Bringing Up the Bells

This morning I unearthed my mother’s small collection of bells from their basement purgatory. I’m not sure what possessed me to finally seek them out. The only thing I can imagine is, that lately I’ve been thinking and writing so much about my father’s belongings and why I still have so many of those, that somewhere inside I felt my mom’s part in the story of my life was being neglected.

I knew right where the box was when I ventured down into the basement. Always easy to spot, the bells were in a green and white Heineken box, packed originally by my dad, as that was his preferred beer. The box was a bit dusty, of course, but the tape was still miraculously intact after several moves.

When I opened it, I realized I must have repacked the box myself at least once in the past. I could tell by the dates and name of the newspaper the bells were wrapped in, sheets from the local Pennysaver when I lived in Lake Luzerne, New York, back in 2004.

I wondered why I had done that, opened the box only to wrap the bells up all over again, never having the desire to bring them out into the house. It was a strange feeling, and a decision I couldn’t really understand.

Maybe I wasn’t ready before, maybe I never felt like I was truly home until I came to live here. I can’t honestly say. But that would explain why I’ve been drawn lately to inventorying what I have left of both my parents, why I’ve felt the need to sort it all out at last.

I think most of their things were lost in the sea of mixed ownership that happens in a marriage after so many years. But aside from her clothes and a bunch of hats my father bought for her (that she didn’t like and never wore), I don’t recall my mom owning much in our house that specifically was hers. She died several years before my dad, and afterward he boxed up her belongings or disposed of them.

But the bell collection I somehow saved. Either he gave them to me, or I found them; I don’t recall anymore how I came to have them. But they are one of the few things I have that belonged just to her, and I know I’ve kept them so long for that very reason.

I had cleaned off a small wall shelf first, making room, making the bells a new home. I felt eager to see them again, finally. I honestly could not remember what any of them looked like.

One by one, I removed the bells from the box and pulled off their paper shrouds. Some appeared more delicate than others. There were clear crystal ones, both cut and smooth, that looked expensive. Two were bronze, one topped by a Pegasus and the other by a tiny angel. Others bore flowers, or animals; some were just simple and plain.

There was a variety of sizes and colors, each one still intact, miraculously unbroken. Only a couple were missing their clappers, the tiny piece inside that makes a bell ring.

Despite their wrappings, a thin layer of dust had found its way inside to coat each of the bells. I wiped them down, and as I did the ones with their clappers intact rang out in tones both high and deep, each voice unique, announcing to me they were happy to be in the daylight once again.

I particularly liked the one with angel and set it aside. It reminded me of the old film, It’s a Wonderful Life, where the angel Clarence tells Jimmy Stewart’s character that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his (or her, I hope) wings. I thought of my mom, and though I’m not a person who believes, really, in either heaven or hell, it made me hope again that she was happy somewhere, and at peace.

After they dried, I set the bells on their shelf, arranging them by size and color into a pleasing display. Though the morning was gloomy, dull with gray clouds and pouring rain, the bells managed to catch what little light they could from the adjacent window. Their colors colors sparkled, fresh as the day they were packed away into the old Heineken box.

I believe that my mom would like that I brought the bells out at last. I have other items, our family photo albums and old Christmas ornaments, and I have framed photos of her on display in the house. But there is something unique, a telling quality about the bells that rings only of my mother, a presence I realized upon seeing them that I felt glad to have with me again.

I don’t know why I kept it away for so long. Maybe the bells represented a part of my mom – and a part of me – I wanted kept safe, even if that meant keeping them in the dark. Yes, they were hidden. But they were never, ever forgotten.

Now twenty years later, they are coming back into the light, bringing up feelings and memories I packed away in that box, too, a long time ago. Better late than never, I guess. The real questions ahead for me, I think, are: What else is going to ring out next? And, more importantly, what am I going to do with it all?

Time, I’m sure, will tell. There are plenty more boxes in my basement left to go through.