Bells ring in life’s fondest memories


This is the time of year when I like to share with you one of my mother’s columns from when she wrote for Farm and Dairy from the 1950s until her death in 1965.
“Aunt Teek” – Berenice Thompson Steinfeld – wrote her columns first in pencil on yellow legal pad paper (I have all of them and I can still see her writing on her lap even on an automobile trip!) before typing them on a portable Royal typewriter my grandparents had once given me for Christmas.
For Dec. 26, 1956, she wrote:
“If you are like most of us, bells of one kind or another have sung their music through many a phase of your life. Like as not, your earliest toys were bells. Maybe your mother still has that rattle with three little silver bells on a ring carefully wrapped in white tissue paper. Along with the strap which went across your baby carriage, no doubt, and it, too, had a row of small round tinkling bells to enchant our infancy.
“It could be you were a farm child, in which case there are other bell sounds for you to remember. The deep tone of the square-shaped Swiss bell on nice old Bessie as the cows left the barn for the pasture on warm summer evenings.
The fun of pulling the rope on the big dinner bell high up in the kitchen gable to call Pa and the boys and the hired man in to the noon meal. We know of one of those nicely cast black iron dinner bells marked Fredericktown, Ohio, in use right now.
(Janie’s note: It is outside my kitchen window atop a stout pole).
“You wouldn’t need a welcoming dinner bell clamor today to announce some of our prefabricated frozen packaged meals, would you? They’re all right for sickness and disaster, we say, just fine for a family emergency when folks are glad to be served anything at all.
“But the reverberating clang of that old black bell meant come right in, get washed up, and be set down to fried smoked country ham with cream gravy for the mashed potatoes, and buttered dried corn and piccalilli, and damson plum preserves for the homemade bread.
“Then, fill up on fragrant apple dumplings lightly dusted with cinnamon and nutmeg and christened in thick cream from a glass pitcher.
“Sometimes we feel real sad over what is happening at mealtime in America with all these shortcuts and quickies.
(Janie’s note: Think how she would feel about today’s so-called mealtimes!)
“The remembrance of that joyous sound of the farm house dinner bell brings back the thoughts of some memorable cooking, doesn’t it?
“And did you know that the bell from the Ohio Canal boat Mary Ann was given to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in East Liverpool and that it calls parishioners to worship to this day? A beautiful toned bell it is, too.
“Then there was the bell on the old ewe and the thin tinkling of the bell on your pet lamb. If you were a city child, there was the bell on the milk man’s horse and on the trolley car and on the hokey-pokey wagon and the delicate silver bell beside your mother’s plate at meal time.
“And the magnificent ear-shattering clamor of the engine bell when the evening train pulled into the depot. There was the soft tolling in the night of the riverboat bell as the Queen City headed upstream and yes, she did head up before she turned downstream on her way down the Ohio.
(Janie’s note: Mother grew up along the river in East Liverpool).
“Wherever you were raised you had school bells and recess bells and bells on alarm clocks and bells for Sunday School and church and for weddings and for funerals and for New Year’s Eve. And then there were bells on all the truly remarkable tower clocks on early meeting houses and town halls and college buildings.
“Alas, many of these have been destroyed in the name of progress as the buildings themselves are destroyed.
(Janie’s note: Now you see from where my feelings toward “progress” emanate).
But bells have always been a part of one’s life and hopefully will continue to be, and the Christmas bells will surely ring out during this season to wish you blessings, as we do.”
* * *
Mother kept a small hand bell in the kitchen to keep track of this unruly child who preferred to wander up and down Yellow Creek instead of studying and sewing. That was safe to do in those days but when I heard that bell’s insistent ringing I knew I’d better turn around and head home.
There is very little Christmas spirit here for two reasons. You know the one is because of Ori’s passing, but I must tell you my sister, Barbara, had a massive stroke on Thanksgiving Day.
There is no hope for a complete recovery and she will have to spend the rest of her days in a nursing home. Her 88th birthday would be in June.
I fervently thank everyone who telephoned and wrote and sent cards, even flowers, to sympathize about the loss of my best friend. It continues to be difficult as Ori’s spirit lingers in each room of the house and in the barn. I was blessed with his presence for nearly 12 years and I am thankful.
I hope your holidays are everything you want them to be.
* * *
Best-ever laugh from the classified ads in the daily paper. (So good I sent it to Readers Digest)
Under “Pets”: “The Mahoning County Dog Pound Youthanizes 400 dogs a month . . . etc.
After my hysterics subsided, I telephoned and said to the girl what a terrible mistake that was.
“Just human error,” she said, bored.
“No, just stupidity!” I replied, adding, “Do you know what the word means?” She thought a moment, then said, “No . .”
On second thought, wouldn’t it be nice if we could be Youthanized with accent on the Youth . . .
It was corrected the next days.


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A lifelong resident of the Mahoning Valley, Janie Jenkins retired in 1987 as a feature writer and columnist at the Youngstown Vindicator. In June of that same year, she started writing her column, "On My Mind" for Farm and Dairy. She loves all animals and is an accomplished equestrienne. Local history is also one of her loves, and her home, the former Southern Park Stables, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.