Whitesburg KY
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Mostly cloudy

Ringing (literally) in the New Year

Points East

Our old house, where I grew up, had a huge dinner bell mounted on the upstairs back porch. If you have ever seen a typical, antique, dinner bell, imagine one twice the normal size and about half the size of the Liberty Bell.

I have no real idea where my grandfather, Pap (Mose(s) Adams), acquired it, nor why he wanted one so large. There were at least half a dozen other dinner bells on Blair Branch when Pap was still farming, and one of his tracts of bottomland was situated over one and a half miles down the holler from the house.

Perhaps he wanted to make sure it could be heard at that distance or, maybe, he just wanted workhands to know whose bell was ringing when the noontime meal was ready to be put on the table. For whatever his reasons, Pap’s old bell had a distinctly “deeper” tone than any other bell on the holler and it could, in fact, be heard from the head of Blair Branch to the mouth.

I can only recall a handful of times when the bell was rung to signal that “dinner”, the noon meal back then, was ready. By the time my brothers and I were old enough and/or strong enough to pull the bell rope, its dinner duties had retired. We learned that ringing it meant that we were in serious trouble. It was, by then, to be rung for emergencies only. I can vividly recall a couple of times when Mom’s flyswatter taught me the error of my ways because I had made the bell’s clapper peal for just one dong. I suspect that all three of my younger brothers had similar, bell-ringing experiences.

In other words, if one of us was going to use the bell to “cry wolf,” the wolf better have us by the seat of our britches. I can’t recall a single time when that ever happened. There was one and only exception to the bell rule and that was to ring in each New Year at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Throughout December, we four boys had wasted every dime or dollar we could scrape up, procuring as many loud and illegal fireworks as we could afford and setting them off at all hours of the day. We were completely addicted to anything that smoked, flew, fizzled or whizzed as long as it was followed by a loud bang. Every adolescent boy on Blair Branch, and even a few girls, had firecrackeritis from Thanksgiving until the first of the year. I have no idea why our parents tolerated the constant racket.

As long as I can remember, it was common knowledge on the holler, that, at the appointed second, our dinner bell was going to commence ringing in the New Year and that the ringing might continue for several minutes. That old bell made New Year’s fireworks inferior, if not obsolete, as far as I was concerned.

Before 1963, the year we finally had a television, we listened to the New Year’s countdown on the radio.

After that, we watched the Times Square ball drop program, along with Dick Clark or some other TV personality. One of us would stand in the doorway and call out the last 10 seconds and the first one in line gave the bell rope a mighty tug when the count hit zero.

No need to form a bucket brigade or call an ambulance for this one. Unless a real emergency popped up, Elmer and Marie’s boys were getting the only chance they’d have until the very beginning of the next New Year to ring the coveted dinner bell. Said ringing would continue until we’d all taken several turns and Dad finally yelled, “That’s enough!!”

One year I walked a mile down the holler to Uncle Stevie Craft’s house to find out if he’d stayed awake and heard us ringing the bell.

Uncle Stevie pulled out his pocket watch and said he’d heard it but we’d jumped the gun about a minute before we should have.

“But we were listening to Dick Clark do the countdown on TV and the bell never made a sound until he yelled zero,” I told him.

Uncle Stevie said, “Well, the next time you see your buddy, Dick, tell him he needs to set his watch.”

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