BY JE’DON HOLLOWAY-TALLEY
Special to the Birmingham Times
“You Had Me at Hello’’ highlights married couples and the love that binds them. If you would like to be considered for a future “Hello’’ column, or know someone, please send nominations to Barnett Wright email@example.com. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.
MARTRECE AND KELVIN BELL
Live: East Lake
Married: Aug. 19, 1995
Met: August 1989, downtown on 4th Ave at Green Acres Cafe on their lunch breaks. Martrece was between classes at the Birmingham Urban League, and Kelvin was on break from work at Food Fair [North Birmingham].
“… after a while, Kelvin started coming to the Birmingham Urban League for classes too, and I remembered him from Green Acres. My friend thought he was cute and I said I was going to hook them up but he [wasn’t interested], he said he was dating a girl from Georgia…. [we became friends] and months later I called him, and asked if he wanted to hang out and he asked me ‘is it going to just be you and I,’ and I said ‘no, I’m bringing my friend,’ and he said ‘I’m not feeling your friend, it’s you I’m feeling,’” Martrece remembered.”
“I did remember her from Green Acres because I remembered her legs in that short denim skirt, but her smile really did it for me… and as we started communicating she told me she had a child and I said ‘that doesn’t matter, I’m fond of children anyway,’ I wanted to know if she was dating anyone,” Kelvin said.
“And I wasn’t, my daughter’s father wasn’t in the picture at all,” Martrece said.
First date: Nov. 25, 1989. They went to Pizza Hut in Eastwood for dinner, and the dollar movie theater in Roebuck to see Harlem Nights. Martrece was 17, and Kelvin was 18.
“I can remember being so nervous and thinking about what would we talk about because we had talked on the phone so much… I was still living at home with my mom [in Fountain Heights] and he came upstairs and met my mom, and it was his first time meeting Ashley [her daughter, then 1]. Ashley really took to him, she got up in his lap and gave him her favorite book to read to her. He was such a gentleman, he opened up all my doors that night, and I had never had that happen before. The way Kelvin treated me was different than I had been treated [in the past], he paid for everything, I didn’t have to go in my purse for nothing, he was definitely a gentleman,” Martrece said.
“I was nervous about meeting her mom, I was thinking about what should I say, how should I act, and I thought I was going to be drilled, but it was actually awesome, her mom was cool and laid back. Meeting Ashley was awesome, she came to me right away and I didn’t expect that. My main concern was what [Martrece’s] taste in music was going to be, so I made a mixtape with all R&B and when I saw her face, she wasn’t feeling it and I changed it to some hip hop,” Kelvin laughed.
“When he reached to hold my hand his hand was soaking wet, and he pulled it back and apologized and wiped it off, and I said to myself, well if his hands are sweating, he’s nervous, and so am I, so we both just need to calm down. But over dinner, it set the tone, we relaxed,” Martrece said.
The turn: February 1990, at East Lake Park. “We were on a double date at East Lake Park with another couple, and we were having a good time,” Martrece recalled, “and that was the first time Kelvin told me he loved me and I was blown away. That was when we decided we were going to be exclusive and only date each other.”
The proposal: July 1995, at their apartment on Clairmont Ave in Birmingham. They had added two more children. Ashley was now 7, Kelisia, 2, and Kelvin Jr. was 11 months.
“Prior to [the proposal] my mom had cancer and she would tell me all the time it’s time for you to get married, shacking time is up, it’s time to marry Martrece, and I promised I that I would. My mom was in love with Martrece herself, and [after mom passed] Martrece and I were sitting in the bed and I was still grieving over my mom just thinking about things that she said to me and I sat up and said ‘I got to do something’, and I got out the bed and got down on my knee and asked Martrece if could I have her hand in marriage,” Kelvin said.
“I was really surprised but happy because I was just about to give him an ultimatum at the end of the year. We had been together for six years, had two kids, and were living together, and my grandfather said, ‘why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?’ So after I had the conversation with my grandad I wanted to talk to Kelvin about it, but his mother died, so I didn’t know when the best time to talk to him would be, but I didn’t have to because he ended up proposing,” Martrece said. “The next day we went to Freeman’s Jewelers in Century Plaza Mall and got our rings, and planned a wedding in four weeks.”
The wedding: At Martrece’s grandfather’s home in West End, officiated by Reverend Ocie Burt of Mount Hebron Baptist Church in Acipco, and their colors were hunter green and white.
Most memorable for the bride was being reprimanded by her grandfather during their vow exchange “When the Reverend said, ‘love, honor, and obey’ I kept saying ‘love’ with big pauses in between, I would not say ‘honor and obey’ and my grandfather stopped the wedding and stood up and ‘you’re standing up here taking this for a joke, this isn’t just your vows, this is your covenant. You’re not doing it just in front of us, you’re doing this before God and if you can’t honor and obey, then you need to sit down and call it off right now’, and I was so embarrassed,” Martrece said. “I said in front of all the attendees, ‘Why do I have to honor and obey him’ and my grandfather said because that’s what the word of God says… and I understood what he was saying about it being a covenant with God, and I apologized and asked the pastor to do it over again, and when we got to that part I said it, but I was so upset and embarrassed.”
Most memorable for the groom were also the remarks Martrece’s grandfather made. “We didn’t really see that coming because he’s a quiet man. It gave me chills, it turned the page for me and it shifted the atmosphere,” Kelvin said. “I saw that I wasn’t respecting the seriousness of it as well, and then it made sense and I understood and didn’t take it lightly. When we did the vow part over, we both had a new understanding of the vows, it was a covenant and promise we were making before God.”
Honeymoon: A two-night stay at the Best Western hotel on Lakeshore Parkway “but it was cut short because our baby boy was so sick and we had to take him to the hospital, we were at Children’s of Alabama Emergency Room…”
Words of wisdom: “Keep God first, communicate and listen to understand, and not to respond,” Martrece said.
“Take God with you and keep him first. Be able to express yourself, be honest, and always have respect for one another. Pray together, that will help a whole lot, and keep God between [the two of] you.,” Kelvin said.
Happily ever after: The Bells attend Rock City Church, where Martrece serves on the prayer team and First Touch Ministry, and Kelvin serves with the Rockafella and First Touch Ministry. They have six children: Ashley, 35, Kelisia, 30, Kelvin Jr. 29, Kimora, 24, MarKayla, 23, Kyra, 20, and one grandson.
Martrece, 52, is an Acipco [North Birmingham] native, and Phillips High School grad. She attended Jefferson State Community College where she earned an associate’s degree in legal studies, works as a paralegal for the Rice Firm LLC, in downtown Birmingham, and case manager at the Fire House Shelter for men downtown.
Kelvin, 53, is a West End native and West End High School grad. He is a recent kidney transplant recipient, and before coming off the job for surgery and recovery, worked for Southland International Trucks as a parts salesman and delivery agent for 25 years.