Barbara Annette Beard Dodson, better known as ‘Nett,’ is the friendly face behind the counter at Nett’s Grocery in Bethel. This quaint community is actually part of Sante Fe just off Highway 7 and the Natchez Trace Parkway and is home to a good share of Tennessee natives and city transplants, bluegrass pickers and country music videos. Her father, Grover Cleveland Beard, 82 years old, loves to ride his four-wheeler to the store for some good fried catfish.
The building is nearly 100 years old and has always stood as the local general store. As a child, Nett would go in for a cold drink bottle and potato chips. She lived on Beard Ridge, aptly named for the large, family-owned property, and because where you were from was identified more by land than by zip code. On the farm she claims, “We pretty much did it all.” They had cows, grew corn, stripped tobacco, picked up hay and the kids went to the barn every morning before school to milk cows. Children’s spending money was mostly from milking cows, whether their own or someone else’s. She rode the tractor as a young girl and recalls the worry of not running over something, “I just knew I was going to get in trouble,” she laughs. Farming was about helping each other out, and Nett remembers, “If you needed help, there’d be twenty people lined up.”
Home was three miles down a gravel drive hidden in the woods. They never thought much about it, and when asked about the influx of more people in the area and development, she can’t complain when it has patched the potholes and paved the roads including the one to their house.
Her father is from what they called Blackjack Ridge. He walked to school with his sweetheart, who later became his wife, Nett’s mother. In addition to farming, he worked in a nearby plant which gave the family a mostly comfortable life. Nett has always been happy here and says, “I never really wanted to go anywhere.” And, she adds, “We had pretty much everything we needed.” They had the first of many amenities like phone service which often led to visitors. “The constables would be chasing somebody and would use our phone to call back to the station,” says Nett. They were typically coming from one of the local country taverns which were always full, some of which still stand today.
While sitting on the bench just outside the store, the air is fresh and quiet, Mr. Beard says to me, “I went through life with everything I did, I took pride in accomplishing something.” He talks about the hardworking people here, the friendliness of the south, and when I agree with him, he humbly replies, “Well, that’s what we’re here fer.”
A tradition going back as far as the annual homecoming, The Bethel Pickin’ and Grinnin’ happens every third Saturday of the month at the Community Center. Tasty burgers and hotdogs are served by the friendliest of neighbors, and the main event features a covered pavillion complete with stage, dance floor and seating with an incredible display of bluegrass players and shoes that go tap, tap, clink, clink…a must experience event.
The area boasts some incredible musicians who created the rural area’s entertainment. Bluegrass and gospel singing have been thriving here for many years and is a culture to appreciate.
To find Bethel – From the Natchez Trace, Exit Hwy 7 South, left on Leipers Creek Rd, 3 miles to community center on left; From Franklin, Take Hwy 46 to Leipers Fork, through center of town, stay straight on road which turns into Leipers Creek Rd, 11 miles to community center on right; From Columbia, take Hwy 7 north, right on Leipers Creek Rd, 3 miles to community center on left.
Bethel, TN is not much more than two roads at a T, friendly neighbors and rural charm. After stopping at Nett’s Grocery for some home cooking of meat and veggies (unfortunately, too full for the apple caramel pie), we stroll over to the Bethel Community Center to say hello to Larry Fox who was sweeping the front porch of the early 1900’s building. We were digging for some information and history on the regularPickin’ and Grinnin’ each month. But before that, we got to know a little more about this fascinating neighbor.
Bethel has been home to many Fox family members of several generations. They have been farmers, teachers, musicians and community leaders. The very same building we stood in was where Larry started school as a young boy in 1946. His fondest memory was the first day of school. “All these things going on, so many strange people, I ran off, went back home and hid under the bed. My mom had wrapped a sandwich for me and I remember eating the sandwich under the bed. Then they dragged me back to school and I got a good whoopin for it,” he laughs. “You remember the show the Waltons? We were just like the Waltons.” Yes, folks, that’s coming straight from Larry. No need for me to make any stereotypical comparison to an old TV show. “I was in my overalls and barefoot. Of course, we had shoes in the winter time,” he happily adds.
Country it may all seem, but this family is far from sheltered or unworldly. His sister, Rita, has a degree in teaching from Middle Tennessee State University and taught at a local school for many years. And, another fond memory he shares with me, “She rode her horse to work every day, through snow and everything else.” Personally, that is what I have been striving for. Larry and his wife have enjoyed traveling and have seen many parts of the country, as well as, many areas around the world. “But, there’s nothing like coming home to this beautiful place,” he declares with a friendly smile.
(Pictured is Larry Fox with his sister, Rita)