Monday, June 15, 2009

Hells Bells

I was in Astoria the other day and I could hear a church bell ringing. It was sort of a majestic/ homey sound and it brought to mind the bells of my past.

My parents home, which is a federalist structure built in 1861 has a mechanical door bell when one pulls the lever on the outside a hammer hits the bell and it is loud enough to wake the dead. Near that house there were trains that would ring their bells as they came into the station about a half mile away.

On the lawn of my home town library was a large bell that was once used by the fire station. It was a joy to the local kids to ring that bell. It was really large so with only one strike the sound would resonate for minutes.

I remember when alarm clocks and telephones had bells. I don’t recall ever having a bell on any of my bicycles. We’ve put bells on our cat collars, but our cats find a way to get out of them the first time we let them out; the collars never to be seen again.

The church that I went to as a lad for some reason had no bell. Instead it had big metal speakers and several times a recording of bells were played. It was pretty hokey. The grade school I attended didn’t have bell either. It had a hand bell, which one of the nuns would ring to the beginning or the end of classes and lunch. It was also the bell used for fire drills.

My favorite bells were at this Russian Orthodox Church that was on the street I lived on before I moved out here. The bells were rung every evening at 6:00pm. The reason I liked them was that I’d go out for my evening bicycle ride at that time and I loved to peddle as fast as I could as I passed the church and the faster I went the better the Doppler Effect was. The sound was crisp and sharp as I approached the ringing and as soon as I passed the church the tones went flat.

Here in Astoria, aside from the church bells the most prominent bell is that of the trolley. I really enjoy the sound of a good hand rung bell. Hand ringing adds character to any bell as opposed to a bell that is sounded electronically. It has the sound of an imperfect individual. The timing isn’t precise and it can be rung loudly or softly. This is when a bell takes on the personality of its ringer.


Blogger Beth said...

Used to use a cow bell to gather the kids (my own, their cousins) from wherever the hell they were at the cottage. Saved on the vocal chords.
(Always supervised while in the lake, though…)

4:48 AM  
Blogger darev2005 said...

I can't think of a single actual bell in this whole town. There are three churches within a block of my house and none of them has a bell. I almost bought one at a junk shop a few weeks ago, tho. My daughter and I drove to the next town over to drop off a truckload of clothes and stuff we were getting rid of. Pulled up in front of this thrift store and there was this humongous bell sitting under the steps. Probably a yard wide at the mouth. I'm sure it came from an old church somewhere. I guess my daughter could see the gleam in my eye because she stepped in front of me and said "Dad, mom would kill you if you bring that home!" I don't have a clue what I would have done with it, but for some reason it was calling my name. But for personal safety reasons, I left it where it was. Probably the best thing for everybody.

5:25 AM  
Blogger a mouthy irish woman? ridiculous! said...

i agree with the hand rung bell.

i think when i was in kindergarten at st. patricks, my teacher, a nun of course....had a small hand bell. and i remember being so enthralled and excited when she would ring it. i would snap to attention and stop talking ready to hear what she had to say.

how about those old alarm clock bells? the ones that sat on top of a the clock body itself and were beaten to death by the little "hammer" in between the bells? i love the sound of those too.

except for the mornings when i didn't and throwing it across the room sounded better.

5:46 AM  
Blogger richpix said...

Once or twice a year the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, has an open house where they allow people up in the bell tower. It's 300 feet up and they give a demonstration of the bells, the largest of which weighs over 1.5 tons. It's quite the experience. Deafening, even. Anyone who plans to be in DC in May or September should check it out if they can.

Fun facts on the bells
And Tower climb info

6:28 AM  
Blogger richpix said...

Correction, the largest bell weighs 12 tons. ;-)

6:33 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Beth, My horses come running when I ring the chain on their gate.

Darev, go back there and get it. Your sister would love a bell like that.

Mouthy, the first part sounds Pavlovian... I had one of those clocks. It ticked so loudly that you didn't need the bells to go off. The ticking kept you awake all night.

Rich, leave it to you to do the research. Thanks, though I hope to never go back East again

4:19 PM  
Blogger g said...

i had a childhood friend and i spent the night at his house on a few occasions. when it was dinner time, his mom would ring a hand bell.

also on the dinner topic, my cousin who is a farmer in south dakota calls dinner with a dinner bell - the kind that hangs outside.

great article btw.

6:54 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Thanks, g. We have a triangle at one pasture that we use to call in the horses.

4:58 AM  
Blogger darev2005 said...

Guy, even if I bought the thing and she wanted it, it would cost several thousand dollars to ship it to her. If I had the extra cash to play with, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Just to see the look on her face when that huge crate showed up at her door needing a forklift to unload.

6:47 AM  

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