindness to us.
Dick Banks died in June of 1999. He and Belle had been married nearly 57 years. Although missing her husband, Belle wanted to enjoy life as much as possible. She continued playing Mrs. Santa Claus and telling stories for children as she had been doing for several years. In addition she began writing a new column, this time for The Lake Norman Times.
An avid reader, Belle had been giving book reviews at the Davidson Town Hall for a number of years. After caring for her husband during his illness, she resumed her reviews which were well received by her ěgroupiesî in Davidson. Not only did she review four books each quarter, she included raunchy jokes which she was not above telling. This made her even more endearing to her crowds which averaged over fifty people. She later came many times to the Rowan Public Library to give the same reviews and had her own following here in Rowan County.
Now 92 years old and still living in the same historic house that she and Dick moved to in 1949, Belle Banks has some short term memory problems. She probably would not be able to tell you what she had for breakfast but just name any Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movie and she will tell you the plot. She may not be able to concentrate enough to read any longer but just ask her about her favorite actor, Cary Grant, and she will give his complete biography. Just ask her about Elvis Presley and she will tell you that her husband turned down two interviews with him when he was young because he thought Elvis had no talent. If you care to listen she will tell you of her experiences as a waitress in New York City, California, and Florida even though you have heard these stories many times over. And yes, do not call while the Panthers are playing. She will simply not answer the phone.
Dale Basinger is Belleís son-in-law, married to Margaret Basinger.

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