A bell’s not a bell ’til you ring it

Our story so far: A team of men shored up the pilings of the belfry on the old Methodist church we had converted into a residence.

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Reroofer now went to work in what he specialized—finishing the flat roof beneath the bell. He performed this work once already, back in the autumn, but all that had been pulled apart to repair the pilings. He spent a solid week traipsing up the ladder with various construction materials—plywood, aluminum, waterproof sheeting and more—to do whatever a good and proper roofer does. He dodged a recalcitrant squirrel who’d taken possession of the nook above the bell and insisted Reroofer was trespassing. For the most part, Reroofer simply ignored the squirrel’s chattering, but he made a note to himself and to us that the roof above the bell would have to be filled in to deter squatters.

Reroofer also attached the rope to the wheel of the bell so one did not have to stand on the roof to ring it. The day he did this, a pair of my friends paid me a visit so I celebrated by inviting them to ring it with me. They demurred. “You really ought to be the one to ring it the first time,” one said.

I yanked on the rope once, and I could feel that it wasn’t hard enough to get the clapper to make contact. I was too timid.

“Do it again!” they said.

I pulled again, this time with gusto, and the bell rang out. My eyes grew as wide as my grin, to the delight of my friends.

Later that day, Tyler climbed the steps to the second floor with a single intention: To ring the bell himself. He was not so timid as I had been. He pulled the rope and rang the bell three or four times, satisfied with all the work that got him to this reward.

bell front door
Here’s a shot of our belfry after sheathing the pilings and after Reroofer finished the flat roof beneath the bell. You can also see our front door with the new lighting and street number.

Church bells, of course, are not usually rung just for fun. In the strictest sense, the primary purpose of ringing a church bell is to call parishioners to services. “In a broader sense the bells produce a pure musical sound that stirs the hearts of all who hear them,” according to an FAQ I found on the internet about ringing bells. “The uplifting sound transcends any artificial boundaries of sect or religion. Most of us love to hear them whatever our beliefs—because they stir something deep, perhaps something deeply spiritual, in all of us. And we are grateful and want to continue the tradition.”

Since it was the sort of signal that could be heard across town, I felt as though I ought to develop some sort of guidelines for ringing our bell. Traditionally, bell ringing was used to announce or signal special events such a weekly services, according to the FAQ. They were also used as flood or fire warnings, messages to douse fires for the evening, warn that the town water supply had been polluted (perhaps by a drowned animal), or to signal the harvest or new year. Bells also were used to announce times of great joy, such as weddings, or to express sorrow, such as at funerals. I thought perhaps we could get away with ringing the bell in welcome to visitors (so we could show it off, of course), for family birthdays (though I wasn’t sure I trusted ringing it once for every year—I had a 103-year-old grandmother after all) and for new year’s (because that could be expected).

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Today’s headline is a partial quote from Tony award-winning songwriter Oscar Hammerstein, who said, “A bell’s not a bell ’til you ring it. A song’s not a song ’til you sing it. Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay. Love isn’t love ’til you give it away!”

Tomorrow: Chapter 41 wraps up with future plans for the belfry. Read about them here.